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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers dominate top-ranked Huskers in 3-0 sweep at Field House

Sarah — aka Frank the Tank — Franklin just hit another kill as I wrote this subhead. Badgers notch eighth-straight win against that team from Lincoln

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Sarah Franklin’s dominant, 21-kill performance led the Badgers to a 3-0 sweep over the No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

A re-tooling Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team had their toughest test of the season, with the No. 1 Nebraska Cornhuskers coming to town.

The Huskers were presumably unbeatable, with an 11-game winning streak, won six straight games without dropping a set and were getting the buzz of national title favorites. Despite being national title holders, UW was an afterthought as they got set to take on the Huskers.

While Rettke, Loberg, Barnes, Hilley, and Civita aren’t in Madison, the Badgers proved they still are. And they know how to play some damn volleyball.

The No. 5 Badgers (10-1 Big Ten, 16-3 overall) dethroned the previously unbeaten in conference play Huskers (10-1, 18-2) in a 3-0 sweep (25-23, 25-23, 25-18) that was often dominant, at times unstoppable, occasionally showcased inexperience and pure Badger volleyball — even while the team forged their own path from the previous senior class.

Transfer outside hitter Sarah Franklin responded from some of her worst volleyball of the season to play some of her best, with a barnstorming 21-kill performance to lead all players that was the kind of response head coach Kelly Sheffield wanted.

“That’s exactly how big time players respond,” Sheffield said in a postgame interview on Big Ten Network directly after the match.

While Nebraska took an early 4-1 lead, Wisconsin fought back immediately with Franklin and junior Devyn Robinson involved in the attack early. A 3-0 run with senior setter Izzy Ashburn serving gave UW the lead at 12-10, and the Badgers soon extended it to 15-12.

With UW needing two point to clinch the first set in, Robinson brought the Badgers to set point while Franklin got the decider to win 25-23 and take a 1-0 lead over the Huskers.

Robinson had another huge night after her stellar play against Michigan. The Iowa-native finished with nine kills and six blocks as the Badgers found success against Nebraska’s dangerous hitters up front.

Whether it was block touches that softened the ball or straight-up stuffs, UW looked great on the block despite losing the team blocking battle 9.5 blocks to 9. That was proven true on the night by the fact the Huskers’ loaded attack could not get many kills down.

Star Madi Kubik only had seven kills and hit .100, Whitney Lauenstein managed just seven on .037, Ally Batenhorst put away just four kills while Lindsay Krause and Kaitlin Hord put away just three each. Only freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick gave UW trouble, hitting for 13 kills on .647 percent in an otherwise stagnant night for the Huskers’ attack.

In the second set, the Badgers played some of the best volleyball I’ve seen in my short time covering the beat — and also some sloppy volleyball.

To start, the Badgers rattled off a 17-7 lead with Franklin cooking, and Nebraska having no hope offensively either off the block or great digging from freshman libero Gülce Güçtekin and sophomore Julia Orzoł.

Orzoł had a more quiet day on offense but led the team with 11 digs on the night. Along with her serving and setting, Izzy Ashburn also hit double digit digs with 10 while Güçtekin had nine.

However, Nebraska went on a 7-0 run after the Badgers built their big lead, causing some tremors and trepidation with some great serving from senior setter Nicklin Hames.

But to be fair to the young Badgers team, this was the only real moment of worry. Eventually, UW slammed the door with two blocks in a row after it was tied at 23-23. Fifth-year senior Danielle Hart was everywhere up front, finishing with nine blocks to lead the team and six kills.

In the third set, Ashburn served lights out early with back-to-back kills that provided UW with a 10-8 lead. That was extended to a 5-0 run to go up 15-9 with Nebraska using its timeouts to try and find any momentum.

But the night belonged to Sarah Franklin and the new Badgers tonight as they swept Nebraska to win their ninth-straight match against the Huskers dating back to 2018.

Franklin showcased the best of her abilities by firing in all types of shots. From massive strikes to rolled finesse shots, she was able to work the whole court while limiting unforced errors that wrecked some of her prior outings.

And the whole team seemed to feel a lift. In the final set, UW outhit the Huskers .324 to .229, playing near-perfect volleyball in the final frame.

The match win also puts UW back in the drivers’ seat to the Big Ten title as the two teams share the same record with the Badgers owning the tiebreaker.

While the Badgers will be looking for revenge in a Top 10 clash against the Border Battle rival Minnesota coming up on Saturday, there is no doubt there is a lot to savor in the win over the Huskers — who looked like a Husk of a No. 1-ranked team tonight after the Badgers were done with them.