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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers falter in Final Four to dominant Texas, Madi Skinner

Wisconsin’s season comes to an end as Madi Skinner and the Horns were dominant to notch a 3-1 win.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Anna Smrek’s 13 kills were not enough for Wisconsin as the Badgers fell to dominant Texas performance in four sets to get knocked out of the NCAA Tournament.
Jovanny Hernandez/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Wisconsin Badgers hung tough for two sets before the Texas Longhorns struck back to dominate UW and knock the former out of the national title picture with a 3-1 win (22-25, 25-20, 13-25, 16-25).

Horns’ star Madisen Skinner hit 18 kills, but she was most dominant at the service line with a record high six aces in a Final Four which sunk the Badgers as there was no contest in the later stages as Wisconsin had no answer for Texas’s service pressure.

The Longhorns finished with 11 service aces while Wisconsin had 11 service errors as that part of the game was a clear sign on the outcome of the match.

The Horns built a 15-12 lead in the first and limited UW’s potent attack to hitting just .200 early on as Skinner was leading the UT attack and pacing Texas with a .381 hitting. Her and fellow outside hitter Jenna Wenaas were impressive for Texas in the first set as the Horns closed out Wisconsin by building a 5-0 run that started at 12-12.

Some stellar play from Sarah Franklin and Anna Smrek led to a tied set at 20-all as Smrek had a big block for UW, but a service error from Gülce Güçtekin gave Texas a 21-20 lead they would not look back from.

Wisconsin’s block got it together in the second set to become a factor and give the Badgers life. UW out-blocked Texas 10-6, but the big frame for that performance was in the second where UW tallied five blocks. Opposite hitter Anna Smrek — who ended the night with 13 kills and four blocks — came up with a huge performance in that frame that helped keep UW in the match and tied it at 1-1. CC Crawford had a block to cinch the second set 25-20 as the senior finished with seven blocks on the night.

But things fell apart in the third with Skinner at the service line. The two-time national champion led Texas on a 10-0 service run in the third set and Wisconsin looked like how most of its opponents look on the season: overmatched.

The third set was where the Longhorns’ libero, Emma Halter, came to play. Halter ended the match with 19 digs, but it seemed like every shot UW attempted in the third was dug by her as Wisconsin could not cope with Texas. The lead ballooned for the Horns to 20-6 as Skinner was getting every kill she wanted. Meanwhile, Carter Booth ended up with a negative hitting percentage despite leading the Big Ten in hitting as UW struggled to get anything going. Texas finished that frame with a .444 hitting percentage as the final score of 25-13 somehow felt like it didn’t tell the whole story.

In the fourth set, Skinner led another service run and it was lights out for Wisconsin as Skinner quickly had multiple aces to seemingly put the match away. Libero Julia Orzoł and Güçtekin struggled in the match to cope with Texas, but it was the whole UW team that looked discombobulated on the night. Nothing was working right from the third set on, and UW’s attacking prowess could not do enough to overcome the passing issues caused by Texas — and especially Skinner’s — serve. Her work, plus Asjia O’Neal hitting for 11 kills no errors and using a slide that would make Dana Rettke proud sealed the deal for a Texas team that is in the odd position of feeling like an underdog for a defending champ.

Although it was a great run to the Final Four — a fourth appearance in five seasons for Wisconsin — UW will go empty handed this season in terms of any titles. Next season will see a lot of changes for the Badgers, but despite the disappointment, Wisconsin’s seniors — Izzy Ashburn, MJ Hammill, Gabby McCaa, Joslyn Boyer and Sydney Reed — will be able to tout their impressive Tournament runs. Temi Thomas-Ailara — a graduate transfer — will get to have enjoyed her first taste of the NCAA Tournament ahead of turning pro next year.

And although there are many nits to pick about this match, next season should be yet another promising one in the UW Field House. Congrats to Texas on a convincing victory. May they beat Nebraska Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Central time on ABC.