MADISON — It took a bit of extra time and patience, but eventually the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (4-1 Big Ten, 12-1 overall) swept a pesky Iowa Hawkeyes team (0-5, 2-13) that made life difficult for UW throughout the 3-0 match (25-21, 25-15, 28-26), especially in the final third set.
That frame featured 10 ties and five lead changes, and the Badgers found themselves down 23-21 late in the set as it looked like the Hawkeyes might stop a streak of losing 12-straight sets against one of the top teams in the conference.
In that last set, despite hitting .351, untimely errors really plagued the Badgers at crucial moments. Wisconsin had seven attacking errors, four serving errors and two receiving errors as they let Iowa hang around and were really never able to gain momentum.
“It was an uneven match tonight, there were quite a bit of errors from both teams,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said.
It looked like UW would finish the match off after head coach Kelly Sheffield called timeout with the team down 23-21 in the set. Fifth year senior Grace Loberg had a kill then fifth year senior Dana Rettke had two straight kills to give UW a chance to close out the match for good. But Rettke then hit long to tie the match again at 24-24.
UW had another chance to finish off the Hawkeyes at 26-25, but Rettke had a service error to tie the match up. Luckily for UW, Iowa had a service error and Devyn Robinson finally closed it out at 28-26.
Sheffield said that tonight, it illustrated that UW has a lot of youth or inexperience playing right now, and the team showed that, but even the veterans had those errors. Still, Sheffield said the team did a better job of staying with the match instead of letting their heads hang like they did against Maryland.
“We didn’t get down on ourselves and kept battling,” Sheffield said.
Two outside hitters had a lot of responsibility in the match. Freshman Julia Orzoł and Grace Loberg had most of the attacks and kills for UW. Orzoł finished with a team-leading 13 kills while Loberg had nine as Sheffield noted both players were asked to do a lot defensively and in the passing game by Iowa’s serving.
Loberg said that with the team’s uneven performance, the team tried to make sure they stayed positive.
“One thing this team works on is ‘next ball mentality,’ just being intentional each time we touch the ball. I think that’s what we were zoning in on when things seemed more dead,” Loberg said.
Orzoł felt the same way. Despite being the target of Iowa for some of the game defensively, the freshman responded well getting another double double with 13 kills and 10 digs. The Pole said that focusing on her role has been the key.
“I try to stay in the game and concentrate and focus on the things that I want to do,” Orzoł said.
In the first set, the Badgers really seemed to focus on the pins for the attack. Orzoł and Loberg combined for nine kills between them while freshman Lauren Jardine also had three in the first. In the second, Jardine had a few errors and was subbed out for sophomore Jade Demps.
Demps had a key contribution in the third set with four kills, giving the Badgers a spark when they needed one.
“She got some big kills, took some smart and good swings for us to give us a boost in the later part of the match. That was important,” Sheffield said.
While things didn’t always look good against an Iowa team that hasn’t won a Big Ten game this season, the team got another win and held their heads despite errors better than in a previous match. Sheffield does admit there are things to work on, but he’s not too concerned; it’s only the first week of October.
“There’s positives to take from it and some things we gotta clean up. That doesn’t scare anybody here,” Sheffield said. “We’ll take this win.”
We’ll see what the Badgers are able to clean up heading into another match against Illinois this Saturday. UW hosts the Illini at the Wisconsin Field House at 7:00 p.m CT with the match airing on Big Ten Network again.