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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


How ‘Sweet’ it is: Badgers advance to Sweet 16 with sweep of Illinois State

Jenna Freeman

For the final time in their collegiate careers, the seniors on the Wisconsin volleyball team wrapped their arms around their teammates and swayed side-to-side singing “Varsity” on their home court one last time.

Except the season is not over. In fact, the fun part is just getting started.

The Badgers (30-2, 19-1 Big Ten) defeated Illinois State (27-6, 18-0 Missouri Valley Conference) in three sets (25-17, 25-19, 25-19) to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before a sellout crowd at the UW Field House Friday night.


“You never think your last [home] game is gonna happen,” senior middle blocker Dominique Thompson said. “You always think you have forever left.”

“Overall, it’s a rush of emotion,” Thompson added. “It’s still a really exciting time.”

With a 1-0 lead in the match, the Redbirds and the Badgers were deadlocked at 12 before Wisconsin cued up a 6-0 run to distance themselves from a feisty Illinois State squad in the second set.

“Tonight they gave us everything we could handle,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Their [libero Emily Orrick] was outstanding tonight. She gave us a lot of fits, and I thought their setter [Kaitlyn Early] did a really good job of mixing the ball around. It was tough to score on them.”

Orrick had 21 digs, but Wisconsin’s junior libero Taylor Morey led all players with 22 digs. Wisconsin sophomore setter Lauren Carlini had 33 assists, while Early had 32.

Two kills from freshman outside hitter Kelli Bates and a service ace from junior libero Taylor Morey put the Badgers up 15-12 in the second set and forced an Illinois State timeout. Following the timeout, kills from sophomore middle blocker Haleigh Nelson and Bates, along with a Redbird error, gave Wisconsin a comfortable 18-12 lead they would hold for the remainder of the set.

It was the second time in as many nights Wisconsin had dominated the first set but struggled in the second.

“We come out of the first game and we’re trying to focus, and we come into the second game and just happen to get down,” Thomas said. “I think that our team is good at battling back no matter where we’re at in a game, doesn’t matter if its the third game, fourth game or fifth. We came back and took away the game.”

The early going of the third was tightly contested as well. Wisconsin’s Courtney Thompson’s physical play at the net paced the Badgers to a 10-10 tie. Then, two solo blocks and a kill in-a-row from senior outside hitter Ellen Chapman gave the Badgers their first real momentum kick of the set and forced an Illinois State timeout.

The Redbirds, as they had done the previous night against Marquette by erasing a two-set deficit and winning the next three, refused to go quietly. They evened the score once again at 15, but two key kills from Thompson put the Badgers up 20-17 in the set and UW eased to a set and match win.

“I thought we executed our game plan,” Sheffield said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I thought we did a really good job against a really good team that was really doing their darndest to keep us off-balance.”

“You’re holding a team that won 27 matches, and they didn’t score 20 points on you,” Sheffield said. “Sometimes you can sit up here and find a whole lot of things to complain about and be frustrated about, but at the end of the day that’s a pretty good effort that we saw from our team tonight.”

The first set was the only set the Badgers jumped on the Redbirds early, getting out to a 8-3 lead. Bates had five of her match-high 10 kills in that set alone.

Thompson added nine kills of her own, while Thomas, Chapman and Nelson each contributed seven.

The Badgers out-blocked (12-3) and out-hit (.240-.131) the Redbirds, something Illinois State head coach Melissa Myers attributed to their size and strength advantage.

“At the end of the day they’re a big, strong blocking team,” Myers said. “We knew they were going to have that presence, we just didn’t execute.”

The loss ended Illinois State’s 23-match winning streak, while the Badgers upped their winning streak to 21 matches in-a-row. Wisconsin’s Sweet 16 site is Louisville, Kentucky, where they will play the winner of No. 13 Kentucky-Ohio State next Friday, Dec. 12.

Following the match, it was a mix of emotions for a senior class that had to grip the idea of never playing another home match but was still advancing toward a national championship.

“We’ve had so many moments and so many great times,” Chapman said. “I was sad about that, but I’m not sad about much else, because I know we’re going to accomplish so much more this season. Whether we’re playing here, whether we’re playing in Louisville, it’s more about who you’re with, rather than the place.”

Thomas said the tears in her and her teammates’ eyes were tears of joy, not sadness.

“We couldn’t be more proud and more happy to end it here [like that],” Thomas said. “It’s awesome.”

While Sheffield was happy with his team’s performance, he said the team knows that tougher competition awaits as the tournament progresses.

“The teams get more challenging, the stakes are higher,” Sheffield said. “You gotta be prepared to bring it.”

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