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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers earn top-four seed in Big Dance, will host Colgate in first round

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We’ll take a look at the current make up of UW’s region as they look to reach a third Final Four in a row.

The road to the Final Four runs through the UW Field House.
Wisconsin Athletics

Wisconsin will be staying at home for the NCAA Tournament.

The selection committee last night put the Badgers (17-3 Big Ten, 25-3 overall) in as the No. 4 overall seed, which means they will host the first and second round matches as well as the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds.

As Big Ten champions, the Badgers are the highest rated team in a conference that had eight teams get into the dance. That home-court advantage could prove very important as the Tournament gets into the later rounds.

The other seeded Big Ten teams, who will also host matches in the first and second round are: No. 6 Purdue, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 12 Minnesota. Penn State, Michigan and Illinois also made the dance to round out the Big Ten’s entrants. Full bracket here.

In the first round, the Badgers, who have made the Tournament in nine straight seasons, will take on the Colgate Raiders (13-3 Patriot League, 18-9 overall) at 7 p.m. CT on Friday. The Raiders have been tested outside of conference play, facing tournament teams Nebraska and Kansas State before they won the Patriot League after beating American in the conference tournament.

“No matter how many years you’re doing this, it’s still really exciting to hear your team’s name called,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Our players have been a part of these for quite a few years and you saw the excitement from them. They’re excited about playing.”

The Raiders are led on the attack by sophomore outside hitter Libby Overmeyer and graduate senior outside hitter Alli Lowe. Overmeyer had the most kills for Colgate on the season, and had a 16 kill performance with no errors in the conference title game. Lowe leads the team with 3.46 kills per set but missed the first few matches for Colgate to start the season.

On defense, junior Sophie Thompson is a solid middle blocker as the Texas-native leads the team with 1.39 blocks per set while adding 122 kills on the season. The Raiders’ back row is kind of a dig-by-committee team as five players average more than 2 digs per set, including Alli Lowe.

Senior setter Julia Kurowski paces their team, playing every set for the Raiders and earning Patriot League Tournament MVP honors after she had 89 digs in the two matches. One note is Colgate is not a particularly tall team — no major contributor is taller than 6-foot-3 — which could be an issue against the Badgers.

If UW advances past the Raiders, they’ll play the winner between the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (15-1 Atlantic Sun, 26-5 overall) and the Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-9 Big 12, 17-12 overall).

FGCU are champions of the Atlantic Sun and have won 19 of their last 20 matches. The Eagles beat the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in the final of the Atlantic Sun tournament in four sets, largely thanks to outside hitter Erin Shomaker who had a double double with 18 kills and 14 digs. The junior from Granville, Ohio (I truly hope she enjoys the Florida sun) has been the key figure for the Eagles, leading the way with 3.87 kills per set while starting all the Eagles’ matches.

Outside of Shomaker, there aren’t a ton of highly used offensive players, but on defense, libero Dana Axner shines through. Another Ohio-native, she leads the team with 4.66 digs per set and is fourth on the team with 17 aces on the season. Leading that for the Eagles is freshman sharp shooter Skylar English who scored 31 aces, while just behind her is the aforementioned Shomaker.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders might be in their first NCAA tourney since 2001, but they come in limping a little bit after two straight losses to another tournament team in the Texas Longhorns.

That won’t phase the Red Raiders, led by junior outside hitter Kenna Sauer. The Mizzou transfer — and former high school teammate of Wisconsin’s Devyn Robinson — has done a bit of everything for Texas Tech, leading the way with 3.33 kills per set and posting the second highest number of aces on the team with 22.

On defense, fifth year libero KJ Adams — another transfer, but from Grand Canyon Univeristy — leads the team with 4.36 digs per set. Meanwhile, middle blocker Brooke Kanas, who averages 1.10 blocks per set, and middle blocker Karrington Jones, who averages 0.80 blocks per set, carve a solid defensive block in the middle.

If Wisconsin gets through the first two rounds, they are on the same side of the bracket as ranked teams Baylor, Minnesota and UCLA — who the Badgers would hypothetically play in the Sweet 16 if things go chalk. Oddly enough, Minnesota and Baylor have already played in Madison this season — the Badgers beat both of those teams at the Field House.

“We’re excited about being able to play in the Field House this weekend. We’re going to try to soak up every minute that we can and we’re going to try to play the best volleyball of the year, starting this weekend,” Sheffield said.