The No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (8-0 Big Ten, 17-0 overall) continued their unbeaten start in Big Ten play, and still have not dropped a set, as they beat the Maryland Terrapins (3-5, 13-7) in an eighth straight sweep 3-0 (25-15, 25-12, 25-16).
Junior outside hitter Sarah Franklin had a team-leading 18 kills including eight in the opening set to set the tone for Wisconsin Badgers as her play has picked up at the right time.
“I feel like I’m getting better every single time,” Franklin said. “(So is) the team. We’re progressing and getting one percent better together.”
The Badgers sprinted out to an early lead to go up 8-4. The Terps cut the lead to 9-7 but a kill from Franklin punctuated a 3-0 run to push the lead to 15-9 before an attacking error from Maryland sealed the opener 25-15.
UW forcing attack errors was a theme of the match. The Terps hit just .029 during the match and had 20 attacking errors. Although Wisconsin had eight blocks as a team, the majority of those came later in the match. Franklin said the errors did help force Maryland to hit out of system, putting more pressure on their outside hitters as they could not easily pass to their middles.
Libero Julia Orzoł, who had a day that head coach Kelly Sheffield called “special” in his opening comments, said the consistent threat from the service line was key for the Badgers to affect the Terps’ offense.
“That must be frustrating (for the opponent) when it’s not only one server to worry about. That was key,” Orzoł said.
Wisconsin had another good match serving the ball. The Badgers had seven aces and just six service errors. Head coach Kelly Sheffield said the team has gotten much better at serving flat and getting better with the serving game in general.
“I’m not sure early on we were a good serving team at all,” Sheffield said. “But I feel like we can put pressure behind the service line on all six rotations right now.”
The Terps felt that pressure in the second set as the Badgers rattled off multiple long runs in the second set including a 9-1 run to close out the frame 25-12. Wisconsin had four aces in the second set, and junior middle blocker Anna Smrek had five kills on no errors while graduate senior Temi Thomas-Ailara had four and no errors.
The Terps were hitting in the negatives that set as Wisconsin had its way, but the defensive effort was often of the scrappier digging variety. All nine players that touched the floor got a dig, including a play in the first set where Smrek got the dig, CC Crawford had the set and Franklin had the kill.
Orzoł had 15 digs on the day as the team combined for 53, including a lot of great hustle plays to keep the point alive.
“It is so satisfying when you dig the ball and it gets set in a perfect place,” Orzoł said. “Our team is really flowing.”
Franklin said the team thrives off the hustle plays and it inspires her to do more seeing how hard the back row was working.
“It’s a lot of fun to come off the block, turn around, and see Ozzy (Orzoł) in the air digging a ball,” Franklin said. “It makes me want to work harder to get in transition and get a kill off that. It builds momentum whenever we have big digs.”
Wisconsin got off to another fast start in the third set, with some key blocks from Carter Booth and Crawford, with Crawford, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, adding a team-high five blocks. Franklin then got a kill to give the Badgers a 7-0 run to go up 12-3 and force a Maryland timeout.
Although the Terps fought their way back into the set, cutting the deficit to 14-11, the Badgers won four of five points to extend the lead to 18-12 and never looked back.
Despite the fact the Badgers have won 27 sets in a row and have had the best start to the season in program history — bettering the start to UW’s 2021 national title-winning season — both Orzoł and Franklin are not thinking about any of the stats or scores of the day.
“I think we don’t pay attention that much to the numbers,” Orzoł said. “We know getting stuck in the past is not going to get us any better, it’s always about what is next.”
What’s next for Wisconsin is a big stretch in Big Ten play. Four of UW’s next five matches are against ranked teams, including a home match against No. 18 Ohio State (4-4, 7-10) and a big Saturday matchup against the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-0, 17-0).
Franklin said the team is excited about looking to what is next and figuring it out what the team will be doing to get even better for their next opponent.
“It’s really fun for us to go through each game and smooth everything out…to see how good we can be,” Franklin said.
Wisconsin will need all the preparation to count for the next few matches as the first huge tests of conference play start. First up: a home match against the Buckeyes on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Central.