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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers take care of Wildcats 3-0 in Big Ten opener

Julia Orzoł had 12 kills while setter MJ Hammill had a career-high five aces.

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

No. 6 Wisconsin (1-0 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) starts their Big Ten title defense with a 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-19, 25-22) of the Northwestern Wildcats (0-1, 11-2).

Sophomore Julia Orzoł had a match-leading 12 kills and a .500 hitting percentage as she was the best attacker for UW on the night. The Polish star had kills all across the court, with a few key backrow kills in the first set and some powerful finishes from the pin in a real steady night for the sophomore.

The Badger took an early 9-4 lead in the first set before Northwestern started to claw back to reach a 13-11 score. Junior setter MJ Hammill then gave Wisconsin some more breathing room with an ace to make it 15-11. Orzoł wound up finishing off the set with a kill from the back row.

Hammill’s serve was massive spark for UW, who has had a lot of aces in the opening matches. The junior from Indiana had 17 assists to go along with a career-high five aces — with many coming in key moments.

One example of her key service runs came in the second set, with UW facing a 15-12 deficit to Northwestern thanks to some great blocks and a spark from their star outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara.

Thomas-Ailara had a solo block and a couple of kills — she wound up with 11 kills on the night — to give the Wildcats the lead and forced UW head coach Kelly Sheffield to call timeout.

Out of the break, Hammill got an ace and sparked a 3-0 run for UW to tie up the frame, and a solid service run from junior middle blocker Caroline Crawford — including an ace that gave UW the go-ahead point — led to a 7-1 run punctuated by a kill from junior Jade Demps to polish off a 25-19 second set that started poorly for Wisconsin.

Solid serving has been a story for Wisconsin. The Badgers had nine aces to just five service errors, while Northwestern only mustered three aces. UW also out-blocked NU by 9-8 — with Crawford and senior Danielle Hart mustering four blocks each.

Northwestern took an early lead in the third set before Orzoł had back-to-back kills to put the Badgers up 9-7. Her fellow outside hitter, Sarah Franklin, struggled on the night, managing just 4 kills to 7 attacking errors. But Franklin had three timely kills in the third set to get back on her feet offensively.

Those efforts and junior Devyn Robinson’s play wrote the story for UW’s attack. Robinson was her usual solid self, putting up 10 kills and three blocks. Jade Demps also spelled well with three kills in just two sets played, filling in for Anna Smrek who was struggling on the night and hitting in the negatives.

While Smrek and Franklin struggled offensively, the Badgers did not have too many hiccups, showcasing the team’s depth.

That will be needed in the Big Ten gauntlet — and needed for a key border battle on Sunday. The No. 8 Minnesota Golden Gophers will host the Badgers in the Twin Cities. First serve is set for 7:00 p.m. CDT on Big Ten Network.