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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers take down No. 15 Baylor 3-1 in opener

Sarah Franklin and Temi Thomas-Ailara reached double digit kills for the Badgers in match No. 1.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Sarah Franklin’s 13 kills helped lead the Badgers to a 3-1 win over the No. 15 Baylor Bears.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Earlier this year, Sarah Franklin was sidelined from volleyball due to blood clots that almost cost her her career.

In her first match back, Franklin helped lead the No. 2 Badgers (1-0) over the No. 15 Baylor Beats in four sets (25-20, 25-14, 20-25, 25-17) with a team-leading 13 kills on the day. So how did the Florida native feel about that first match?

“It was like the best day ever,” Franklin said directly postgame.

UW’s setters Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill fed Franklin early and often in the first set, with a mix of shots from the back row and her normal pin position. Franklin rewarded that trust with an efficient seven kills in the first set, including the finishing kill. The Badgers hummed that frame, hitting .424 in the opener.

One surprise for UW was junior Julia Orzoł taking the libero role in the first match. Julia Orzoł’s movement from outside hitter to the back row may have been sparked by the addition of Temi Thomas-Ailara from Northwestern. The grad transfer fired 12 kills with no errors, proving immediate faith in the switch. Meanwhile, Orzoł had 11 digs and looked solid passing the ball.

Wisconsin looked the most in control during the second set, with the block coming alive and forcing attacking errors even if it wasn’t a direct block. Junior Anna Smrek and senior CC Crawford combined on a block to give UW a 15-9 lead, where at that point, UW was out-blocking Baylor four to zero. Wisconsin wound up with eight blocks on the day, but forced Baylor into 27 attacking errors.

Thomas-Ailara got hot during the second set with five kills, while Ashburn polished off the second set with an ace as UW dominated 25-14.

Wisconsin’s wobble in the third set was highlighted by service errors and Baylor’s outside hitters finding their footing. Freshman Kyndal Stowers led all players with 14 kills while Elisa McGhee had 11, with many coming during the third set.

But UW was just as good at shooting themselves in their own foot behind the service line, finishing with 17 serving errors compared to six aces.

The Badgers found themselves down 23-14 in the third, but went on a 5-0 run with a mix of kills from Smrek and sophomore Carter Booth. Baylor in the end closed it out, but UW was able to work through some of its third set struggles to build momentum for the fourth.

In the final frame, Wisconsin’s balanced attack shone through. Four players finished with eight or more kills — Franklin, Thomas-Ailara, Devyn Robinson and Smrek — as UW bounced back from the sloppy third set to finish with a .394 hitting percentage to close it out.

Next up, the Badgers take on TCU Saturday at 4:30 p.m. from Minnesota. That game will air on Big Ten Network.