After their long COVID layoff, the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers came out strongly to beat the No. 4 Minnesota Gophers 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 25-15, 25-23) to stay unbeaten in their biggest test of the season so far.
It seemed like Wisconsin came out ready to play in the first set. UW hadn’t played since February, and they highlighted a readiness to compete with a quick first set run over the Gophers.
While senior setter Sydney Hilley was out for Wisconsin that night, freshman MJ Hammill stepped up big time (46 assists, nine digs, two blocks and one kill) in her place and the Badgers barely missed a beat. Deahna Kraft had two quick aces as UW took a 9-4 lead and kept up the momentum to outclass Minnesota 25-14.
Minnesota came back strongly in the second set with some big service runs on their own. Although Wisconsin got off to an early 8-3 run in the second, the Gophers clawed back with a strong service game. Minnesota had four service aces and took a 11-14 lead before closing it out 22-25.
In the third set, Wisconsin came out again swinging well, finishing with a .444 hitting percentage in the frame.
Dana Rettke helped Wisconsin reach an early 11-5 lead in the third as she was a force all throughout the night. The senior finished with 17 kills and seven blocks and helped dominate up front for the Badgers.
The third set also featured some top notch serving for Wisconsin — something it seems like they really worked on during their break. UW finished with a season high 10 aces with many of them coming up in this set.
Senior Giorgia Civita had two aces in the set while Loberg and Haggerty also notched a couple service winners for UW as the Badgers took the third 25-15.
Loberg began heating up in the third set as she had 11 kills by the time that frame was done, and she was needed again in the fourth. Minnesota took an early 3-6 lead as setter Bayley McMenimen was serving well.
Freshman Jade Demps had a run off the bench for UW, punching in with a couple big kills to extend a Wisconsin lead but Loberg punctuated the match.
The senior finished with 17 kills — tied with Rettke for the team best — with six of those in the final frame to help Wisconsin close out the tight fourth set and therefore the match. The senior hit .317 on the night and had the final kill for Wisconsin to keep them unbeaten on the season. It should also be noted that senior libero Lauren Barnes had a game-high 20 digs.
This performance would be noteworthy — this was UW’s first game against a top-five opponent — but even without All-American Sydney Hilley, the Badgers barely missed a step. Wisconsin tied their best start in program history at 11-0 with the win. The 2010 team also started 11-0.
That’s a great sign down the stretch for Wisconsin as they will look to finish up with the Big Ten season perfect. They have another big series against the No. 12 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions scheduled this coming weekend.