After a close opening set, the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (6-0 Big Ten, 15-0 overall) exploded in the later frames to dominate the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-4, 7-9) in three sets (25-22, 25-15, 25-12) for a 24th straight win in Big Ten play.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Franklin led the way for UW with 11 kills and just two attack errors while junior Anna Smrek had 10, including five kills in a tight first set.
Wisconsin found themselves down early to the Illini 9-6 before rattling off a 3-0 run to tie the set at nine. A fourth kill from Smrek put Wisconsin up 12-10 before a block with Smrek and junior middle blocker CC Crawford put UW up 15-11 to force a timeout.
Although some solid attacking play from Illinois’ outside hitter Raina Terry helped keep the Illini in the set — including a kill that knotted the set at 20-all, UW sophomore middle blocker Carter Booth played a hand in two straight points to put Wisconsin ahead 22-20. The first was a nice kill from the middle before she combined on the block with Smrek. The Illini fought back to tie the set at 22-22 before UW punched ahead with a 3-0 run to close out the set with sophomore Gülce Güçtekin closing out play with an ace.
The Illini’s star on the night was Terry, who finished with a match-high 15 kills, but Wisconsin was able to start stifling her in the second set as the block party started for the Badgers. Terry may have finished with 15 kills, but she had 10 attack errors, with a lot of them coming from blocks. Wisconsin sprinted to a 10-3 lead punctuated by an ace from setter Izzy Ashburn, but the main star was blocking from Booth, Crawford, and Smrek.
UW finished with 12 blocks compared to four from U of I, and the trees up front for Wisconsin caused the Illini a lot of problems. In the second set, UW held the Illini to a negative hitting percentage on account of the many blocks.
Setting the middle also worked well for the Badgers tonight in an efficient performance. Carter Booth had eight kills and a .889 hitting percentage while CC Crawford had seven and a .875 hitting percentage. On defense, Smrek and Crawford tallied seven blocks while Booth had five to frustrate the Illini.
In the third set, junior libero Julia Orzoł helped the Badgers to establish a 7-2 lead with two aces right off the bat on a 6-0 serving run. The Badgers didn’t let up as Crawford added an ace to put Wisconsin ahead 16-6 to help tie up the Badgers’ sixth straight conference win this season — all without dropping a single set.
It was another match where UW’s depth was proven. Although Devyn Robinson and Temi Thomas-Ailara were relatively quiet tonight, the middles and Sarah Franklin were able to make hay for the Badgers. On the other end, when Terry’s play was stopped by a consistent block, the Illini had no other answers up front.
Next up for Wisconsin is a three-game homestead, starting with the Badgers taking on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (0-5, 8-7) at the Field House next Friday night at 7 p.m. central. That match will be on Big Ten Plus.