If defense wins championships, Wisconsin found a title-winning type performance Friday night on the block.
The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (8-1 Big Ten, 16-1) faced down the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-3, 16-3) and won 3-1 (26-24, 25-23, 18-25, 25-14) while stuffing the Buckeyes with a school-record 19 total blocks in a four set match.
Ahem. Excuse the pause in scary tweets. Everything henceforth shall be TERRIFYING.— Wisconsin Volleyball but Spooky (@BadgerVB) October 23, 2021
Before we put this chilly October night to bed, however, feast your special eyes on these highlights.
...*mummy noises* pic.twitter.com/L6Y2DtmE4X
“That’s a lot of blocks. That’s something these guys have worked very hard at,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said.
Wisconsin’s previous high for total blocks this season was 12 against Rutgers back in September. The active block had its hands in the early success for Wisconsin. UW racked up seven blocks in the first set which were crucial in slowing down the Buckeyes’ attack and leading to a tight 26-24 win.
Fifth year Grace Loberg finished with a career-high 10 blocks — four more than her previous best — and was one kill shy of a double double with nine. The outside hitter admitted that blocking was often a weakness in her game, but she said she has continued to work on setting a good foundation.
“It’s something I put a lot into,” Loberg said. “We worked a lot on that as a team, and it’s really proven.”
Fifth year Dana Rettke led the Badgers with 16 kills and seven blocks. Devyn Robinson also was a huge part of UW’s defense, contributing 10 blocks as well despite hitting in the negatives offensively.
The block was a huge part for the whole front row, as only freshman Julia Orzoł did not record a stuff against the Buckeyes.
The second set saw Wisconsin down early as Jenaisya Moore had her serve working for the Buckeyes. UW saw themselves in a 8-13 hole and had to claw their way back to 15-15 thanks to a big 5-0 run from libero Lauren Barnes that featured an ace. Orzoł had two kills to give Wisconsin a 21-19 advantage before eventually they closed out the set against a top team.
“Ohio State is a great team, super gritty,” Rettke said. “That’s the type of team we’re going to be seeing in the postseason and I thought we battled really hard against them tonight.”
The third set did not go as well for Wisconsin. The Badgers looked out of sorts as Ohio State raced off to a 3-10 lead and UW had some really uncharacteristically, sloppy errors. Moore also had eight kills during that set, as she finished with 11 on the night.
At one point, the Badgers cut the lead to only three points but could not capitalize on a bit of momentum and the Buckeyes took the third set 18-25.
But Wisconsin bounced back as it raced out to a lead in the fourth set and didn’t look back. The Badgers forced the OSU attack to hit in the negatives and shut the door on the match.
“In between those two sets, we talked about zoning in on what we can control on our side and focusing on starting out the set strong,” Grace Loberg said. “We just wanted to come out foot on the pedal and put the pressure on right away.”
A welcome sight in this match for Wisconsin was the return of Giorgia Civita. The fifth year defensive specialist had not played since the match against Rutgers in September. Although her stats didn’t jump out in the box score, head coach Kelly Sheffield said her passing was the second best on the court, and both Loberg and Rettke said her return gave the team energy.
“She just brings a swagger to the court that people feed off of. She’s a crucial part of this team, and I thought she brought it for sure tonight,” Rettke said.
That swagger and confidence was clear on the court in the final set, as Wisconsin found the right juice to close out their third win against a top-10 team.
The schedule won’t let up for the Badgers though. They play a No. 14 Penn State (7-2, 14-5) team fresh off a 3-0 sweep of No. 12 Minnesota at the Field House Saturday at 6:00 p.m. CT.