In the conference’s first ever match shown on network television, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (11-1 Big Ten, 20-1 overall) proved they were made for the spotlight against their rival Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6, 10-10), earning another 3-0 sweep (25-13, 25-20, 25-19) in conference play.
With the game airing on FOX — a first ever for the conference — the Badgers’ Sarah Franklin delivered a starring role, finishing with 21 kills and eight digs as UW got its 11th sweep in conference play.
Franklin, who has been on a roll in leading the Wisconsin attack for the last few matches, said the key was preparing before the match and studying the scouting report to find out the areas to attack and “feeling out” what shots in her arsenal would work best.
“I’m just trying to use every single shot, and it just accumulates to a lot of kills,” Franklin said.
Gave the people what they wanted on FOX pic.twitter.com/INua8mAkKF— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) October 29, 2023
Franklin had kills from both the left pin and the back row attack for UW as she’s turned into an incredibly reliable six-rotation player for the Badgers this season. She spearheaded UW’s first set rout with an early ace to put Wisconsin up 9-6 before adding another in the first set that gave the Badgers set point at 24-13. She also tallied six kills in the opening set with no attack errors.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s offense struggled in the opener, hitting -.023 with setter Melani Shaffmaster tying their best attacking player — outside hitter Taylor Landfair — with two kills in the first set.
Although Landfair heated up as the match wore on — she finished with 12 kills and .250 hitting for the Gophers — UW head coach Kelly Sheffield felt the team’s total defensive effort in holding four Minnesota hitters to a negative hitting percentage.
“Defensively, we were awfully special for most of the match,” Sheffield said.
Minnesota hung tighter in the second set, especially aided by the introduction of Lauren Crowl, the sister of Badger men’s basketball player Steven Crowl. She added five kills for Minnesota and some help for Landfair, but Wisconsin held a 15-12 lead at the first timeout thanks to a 3-0 run.
Graduate senior Temi Thomas-Ailara’s performance was a key factor in keeping Minnesota at arm’s reach. The former Northwestern player struggled in their last match against the Spartans, hitting -.357 last match.
It wasn’t until the second set that Thomas-Ailara had a swing that wasn’t a kill, and she finished with nine kills and hit .368. Thomas-Ailara said her improvement came from the mindset of remembering that “the train keeps moving,” and you have to think about what’s coming next.
“Whatever happened in the match before doesn’t matter for the match today,” Thomas-Ailara said. “(You) just play the best in that moment and hopefully it’s enough.”
Throughout the match, fans were rewarded with long rallies and high level scrambling to get the ball up. Sheffield felt the level of play from both teams were worthy of the national audience — he said he wonders how new fans who watched “could not be hooked” on the sport — but made special note of the defensive intensity from the back row players.
Junior libero Julia Orzoł had some highlight reel saves along with sophomore defensive specialist Gülce Güçtekin. Both players had double digit digs and some key passes in transition that rewarded the Badgers with some out-of-system points.
While the crowd lauded the defensive efforts — the Field House got rocking after the long rallies that went UW’s favor — Franklin said the team loves seeing the team make those hustle plays and to reward the team’s effort.
“It’s just fun,” Franklin said. “When someone makes a really good play, you want to better that (play)...We enjoy making those really fun, gritty plays and pride ourselves on making those.”
You just GOTTA see this brought the House down! pic.twitter.com/HvfatyPnpj— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) October 29, 2023
With the team finishing with 61 digs compared to 44 for the Gophers, Thomas-Aialra said there’s a lot of trust in those moments and that the ball will stay alive.
“We trust someone is going to get (the ball) up, and someone will be there for the next touch, then the next, and just fight through those long rallies,” Thomas-Ailara said.
Sheffield said the team played a “real good match” — basically the highest compliment he gives out — but singled out the play of setters Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill in the way they ran the offense. While Minnesota struggled against the Badgers’ defensive efforts, Hammill and Ashburn helped quarterback the Badgers to hit .327 on the day and were able to set solidly even while out-of-system.
Things clicked for Wisconsin in front of a national audience, but the Badgers will have a lot more tests coming up as the season begins the final push towards the postseason. UW faces four matches against ranked teams in November.
Their first test comes against the No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers Wednesday night at the Field House. That match will also be live on Big Ten Network at 6 p.m. Central.