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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers advance to Round of 16 after sweep of feisty Miami Hurricanes

Anna Smrek had 15 kills on the night while Gülce Güçtekin was all over the court as UW swept Miami.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Sophmore defensive specialist Gülce Güçtekin had 16 digs and her “finest perfomrance” according to Kelly Sheffield as the Badgers advanced past Miami 3-0 in the NCAA Tournament.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Wisconsin Badgers are moving on to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, fighting off a rough start against the Miami Hurricanes to win in straight sets 3-0 (25-23, 25-15, 25-15).

Junior middle blocker Anna Smrek led the Badgers with 15 kills while outside hitters Sarah Franklin and Temi Thomas-Ailara both finished in double figures with 13 and 10 kills, respectively.

Although the score from a birds’ eye view is a Wisconsin romp, the Hurricanes did a lot to scare the crowd on the night. Head coach Kelly Sheffield said Miami did a lot of things that “stress teams out,” and felt the tempo and their work from serving was really tough for Wisconsin early but the team did a good job of learning and getting stronger through the match.

But Wisconsin had a lot to learn from in the opening sets as Miami strutted out to a 15-12 lead at the first media timeout. Outside hitter Flormarie Heredia Colon had six kills early on and the speed of Miami caused problems.

Miami fifth year setter Savannah Vach said after playing in the Field House before, they saw how Badger fans often stand up and cheer to add more energy to the team if they were down. So ahead of the match, a small goal was “to keep making them stand up,” which the Hurricanes did in the first set.

“We were playing some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year,” Vach said.

Meanwhile, Sheffield said he could understand why the Field House crowd was feeling stressed.

“When you sit there (as a fan), you can say “what are (they) doing? But it wasn’t us. It was the quality of the opponent putting us into those situations,” Sheffield said.

But the Badgers still could lean on the play of its big guns in the clutch. Sarah Franklin had six kills and no errors in the first set, but Wisconsin still was in a 21-19 hole to Miami before middle blocker CC Crawford went behind the line to serve. Crawford came up clutch for UW, helping lead a 5-0 run that flipped the script and got the Field House on their crowd to cheer as Miami finally felt pressure from the service line.

Crawford said because of Miami’s tempo, the Badgers before the match knew they needed some strong serving to get them out of system and play more how Wisconsin wanted it.

“With a team that runs a super fast offense, it’s hard to track (for) blocking if we can’t serve them out of system,” Crawford said. “(When I was serving) I was just trying to stay calm and play a game with their passers.”

Crawford’s serving helped but the play of sophomore defensive specialist Gülce Güçtekin was a sight to behold. The Turkish player finished the game with 16 digs and three assists and flung herself around the court to make acrobatic saves that also led to inch perfect passes.

Sheffield said it was “probably GG’s finest match as a Badger.” Güçtekin, on the other hand, was less focused on how she played and just focused on the moment and not so much of where her performance ranked.

“I just fight for the game. I don’t know,” Güçtekin said. “I just play for the team and we won, so the job is done.”

In a scrappy match featuring a lot of marathon points, many UW players had highlight reel saves and pick outs. Three players — the aforementioned Güçtekin, Julia Orzoł and MJ Hammill had double digit kills — but it was a total team effort as UW had 59 digs compared to Miami’s 51.

The other difference came in the second set. After Heredia Colon’s impressive performance in the opening set, she cooled off in the second. Although Miami’s freshman phenom Grace Lopez — who had 30 kills in the opening match against the favorite Northern Iowa Panthers — started to get going in the second set and exploded in the third set, Wisconsin’s block started to get better touches in the second.

After being out-blocked in the opener, Crawford and Smrek combined for back-to-back blocks on Heredia Colon to tie up the block score and to push Wisconsin to a 22-14 advantage that put the second set out of reach.

The Canes’ hitting percentage went down throughout the match and Smrek said the team settled in and got better at figuring out what Miami was looking to do on the attack.

“At the start, the game was going by very fast and we were a little bit jumpy,” Smrek said. “As the match went on, we settled in and made those reads and that’s how (the block) came together.”

Smrek then Franklin had the last two kills to close out the second set 25-15 as UW held Miami to a .189 hitting percentage. Meanwhile, the Badgers hit .400, in part from a boost from middle blocker Carter Booth, who had four kills on six attempts in that frame.

In the third set, UW again had some nervy moments, but two more back-to-back blocks from Smrek and Crawford put UW up 11-7 and then Crawford had a serving run that featured an ace that made the score 15-9.

Advancing to the Round of 16 means the Badgers as the No. 3 overall seed will host the next two rounds. UW’s region will include No. 3 Purdue — who beat Marquette to advance Friday night — and the winner of No. 2 Oregon vs Hawaii — as one of the Round of 16 matchups.

Meanwhile, the Badgers will play the No. 5 seed Penn State Nittany Lions, who Wisconsin lost to in their only match up in the season in four sets — Sheffield said the Badgers were “taken to the woodshed.”

But with the Badgers totally healthy and the UW crowd amping up as the Tournament continues, Wisconsin said they are ready to look to achieve their goals.

“We love to compete,” Smrek said. “At this point we’re gonna leave it all out on the court because you don’t know when you’re going to get another game next.”

The Badgers will play Penn State in the Round of 16 at the Field House next Thursday. The timing of the match has not been announced yet.