After eking out a tough second set challenge from the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-1 Big Ten, 2-1 overall), the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0, 3-0) stayed perfect, in their first road match of the season, with their third-straight 3-0 sweep (25-20, 30-28, 25-9).
Without senior outside hitters Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty, Wisconsin had to rely on their middle blockers and some newer faces too. That’s not such a bad problem when your middle blocker is three-time All-American Dana Rettke.
Rettke was a force all day, leading the way for UW with 14 kills and four blocks as Illinois struggled to stop the slide play in the first set. The block also shut down the Illini in the first, as Wisconsin had three blocks and held Illinois to .139 hitting in the first.
In the second set though, Wisconsin faced a real tough test from the Illini serving. Libero Taylor Kuper had three service aces in the second set, and the Badgers struggled in serve and pass all set. Kuper helped the Illini get on important runs as the set went back and forth.
But Wisconsin’s other middle blocker, Danielle Hart, caught fire in crunch time of the second set. The junior had three important kills after the set was tied at 20-20 for the Badgers. Hart finished with nine kills on the night while hitting .750, and she helped UW close out the second set 30-28. Sophomore Izzy Ashburn also came up big with three aces in the set.
After that, Wisconsin cruised to a victory in the third, winning by a jaw-dropping 25-9 margin. Even without Loberg and Haggerty — Loberg was dressed but didn’t play, Haggerty was in street clothes on the sideline — UW had some help on the outside as Deahna Kraft stepped up in their places. The graduate transfer from Pepperdine had 11 kills to go along with seven digs, illustrating the depth the Badgers have.
That depth will be crucial going forward, but even more so with a quick turnaround in this series. Kraft had 31 total attacks — the most used Badger on the night — and will be looking to come back out firing against Illinois tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. CST on Big Ten Network.