Another match with a title on the line. Another match against Nebraska. Another match where Wisconsin had a little something extra to win, and illustrate how they are the standard of a Big Ten team.
The No. 3 Badgers’ (18-1 Big Ten, 24-3 overall) 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19) win over the No. 5 Nebraska showcased the championship level that head coach Kelly Sheffield and the incredible athletes have brought to the UW Field House as they notched their fourth-straight conference title — once again, outright — in a statement victory to the rest of the country, reminding them that UW is once again back, and the defending champion.
It was junior Devyn Robinson who spearheaded Wisconsin’s offense against the Huskers, as the Iowa-native had 16 kills to lead all players in another impressive performance.
Robinson was a spark for UW taking an early lead in the first set. A couple quick kills from Robinson and impressive play helped the Badgers sprint out to an early 18-11 advantage — as Wisconsin had 14 kills and just one error to that point.
Sophomore Julia Orzoł was helping push the Badgers out too with impressive serving in the first set, including an ace that helped UW stick out to their run to take a commanding 21-13 lead.
Credit to Nebraska, who had two service runs to cut the lead to 22-17, before a couple of service errors in key spots by Madi Kubik and Lexi Rodriguez doomed the Huskers to a 25-21 defeat in the first that quieted the atmosphere in the Devaney Center. UW posted a .400 hitting percentage while Robinson had six kills in the first frame.
In the second set, Nebraska was able to re-group, and their star Ally Batenhorst became a focal point on both the attacking and defensive end. Batenhorst — alongside freshman and Lincoln-native Bekka Allick — made some hugely impressive blocks to stymie Wisconsin’s attack.
While sophomore Anna Smrek had a couple kills to put UW up 18-17, Nebraska’s defense and serving from Rodriguez helped the Huskers stretch a 4-0 run to go up 21-18. Then a block from Batenhorst on Robinson put the Huskers up 23-19 they would not relinquish.
As with any tight match, small moments mattered. Serving was always going to be crucial, with both teams struggling with service errors at important moments — as evidenced by the first set. In the third set, with both teams trading points, UW got a big moment from transfer Shanel Bramschreiber, who had an ace as a serving sub to put Wisconsin up 15-14.
That moment of momentum helped lift Wisconsin with some punishing kills from Devyn Robinson, who had a couple of important kills to keep UW in front before sophomore Anna Smrek had a crucial kill to put the Badgers in front 22-19.
Smrek was clinical in the match, finishing with 11 kills and one error while hitting .400. She also led Wisconsin with five blocks — which were crucial in the decisive fourth set. Smrek was electric from the right side like Robinson, and that was the area that the Huskers struggled to deal with all night.
Although the Huskers cut the lead to 23-21, Julia Orzoł came up clutch in the crucial stages. She hit a nasty cross-court slice that stayed in to give the Badgers match point before she and Smrek combined on the block to give Wisconsin the third set.
That block was missing in the second set, and was the Huskers’ domain in that time. The Badgers and Huskers had the same number of blocks with 10, but in the fourth set, UW’s block — and even block touches — really became a difference that slowed down the Huskers.
Early in the fourth, Orzoł had a key solo block that fed the energy for Wisconsin as it took a 8-4 advantage. Orzoł had an error prone night in the attacking, but was everywhere in the serve-receive and defense to finish with eight digs and two crucial blocks.
The Huskers cut that to an 8-8 tie before sophomore Caroline Crawford — in her first game back after a finger injury with a massive “club” on her hand — had a 3-0 service run to push UW’s lead to 11-8. Eventually, freshman libero Gülce Güçtekin got the ball to serve and had an ace that pushed the lead for Wisconsin to 18-11 and forced a timeout.
Meanwhile, sophomore Sarah Franklin — the Tank — had a solid night. Despite some error-prone moments coming in, Franklin was rock-steady for UW as she had 12 kills and five errors while adding eight digs on defense. As a target of the Huskers’ serve, Franklin did not have many bad moments either, passing well and being a crucial cog for the Badgers.
The same could not be said for Nebraska’s star Madi Kubik. Although the senior was solid defending with 13 kills — only second to Rodriguez, the libero — she once again struggled against Wisconsin, tallying seven kills and seven errors to hit .000. Kubik was the player who called the Field House a “dungeon,” and this loss to Wisconsin means the decorated player has not beat the Badgers in her career. That is the tenth straight win against the Huskers for Nebraska — including the national championship in 2021.
The only attacking option that was rock-steady for the Huskers was transfer middle blocker Katilin Hord — who had 13 kills and one error as she hit a ferocious .500. But in the crucial fourth set, the Huskers were held to .062 hitting on their home floor, with even Ally Batenhorst struggling.
That was because UW’s block started to settle in and affect the attack. Even in moments when the blocks did not fall to the floor, the Badgers kept Nebraska out of system and pressing to find shots beyond the block. Those issues led to shots that went long, wide or blocked, and the Huskers looked entirely out of sorts.
Fittingly, the match ended for Wisconsin with fifth year Danielle Hart setting up championship point at 24-19 before Nebraska had an attacking error to seal the match and title.
So the Badgers gain their fourth straight conference title at the hands of Nebraska, in Lincoln. The court quickly thinned out after the final whistle that gave Wisconsin bragging rights once again across the conference. It also likely guarantees a very important Top 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would guarantee the Badgers games at home during the tourney up until the Final Four.
The way Wisconsin can end any doubt at rankings or seeding would be beating No. 6 Ohio State — now out of any title contention, just like Nebraska — Saturday at 6:00 p.m. central time on Big Ten Network.