The Wisconsin Badgers (3-1 Big Ten, 11-1 overall) saved their best for last against the Illinois Fighting Illini, winning three straight sets (22-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-17) after they dropped the first frame on Sunday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.
Illinois hung tough against the Badgers in the first couple of sets where lead changes, and comebacks, were frequent. In the opening frame, Wisconsin looked like they would run away with the set at one point, but great serving including two aces from outside hitter Jessice Nunge helped Illinois claw back and take the first set.
Illinois’ block was a factor throughout the game, but more so in the first where they stuffed four Badger shots. With Nunge’s two aces and UW hitting only .158 in the first set, the Illini looked ready to take another top-five team down to the wire after they beat Purdue earlier in the weekend.
But Wisconsin responded quickly in the second set. Good serving from junior Izzy Ashburn gave UW a 5-0 lead to start which soon ballooned to 10-2 thanks to three straight kills from sophomore Devyn Robinson. Robinson — playing in the middle again — was really efficient, and at this point in the set Wisconsin was hitting a gaudy .833.
That soon slowed down as some errors and good Illinois blocks brought them back into the set. Although Wisconsin kept them at arm’s length to close it out 25-20, Illinois stayed around as UW had some attacking errors, especially from freshman Julia Orzoł, who struggled in the early parts of the match.
But Orzoł started to turn it around in the third set as she found some timely kills along with fellow freshman outside hitter Lauren Jardine. The Utah-native had four of her six kills in the set including ones when Wisconsin was looking to break away from the Illini. Across the board, errors started to go down for UW as they finished with .333 hitting percentage in that third frame to win 25-20.
The fourth set was much less of a contest after a tight start. Robinson helped lead Wisconsin early to an 8-5 lead before the Badgers began a scoring run that put Illinois out of the game.
During the match, UW spread the ball around hitting and four Badgers — Robinson, Orzoł, fifth year Grace Loberg and fifth year Dana Rettke — finished with double digit kills.
Rettke especially did not play up to her usual efficiency early on, but really came on strong in the end. Orzoł finished with a team-leading 16 kills despite a shaky start, while Loberg had 12 kills and eight digs in an impressive all-around performance.
That's the match!— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) October 3, 2021
Julia Orzoł closing out the fourth set with a kill! pic.twitter.com/A4JfeK6QtS
But Robinson was UW’s most consistent option on the night. The sophomore finished with 14 kills and a .440 hitting percentage and looked really good off the slide plays that fifth year setter Sydney Hilley has so often run to perfection with Rettke. Hilley, by the way, had 54 assists and 10 digs to finish with another double double.
Libero Lauren Barnes also had another strong performance as she has carried the load for a Wisconsin backrow currently still missing fifth year Giorgia Civita. Barnes had 26 digs in four sets including her usual highlight level work for her second straight game with 20 plus digs.
It wasn’t always pretty, but head coach Kelly Sheffield will be happy with how the Badgers grew into the game. They’ll have a quick turnaround before playing host to the Iowa Hawkeyes Wednesday evening back home at the Field House.