The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0) held off a comeback charge from the No. 24 Tennessee Volunteers (5-1) that led to a five-set battle (25-16, 25-23, 18-25, 20-25, 15-13) to keep up their perfect start to the season.
Outside hitter Sarah Franklin led all players with 23 kills on the day in the Badgers’ first home match of the season. Franklin said she welcomed the loud crowd of the Field House which helped propel UW in low moments.
“I love when everyone’s on their feet and rooting for you,” Franklin said.”It gets the other team a little bit and you can just feed off that energy really easily. It’s so fun to play in the field house.”
For the first few sets, it was relatively smooth sailing for Wisconsin. A service run under the watch of setter MJ Hammill helped push UW out to a 12-4 advantage. Although the Vols fought back in the set to make it 17-15, another service run helped give the Badgers the set win.
UW had 18 kills in the first set alone with a hitting percentage of .586. Senior middle blocker Devyn Robinson was the other Wisconsin player on fire on offense, posting 15 kills on the day.
If kills were the story for UW in the first set, both teams tightened up defensively the next set. The Vols pushed the Badgers to hit just .194 as errors became more prominent. But Tennessee’s hitting percentage dipped as well to just .070 as the Wisconsin block became more of a factor. Middle blocker Carter Booth led the Badgers with eight on the day, but the team tallied 16 to the Vol’s six.
Despite that, Tennessee grabbed momentum, winning the next two sets and forcing the tiebreaker. The Vols began to hit above .300 in each set, with the Badgers unable to also raise their game. Graduate senior Morgahn Fingall paced the Vols with 22 kills while Jenaisya Moore — a former Buckeye — was close behind with 14 kills.
Wisconsin got hot to start the fifth set, going up 6-1 thanks to two blocks and a kill from Booth. The Vols fought back to tie the set 10-10 and the teams traded points, but Julia Orzoł had a crucial ace to put UW up 13-12. Franklin then punctuated the Badgers’ win with the final kill to win their fourth match against a Top 25-opponent.
Hammill said the team felt they lost momentum after the two set losses, and it was hard to snag it back. But the team got refocused ahead of the short set and they went out there and played “Badger volleyball.” Those 15 points were exactly what the Badgers wanted.
“That’s what we train for,” Hammill said. “That’s what we love.”
After UW ground out those final few points, the loud Field House crowd erupted with the win. The Badgers will have that home cooking the next two matches as the Arizona Wildcats (3-3) and Miami Hurricanes (4-1) come to town Thursday and Friday night.