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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers close out competitive play on European tour

Highlights include a sweep against a Slovenian team, battles in Milano and...Bruce Springsteen.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin outside hitter Julia Orzoł had some impressive performances against the Italian National Team (B) in the final legs of the Badgers’ European Tour.
Jovanny Hernandez / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

In the last week of the Wisconsin Badgers’ foreign tour, UW played three matches against top European competition before heading back to Madison later this week.

The Badgers took down Slovenian opponents Nova KBM Branik in straight sets (25-21, 25-16, 25-23) in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Friday. Graduate transfer Temi Thomas-Ailara had a team-leading 12 kills in the match, while former Gopher transfer Carter Booth posted an impressive eight-kill and five-block scoreline on the day.

After a few days of travel to Italy, the Badgers faced off twice against the Italian National Team (B) in Milan — with former and Milanese Badger Gio Civita in attendance, losing both matches in what was widely expected to be the toughest competition that UW would face.

Without Thomas-Ailara — who traveled back to the states to attend her graduation at Northwestern — the Badgers played their first match Sunday, dropping the match 3-2 (20-25, 24-26, 25-19, 25-13, 11-15) to the Italians.

UW fought from two sets down to force the fifth set, including a dominant fourth set where setter MJ Hammill had three aces in that frame. In the third, despite facing a 12-6 deficit, the Badgers fought back to take an 18-17 lead before closing out the set. That would be the type of hard-fought match experience UW will want to take with them heading into the season.

Another good sign for Wisconsin that match: the Badger bigs had 18 blocks on the day, with Julia Orzoł leading the team with four. The Polish outside hitter also tallied 15 kills as she is putting things together well for the Badgers across the board.

In the second match against the Italians on Monday, Wisconsin lost in straight sets (21-25, 22-25, 24-26). In another “friendly” set, the Badgers were able to win that one.

Again, Orzoł led the way from outside hitter for Wisconsin, posting 12 kills in the three sets that “counted.” Middle blocker Anna Smrek finished with 11.

Any analysis from these last few matches I think stems from the fact that clearly Thomas-Ailara has become a crucial piece for the Badgers. The speculation was also that the Italian national team would be UW’s toughest test — and Wisconsin was able to mostly hold serve. The fight back shown in the third set in the first match, then the dominance in the fourth set illustrates the level that the Badgers can play at. The question will just be can they put it all together for the Big Ten play.

(and, potentially more importantly, the Badgers got to see Bruce Springsteen in concert Tuesday night)

At the end of the day, Wisconsin’s whole program got the opportunity of a lifetime as well as some serious, competitive tune-up matches. This tour has certainly got me amped up for another season of volleyball, where UW will look to win a fifth(!)-straight Big Ten title. I can’t wait.