As the regular season closes, the No. 5 Wisconsin volleyball team (21-5, 17-1 Big Ten) can clinch a Big Ten championship with a win over No. 7 Penn State (23-4, 12-2) Friday night.
If the Badgers lose to the Nittany Lions on Friday, they can still secure the championship if Penn State loses to Minnesota. Regardless, if the Badgers win against Rutgers on Saturday they are guaranteed a share of the Big Ten title.
This would be Wisconsin’s first Big Ten championship and their sixth overall conference title – the second-highest mark in the conference behind Penn State with 15.
University of Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield talked on Monday about the opportunity to win a Big Ten title this Friday per UW Athletics.
“It’s awesome,” Sheffield said. “You never want to be in a position where you’re taking things for granted. We’re not going to shy away from it, we’re not going to talk down about it, but we’re also not going to build it up.”
Wisconsin topped Penn State 3–1 in the beginning of October. That win sparked a stretch of three wins over the top six teams in the country over the course of four matches.
The Nittany Lions have lost just one match in their 15 games since the loss to UW.
In terms of hitting percentage, Penn State is second in the conference both offensively and defensively. But in Big Ten play alone, the Badgers hold slight advantages over the Nittany Lions in those categories.
Similar to the Badgers, Penn State has a pair of offensive threats at middle blocker with Kaitlyn Hord and Serena Gray. Along with the Badgers’s Dana Rettke, Kaitlyn Hord is ranked inside the top 11 in hitting percentage nationally. Even with these stats, outside hitter Grace Loberg led the charge last time against Penn State with 21 kills on just 35 swings.
Saturday, the Badgers will travel further east to take on the last-place Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-21, 2-16).
The Scarlet Knights will close the season with five consecutive games against ranked opponents. The match with Wisconsin concludes that brutal stretch. Rutgers has the worst offense in the Big Ten in terms of hitting percentage and kills per set. They have no players with both more than two kills per set and a hitting percentage above .200.
Four of the Badgers five usual hitters meet those statistics. Wisconsin has yet to lose to Rutgers in the nine matches since they joined the Big Ten.