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Wisconsin volleyball: if you can’t run with the big dogs stay on the porch

We’ve got a Border Battle at the Field House on Friday followed by a road trip to Champaign on Sunday.

UW Athletics Communications

Big Ten play ramps up for the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (1-1 Big Ten, 8-1 overall) as they get set for a weekend that includes a match up with their big rival. The Badgers take on the No. 7 Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0, 7-3) Friday in an early season matchup that could shape the conference race and then head down to Champaign, Ill. to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-0, 10-3).

Wisconsin split their road trip last weekend, beating Rutgers but losing to Maryland in the first game in a five-set thriller. During that game, UW was plagued by errors that helped lose them the match. Although head coach Kelly Sheffield said the Terps are a good team, the Badgers did not play up to their usual level.

“When you get into a match, there’s things you can’t do. Having 59 errors is right up there at the top of it. That’s two full sets and half a fifth set of points you’re giving to your opponent. Our IQs were not the highest that evening,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield did say that the constant pressure of a Big Ten schedule is a good thing in many ways, as it means you don’t have time to dwell on mistakes.

“Week after week there are big dogs here,” Sheffield said. “When you’ve got this quality competition coming at you all the time, it forces you to focus. It makes you move on and learn.”

Devyn Robinson going for the kill against TCU.
UW Athletics Communications

One player who certainly moved on from struggles against Maryland was sophomore Devyn Robinson. The Iowa native did not have good matches in her previous two, but after she had a last minute move to middle blocker, Robinson had a great match against Rutgers to bounce back.

With Sheffield feeling good about the team’s depth at the outside hitter spots, and Robinson now filling in well as a middle if she needs to, that could be good news for UW’s attack. Pulling the strings for that attack, which leads the nation in hitting percentage, is fifth year setter Sydney Hilley, who has 12.06 assists per set to lead the NCAA.

The defense will certainly be tested by the Gophers’ star opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy. The Florida native leads the Big Ten with 5.09 kills per set and had 30 in a huge win against Michigan. The question is will other attackers for Minnesota step up. Sophomore Jenna Wenaas has 3.32 kills per set but has been inconsistent. The Gophers’ defense is led by libero CC McGraw, one of the best in the nation.

Illinois — who Wisconsin plays Sunday — is also led on defense by a very good libero, Taylor Kuper. Kuper, a senior from Kansas, has 4.54 digs per set and 0.52 aces per set — both best for the Illini. Meanwhile, sophomore outside hitter Raina Terry has posted three-straight games with double-digit kills and has 3.18 kills per set to lead the offense.

But all eyes for the Badgers will be against the Gophers in the Border Battle on Friday. It’s Wisconsin’s first game in the Field House in a couple weeks and should be a rocking atmosphere as the big dogs really do come to town for conference play.

The first match against Minnesota starts at 8:00 p.m. CT on Friday. You can watch that game on Big Ten Network. Their second match is against Illinois on 12:00 p.m. CT Sunday on Big Ten Plus.