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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers upset 3-1 by No. 12 Purdue after poor start

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UW had a furious comeback in the third set, but Purdue’s block gave the Badgers nightmares on Halloween afternoon.

@BadgerVB; Wisconsin Athletics

The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team (10-2 Big Ten, 18-2 overall) saw ghosts to start against the No. 12 Purdue Boilermakers (8-4, 16-5) on Sunday afternoon, and the nightmarish start led to a 3-1 (20-25, 22-25, 25-20, 26-28) upset victory for the Boilermakers despite a furious comeback.

Purdue sprinted out to a 17-6 lead in the first set against the Badgers, who were flustered by the Boilermakers’ block and could not get any momentum on either side of the ball. Wisconsin was held to hitting just .159 in that first set — well below their season average — and despite a comeback to get within four points of PU, the Boilermakers got a deserved first set win.

Although Purdue struggled with service errors during the match — the team finished with 11 total throughout the four sets — the serves that did go in initially gave the Badgers fits, and the Boilermakers finished with four total aces and had Wisconsin struggling to stay in system on offense.

That’s not even mentioning the Boilermakers’ fantastic work on the block to start the match. In the first two sets, Purdue had 10 blocks before it finished with a total of 16, out-blocking the Badgers by nine. Freshman middle blocker Raven Colvin had 11 blocks as she was a pest for UW’s offense, especially freshman Julia Orzoł.

The star freshman struggled in this match to get past the block, and had some really tentative swings as if she was scared to make another error. While Orzoł posted 11 kills, she hit only .045 from those early match struggles.

Two players who did not struggle were fifth year Grace Loberg and sophomore Jade Demps. Loberg led the way for Wisconsin with 15 kills and had a .282 hitting percentage while coming up with really big swings for UW.

Meanwhile, Demps was subbed in early for freshman Anna Smrek, who struggled after her great performance against Nebraska. The sophomore from North Carolina fired home 13 kills in just three sets of play, and also came up with clutch kills for the Badgers.

Loberg and Demps both came up huge in Wisconsin’s third set win. UW at one point found themselves in a 8-2 hole, but timely kills from the two outside hitters got the Badgers back in the set as Demps got a kill to tie the frame 12-12.

Sophomore Devyn Robinson also found something in the third set, especially in providing a block for the Badgers. The Iowa-native had 10 kills and four blocks but really helped the Badgers late in the set pull out the 25-20 win, and maybe gave something to build on.

Robinson’s usual middle blocker partner Dana Rettke had an uncharacteristically poor night. The four-time All-American never got going despite finishing with nine kills, and had a shocking run in the last set that killed the match off for UW.

Despite holding a 24-22 lead, Wisconsin coughed up a couple points before staying alive and forcing a 26-26 tie. A Purdue overpass gave Rettke the set-up for a kill, but her shot sailed wide to give the Boilermakers a 27-26 lead. Purdue sewed up the set and match in the next point, dooming the Badgers to a second defeat on the season.

Looking ahead for Wisconsin, the Badgers still are on top of the Big Ten thanks to a 3-2 loss by their nearest rival Nebraska against Minnesota. UW also finished off a four-match stretch against ranked opponents, and will get a chance to catch their breath with tilts against Northwestern and basement dwellers Iowa this weekend.

Although Rettke and Orzoł struggled, Grace Loberg and Jade Demps really stepped up in the attack, while libero Lauren Barnes had a career high 33 digs as she has stepped in up in the past few matches.

But in a conference as tough as the Big Ten, there is always another loss lurking around the corner. And Wisconsin will have nightmares this Halloween night from Purdue’s block and late missed chances.

UW will be back at the Field House to host remain on the road to do battle with Northwestern and Iowa this weekend on Friday and Saturday evenings. Both matches will be on BTN+.