After easily dispatching the TCU Horned Frogs on Friday night, the first big test of the early season came for the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers volleyball in Saturday night in a top-10 showdown with the Baylor Bears.
The Badgers (2-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) — save for a blip in the third set — dominated the No. 10 Bears (1-1 overall, 0-0 Big 12) three sets to one (25-16, 25-7, 16-25, 25-15) at the UW Field House.
Wisconsin got off to a strong start early with the play of senior middle blocker Dana Rettke and freshman sensation Julia Orzoł. Thanks to some quick kills and blocks, UW raced out to a 6-1 start.
The lead was furthered thanks to some strong serving from junior defensive specialist Joslyn Boyer and senior defensive specialist Gio Civita. Civita helped the Badgers to a 5-0 run while serving, notching two aces as UW climbed to a 15-6 early advantage.
Civita arguably had her best game in a Wisconsin uniform, finishing with 13 digs to lead the team, impressing in her passing all game and serving three aces, tying a career high.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said she was one player he singled out after the match thanks to her high level of performance.
“She put a lot of pressure on mixing the ball around, keeping [Baylor] off balance,” Sheffield said. “It was great. Defensively, I thought she was awfully good as well.”
Sheffield also singled out the backcourt in general as working really well together. Wisconsin hasn’t allowed an ace so far this season, and that work starts in the back line.
UW really highlighted their dominance in the game in the second set, beating the No. 10 Bears 25-7.
Aggressive serving — the Badgers finished with seven aces — and great defense caused Baylor to rush. The Bears looked out of sorts, and that sensation was highlighted by a -.226 hitting percentage and 12 attacking errors that set.
“When you’re holding a team to a low hitting percentage, I think other attackers get stressed and do things they wouldn’t normally do,” Sheffield said. “When you have people in the back court keeping the ball off the ground, it can be frustrating.”
Civita, libero Lauren Barnes and setter Sydney Hilley all finished with double digit digs. Barnes, who had 11 to go with two aces and two assists, said this was a sign of the back row’s continued improvement.
“I think we’re doing a great job. It shows our work has paid off, but we haven’t gotten anywhere yet,” Barnes said.
Despite the dominance of the first two sets, Baylor found its footing in the third, and eventually got back on track in that set. UW struggled to get a rhythm while Baylor hit .643 in the third frame. Lauren Harrison had seven kills in the third, while Avery Skinner had five despite early struggles, especially on defense. Sheffield credited Baylor for their adjustments, especially how they moved around star Yossiana Pressley, who had 15 kills which somehow meant the Badgers kind of “slowed her down” as Sheffield said in amazement.
The Badgers were looking to respond in the fourth, and it’s no surprise that charge was led by Dana Rettke. The super senior had six kills and four blocks in the final frame, and she said the team felt like it needed to send a message.
“We’re not going to be a team just sits back and lets that happen” Rettke said. “We’re going to come out, we’re going to fight and we’re going to punch back. And our mentality heading into that set was exactly that. Everything was on point coming out the gate.”
Rettke finished with 15 kills and seven blocks, but fellow middle blocker Danielle Hart also came up big in the clinching set. Hart set a new career high with 13 kills and also had six of them in the fourth set.
“We were trying to get the ball to Dana and Danielle, and those guys had big matches for us,” Kelly Sheffield said.
Freshman Julia Orzoł continued her impressive start, finishing in double digits for her second straight match and never leaving the court. Sophomore Devyn Robinson also had nine kills as Wisconsin put Baylor away 25-15 in the last set.
But while it wasn’t always perfect volleyball, the Badgers start the season perfect and face down a tough early test with stretches of absolute domination.