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Wisconsin Volleyball: Badgers respond after dropped set to beat No. 19 Purdue 3-1

After a poor second set, Wisconsin responded to remain unbeaten at home.

NCAA Womens Volleyball: Wisconsin at Nebraska
Carter Booth had nine kills and seven blocks with many in big moments for Wisconsin as the Badgers beat the No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers 3-1 (25-14, 16-25, 25-18, 25-14) in a Top 25 clash.
Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a second set wobble, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (12-1 Big Ten, 21-1 overall) stayed unbeaten at home with a 3-1 win (25-14, 16-25, 25-18, 25-14) over a tough No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers (8-5, 14-8) side.

After things were rolling for Wisconsin in the first set against the No. 19 Boilermakers, UW had a blip in the second set, losing 16-25 to drop their first set at home since Sept. 3 against the Tennessee Volunteers.

Head coach Kelly Sheffield said the team let its “foot off the gas” as the Badgers let the control slip away for the match to be tied at 1-1, but the team responded how it needed to.

“There haven’t been too many sets where we’ve been pounded on,” Sheffield said. “To go down at half time and hit the reset button, that’s where trust — in yourself and your teammates — is earned…I loved our response to that (adversity).”

After dominating the first frame against Purdue where UW hit .516 as a team and junior outside hitter Sarah Franklin had six kills, the script flipped in the second set. Purdue held UW to negative hitting percentage while their two outside hitters — sophomore Eva Hudson and Chloe Chicoine — got going.

Hudson responded after an error-filled first set to hit .500 with eight kills and one error. Meanwhile, the freshman Chicoine was a terror for UW, hitting 4/0/8 in the second and coming up with some huge blocks.

Sheffield said the team “lost their physicality” in the second set — going in with much more offspeed shots and softer shots — and Purdue made UW pay for that approach.

The team made the adjustments again in the third set. After a back-and-forth start and the set tied 12-12, Wisconsin picked up their play with a 4-0 run that featured a kill from sophomore Carter Booth and junior Anna Smrek and two Purdue attack errors. After more errors by the Boilermakers, Purdue called timeout before a kill by Sarah Franklin and a second error from Hudson gave UW a 20-14 lead and forced a second timeout.

Although there were some light tactical tweaks in between the second and third set — Anna Smrek and Devyn Robinson swapped spots in the rotation, Sheffield felt that combination just provided a better look on both sides this match — graduate senior Izzy Ashburn said she and fellow captain MJ Hammill did not need to give much “rah-rah” motivation to the squad.

“We all knew we had to switch our mindset back and be on the attack again,” Ashburn said. “We just had to get back to the basics and get back to playing ‘Badger volleyball’ and that’s exactly what we did.”

Setting aside the second set, Wisconsin just had six attack errors the whole match and were siding out at over 70% each set. The Badgers kicked the offense up a notch in the fourth set, with multiple different long runs giving UW an early 11-3 lead and forcing Purdue into using all its timeouts to stay alive in the match.

Purdue had a chance to bite into the lead, going on a 4-0 run to cut the lead to 17-11 and forcing a Wisconsin timeout. But Sarah Franklin and Carter Booth had a few big moments to help ice the Badgers’ lead.

The 6-foot-7 sophomore from Colorado had a stretch of three straight points for Wisconsin — two blocks and a kill — as Booth had seven blocks on the night and nine kills.

Meanwhile, Sarah Franklin had 22 kills on .513, numbers that Hammill called “insane.” Franklin, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts last weekend, had a double-double, adding 10 digs and four blocks to her name.

Ashburn noted that the back row attack, which featured more in the match, was adding another scary option for the Badgers. Hammill said that Franklin’s play of late is indicative of all the effort she makes behind the scenes.

“Those aren’t plays that just happen by chance,” Hammill said. “Those are numbers where she is taking 39 attempts (with some) out-of-system. It’s a testament to her hard work.”

In this top 25 clash for Wisconsin — one of four coming up in November — the effort from the Badgers in long rallies and tough moments was evident in the defensive side of the ball. Wisconsin had 55 digs to Purdue’s 49 as every player who touched the floor recorded at least one dig.

Hammill said the team is playing its best volleyball when the team isn’t “waiting for someone else to take the ball.” Ashburn said the hard work is “adding more trust” for all the players because they know everyone is working at the same level of effort. Ashburn said that confidence and trust permeates to the hitters who work harder to be ready for what the back row players can do.

“They have confidence in our coverage. We’re getting a lot of balls and getting a lot of transition swings out of that,” Ashburn said.

Wisconsin’s confidence and mentality helped the team breeze through one moment of adversity in conference play tonight, but the Badgers are sure to face others down the stretch as they fight to stay in the hunt for what would be a fifth Big Ten championship in a row.

Up next for Wisconsin, the Illinois Illini (7-5, 12-10) at the UW Field House on Saturday night. That match will be live on Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. central.