Earlier this week, head coach Kelly Sheffield said the Big Ten is full of “big dogs” that UW has to fight against every match ahead of a tough weekend against Illinois and rival, and No. 7 in the country, Minnesota.
Well, the Badgers (2-1 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) made the Gophers (2-1, 7-4) look more like a lap dog in a 3-0 sweep (25-17, 25-22, 25-17) in the Border Battle on Friday night where UW played outstanding volleyball in all phases.
Julia Orzoł led all hitters with a career-high 17 kills and 10 digs — good for her second double-double of the season — as she once again shined in front of the Field House faithful. The freshman from Poland filled out the whole stat sheet, getting four assists, an ace and a block to go with her double double, and she said she feeds off the energy of the crowd.
“Playing in the Field House, I can’t compare it to anything,” Orzoł said.
The whole team looked to bounce back after the tougher weekend, and they came out strongly against the Gophers. Despite a late injury in practice on Thursday to fifth year defensive specialist Gio Civita which left her out of the match, Wisconsin played well on defense and served really well throughout the match.
In the first set, Wisconsin recorded five aces — two from Izzy Ashburn, one from Joslyn Boyer, one from Orzoł and a first career ace for Anna MacDonald — but fifth year middle blocker Dana Rettke said the effects of the strong serving showed throughout the match.
“Our servers went back with confidence. They weren’t doing too much, they weren’t doing too little,” Rettke said. “I think every ball that was put in was put into great space and it really made Minnesota work.”
UW finished off the first set 25-17 in the end in large part thanks to Rettke and Orzoł. Both finished the first set with five kills each with Rettke taking advantage of overpasses from Minnesota caused by the tough serving.
In the second set, Wisconsin again just played really solid volleyball. Although the margin was closer and they didn’t record an ace, patient hitting from Orzoł and a really good set from fifth year outside hitter Grace Loberg made a big difference for the Badgers.
Loberg finished with 11 kills while hitting .300, but had four kills in the second set as head coach Kelly Sheffield praised the work of Loberg and Orzoł.
“Julia [Orzoł] and Grace [Loberg] played smart, worked the court and got the ball into good areas. They were really smart with their shots, which was a difference from last week when we were gunslingers,” Sheffield said.
Those two often also were matching up against Minnesota’s star Stephanie Samedy. The Florida native had 16 kills, but faced some tough blocks from Wisconsin, and the defense was very active on the dig.
Especially fifth year libero Lauren Barnes, who finished with 23 digs on the night as she helped lead a really good all-around defensive performance. In the second set, Wisconsin had 26 digs to only 14 from Minnesota, and eight Badgers recorded a dig highlighting how the whole team worked to keep the ball off the floor.
Sheffield said since the Gophers are a team that very rarely has errors, those performances were huge because the Badgers would not get free points very often.
In the third set, it was more of the same from the Badgers — who hit .400 in the final frame to clinch the sweep over the Gophers. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in hitting percentage and proved why again on Friday as they finished with .372 on the night.
A big performance to start a big month of October. Wisconsin will play four more ranked teams in the month while also playing two matches against Illinois — who just upset No. 4 Purdue in five sets in West Lafayette.
That first match against Illinois will be in Champaign on Sunday, but Wisconsin already proved tonight with their sweep of Minnesota they can run with the big dogs in the Big Ten pack.