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Wisconsin volleyball: After strong week, Badgers hope to keep winning streak going vs. Illini and Hoosiers

A weekend after toppling No. 1 Nebraska and No. 10 Minnesota, Sarah Franklin and Badgers look to stay atop Big Ten.

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Syndication: Journal Sentinel
After a big week from Sarah Franklin earned Player of the Week nods, Franklin (right) and the rest of the Badgers hope to keep their winning ways against Illinois and Indiana.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sarah Franklin had herself a big week.

After a 21-kill performance that helped take down the-No. 1 Nebraska in a sweep and an 18-kill night against then-No. 10 Minnesota in a 3-1 (25-20, 25-20, 16-25, 25-23) victory Saturday night, the outsider hitter from Florida earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after a near perfect week for Wisconsin.

Two top 10 wins? Check. Tied for first in the conference? Check. Getting respect from the NCAA’s selection committee? Ehhh.

Despite that big weekend, the Badgers (11-1 Big Ten, 17-3 overall) sit just No. 7 in the selection committee’s mind for the NCAA Tournament. Not that head coach Kelly Sheffield and crew will be worrying about that, as they gear up for matches against Illinois and Indiana this weekend.

Both wins for UW last week were impressive, but perhaps most impressively was how fifth year senior Shanel Bramschreiber came into the role of libero in the match against Minnesota. With freshman phenom Gülce Güçtekin out, Bramschreiber stepped in and showcased why she was a multi-year starting libero at her former team Baylor.

Bramschreiber, who was unfairly forced to sit out for half of the Badgers’ season by the NCAA after she explored playing professionally and contacted an agent, played her most minutes in red and white and led the team with 19 digs in a steady performance over the Gophers.

Sheffield is notoriously mum about injury situations for players, so we have no clue if Güçtekin will even dress this weekend, but the Badgers are in capable hands with Bramschreiber.

UW’s last match against Minnesota was a slugfest, with both teams struggling on the attack. The Badgers were outhit by Minnesota in the match — with the Gophers’ impressive lead stemming from a third set where they hit .313 and only allowed a .075 hitting percentage.

Wisconsin will hope to clean that up in some lighter Big Ten faire against unranked Illinois (6-6, 11-11) and Indiana (6-7, 13-12). The Badgers’ will face a run of five straight unranked foes again before an ending gauntlet of No. 15 Penn State, a rematch at No. 4 Nebraska and No. 6 Ohio State.

While the Big Ten title would likely be decided that weekend, that doesn’t mean the Badgers can look past their two matches now. After reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament last year, Illini dropped off a bit this year. Outside hitter Raina Terry is the player to watch for the Illini, leading the team with 4.12 kills per set. Libero Caroline Barnes is steady for Illinois as well, averaging 3.64 digs per set.

Barnes will have a lot of work to do against a loaded Wisconsin attack that has recently been led by Sarah Franklin turning the corner. A new Frank the Tank for Wisconsin, the 6-foot-4 outside hitter has upped her game of late and lessened the errors — a good sign for UW fans.

A “Big Three” of sorts with Franklin, Devyn Robinson and Julia Orzoł have been Wisconsin’s finishers up front. All three had over double digit kills in the win over Minnesota. Meanwhile, Danielle Hart and Caroline Crawford have become a dynamic duo as middle blockers, helping keep the Badgers as one of the strongest blocking teams in the country.

Wisconsin will look to continue its winning ways on the road at Huff Hall Thursday night against the Illini. That match starts at 7:00 p.m. CDT on Big Ten Network.