Despite missing some key pieces, the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (16-1 Big Ten, 22-3 overall) put away the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-15, 8-21) in straight sets (25-13, 26-24, 25-10) to notch their 15th straight win.
Sophomore Julia Orzoł had a match-leading 13 kills while doing a little bit of everything on the court. The Poland-native had two assists, an ace, eight digs, and five blocks to go along with those kills.
It was Orzoł and junior Devyn Robinson who led the way offensively for the Badgers as they sprinted out to a 9-1 lead in the first set. Robinson had 10 kills and finished off the first set with the final kill to make it 25-13.
Wisconsin was a bit shorthanded on the night, missing setter MJ Hammill and middle blocker Caroline Crawford. That meant Izzy Ashburn was the lone setter in a 5-1 system instead of the 6-2 system head coach Kelly Sheffield had been using this season.
Ashburn looked comfortable as the lone setter, notching a double-double with 24 assists and 10 digs. Freshman libero Gülce Güçtekin led the team with 11 digs, but it was a total teamwork on that aspect of the defense as seven Badgers had at least one dig.
Meanwhile, the block was strong as usual, with UW out-blocking Rutgers 9-6 and getting good defensive touches. Orzoł and sophomore middle blocker Anna Smrek led the way with five blocks each as Wisconsin held Rutgers to just .065 hitting on the night.
But the Badgers had a scare from the Scarlet Knights in the second set. Rutgers forced Sheffield to call a timeout early as it took a 8-7 lead, and UW had some attacking errors as the Scarlet Knights frustrated the attackers.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Franklin struggled again with errors. The mercurial outside has been feast or famine at times for UW, and tonight she had more errors than kills to hit in the negatives.
A couple errors came at costly moments in the second set, and one helped Rutgers take a 22-21 lead. But UW was able to get a set point at 24-23 thanks to an ace from junior Jade Demps. Despite Rutgers staving off that set point, Hart and Ashburn finished off the set with a block for 26-24.
The service game for Wisconsin really peaked in the final set, and Rutgers posted some ugly attacking errors after the tight second set seemed to take the energy out of them. UW had five aces while Rutgers had six attacking errors in the third, with the Badgers sewing up a sweep with a 25-10 dominant final set.
Wisconsin’s win keeps them in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title, but their final three matches will be a gauntlet. The Badgers will take on three teams ranked in the Top 15 — No. 14 Penn State, No. 6 Nebraska and No. 5 Ohio State, all on the road — as they look to win their fourth straight Big Ten championship.
First up: the Nittany Lions as the Badgers travel to Happy Valley for a Saturday night showdown at 7:00 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.