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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers finish up non-conference schedule in Illinois

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The Badgers will take on UW-Green Bay and Northern Illinois away from the UW Field House.

Tom Lynn

Coming into a weekend trip to Illinois for two games against lesser competition, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0 overall) have an enviable stat many other top Big Ten teams lack: a zero in the loss column.

A weekend of upsets of top powers like Nebraska, Penn State and Purdue sees the Badgers atop the heap in the Big Ten as they wrap up their non-conference season with two matches against UW-Green Bay (4-6) and Northern Illinois (6-2) in DeKalb, Ill.

Heading into the match ups, fifth year senior setter Sydney Hilley received honors for her performances against Kentucky and Marquette. Hilley picked up the Big Ten Setter of the Week nod — the 14th time in her storied career. Hilley had 11.29 assists per set against Kentucky to guide UW to a .302 hitting percentage in the huge win over the defending national champions.

While Hilley was not a question mark heading into the season, one aspect that has picked up for Wisconsin this season has been serving. UW has always had some good servers, but sometimes were plagued with untimely service errors. This season, the team has been much better, and consistent behind the service line.

The Badgers have had 40 aces on the year compared to 11 allowed and rank second in the Big Ten in 2.00 aces per set.

In a 3-0 sweep of Marquette, junior defensive specialist Izzy Ashburn led the way behind the line, notching four aces which helped her take her over double digit serves on the season.

With two lesser non-conference foes, it might be easy to look ahead to Big Ten play, which will begin for the Badgers next week with a trip to surprise package Maryland. The Terps have been undefeated at 9-0 so far this season, albeit against any easy non-conference schedule. But there are still questions for UW that will hope to be answered and kinks to work out in these two games against Green Bay and NIU.

One question: who else can help out on the outside for Julia Orzoł? Fifth year senior Grace Loberg has consistently been the other option on the pin for the Badgers, and has put in some useful performances in place of the dynamic freshman. (Editor’s note: Bremen wrote this preview before news of middle blocker Danielle Hart’s season ending ACL injury was announced. Here is his post on Hart.)

Another name that has emerged of late is sophomore outside hitter Jade Demps. Demps had 14 kills against Marquette and really put her stamp on the match. The bigger question going forward is can she do that consistently, and take care of all six rotations in the same way Loberg and the currently out Orzoł have?

Another name who could slide in more for the Badgers is Lauren Jardine. The freshman outside hitter from Utah got her first career kills over the weekend, and has a rocket of an arm. Still, she will need to be more consistent going forward to be a piece for UW this season.

Of course the biggest question is will Julia Orzoł play? She has not appeared on the court for UW since her breakout performances against TCU and Baylor, where she did not come off the floor for Wisconsin. She has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, and it is unknown when she’ll be back.

While that likely won’t be a major concern for the Badgers this weekend, you would hope she could be ready for the team’s first conference clash.

But UW won’t be looking past UW-Green Bay and NIU this weekend. They’ll play the Phoenix on Friday at 6:00 p.m. CT, and they’ll face the Huskies at 6:00 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN3. We’ll have a recap up this weekend and post updates on Twitter since neither match is on traditional tv.