The Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team has embarked on a European journey this summer as part of its offseason plans — taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows teams to make an international trip once every four years.
The last time UW went international was ahead of the 2019 season — which led to the first of four straight Big Ten titles and an appearance in the NCAA Championship game. Coincidentally, it also helped lead to the signing of Julia Orzoł after she played against the Badgers during an exhibition.
This year’s foreign tour runs from June 2 to June 14 and will make stops in Turkey, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland.
Wisconsin played two matches in Istanbul, the home city for Turkish libero Gülce Güçtekin, and came out with two wins: a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-15, 25-23) over VakifBank Spor Kubülü Juniors Sunday and a five-set win (20-25, 25-19,16-25, 25-11, 15-10) over Eczacibasi Spor Kulübü Juniors early Monday.
Here are some of the interesting developments from the opening pair of matches in the Turkish capital.
- Güçtekin enjoyed some home cooking back in her hometown in Istanbul. Not only did GG get to give her teammates lessons about the city on the Bosphorus and Turkish culture, but she played well in the opening match. Back wearing the libero jersey, Güçtekin had 17 digs and led a 11-0 service run in the second set that included five aces. If she can bring that consistency back to the states, the Badgers could be in for a special season.
- If early performances are to be believed, the Badgers have a really special pickup in graduate transfer Temi Thomas-Ailara. A four-year starter for the Northwestern Wildcats, Thomas-Ailara joined Wisconsin as a grad transfer and has been an instant fit in the opening matches. The outside hitter led the way with 10 kills in the opening match before uncorking 29 kills in the five-set win over Eczacibasi Spor Kulübü Juniors.
- With both Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill returning this season, the Badgers continued to run its 6-2 offense that was put into place last year. The setting duo has performed well in the first two matches in running the offense. In the first match, Hammill led the way with 20 assists. In the second match, Ashburn had a team-high 27.
- One of the hallmarks for the Badgers last season was an impressive block. In the offseason, UW added 6-foot-7 middle blocker Carter Booth from Minnesota, shoring up the front line. In the opening match in Turkey, Booth led the team with six blocks. Meanwhile, 6-foot-9 middle blocker Anna Smrek had four. In the second match, Smrek and middle blocker Caroline Crawford posted four blocks each.
- I’m sure many of you are having the question of “Hey Bremen. This seems great, but is there any way to watch the games?” According to UW’s website, there are live streams for the games that they’ll post links to. The Badgers have some days off to sightsee and travel to their next stop, Slovenia, but will return to action on June 8. Hopefully, Anna Smrek can still have some extra leg room during any and all of the travels.