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Wisconsin volleyball: UW takes down Spartans, 3-1, on Friday night

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This was a pretty routine match except for a never-ending third set that was the peak of absurdist comedy.

Wisconsin Athletics

Save for a third set that seemed to lose control of reality, the Wisconsin Badgers (14-3 Big Ten, 22-3 overall) stayed tied atop the Big Ten standings with a 3-1 (25-15, 25-17, 34-36, 25-17) win over the Michigan State Spartans (4-13, 11-15).

The Badgers sprinted out to a 9-2 lead thanks to really impressive play from freshman Julia Orzoł and sophomore Jade Demps. Demps, who had previously played somewhat sparingly on the outside, started out serving for the Badgers, and got an early ace.

Meanwhile, the Polish freshman picked up two early kills while UW had four blocks as a team. Wisconsin stepped on the gas to force a 16-5 lead and the Spartans called timeout looking for answers. It never got much better, as Wisconsin finished the first set with a 25-15 win with Demps leading the way with four kills. A different bright spot for the Badgers — other than the scoreline — was Giorgia Civita was able to return for a brief cameo in the first set, to big cheers from the fans.

The second set was more of the same: strong serving and a big lead for Wisconsin. This time junior Izzy Ashburn was the main catalyst, with back-to-back aces to put the Badgers up 8-3. Ashburn finished with five aces on the night as Wisconsin had eight as a team.

After a timeout, Michigan State built back in the set and kept it to 15-12, but Spartan errors helped UW pull away to take a 20-15 lead and wound up finishing the set off 25-17.

Then the third set happened.

Wisconsin again got off to a fast start thanks to strong serving from Ashburn, but the score quickly tightened up, and no one could really get a lead of more than two points. Jade Demps had a kill from a back row attack to give UW a chance at match point, but the Spartans got two points to force extra points at 24-24.

And then neither team could hold serve.

Wisconsin had multiple chances to close out the match, but couldn’t. The score kept creeping up and up and no one was getting points to the point where things felt silly. At one point, it looked like Julia Orzoł had a kill to end the match, but a challenge call from MSU reversed the call and the set kept going.

After 32-32, Michigan State had set point and it looked like they had come back to win the set. But a coaches’ challenge on a foot fault on the serve meant we kept playing volleyball. Then Michigan State finally closed out the set 34-36 — but even that point was reviewed.

So after the surrealist art exhibition that was the third set, Wisconsin once again got out to a fast start in the fourth set and closed out the match with little resistance. Julia Orzoł led the team with 15 kills while Jade Demps had a double double with 12 kills and 10 digs. UW hit .270 as a team and out-blocked the Spartans 12-9.

The win sets up a huge match Sunday against the No. 11 Minnesota Gophers (13-4 Big Ten, 18-7). Both teams need to win to keep up in the race for the Big Ten championship. That’s because Nebraska swept Penn State Friday night in a very impressive performance.

Wisconsin’s Border Battle will start at 4:00 p.m. CT on Big Ten Network and Drew will be there covering the match live.