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Wisconsin Volleyball: Badgers come back, win five-set thriller vs. No. 3 Gators

The Badgers completed a reverse sweep over the Gators in front of a record crowd in Gainesville.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Junior Anna Smrek had a match-high 16 kills — including four in the final set — as the Badgers completed a 3-2 comeback win over the No. 3 Florida Gators.
Mark Stewart / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Wisconsin proved Sunday afternoon why they are the top-ranked team in the land, overcoming a 2-0 deficit in a raucous road environment to reverse sweep the No. 3 Florida Gators (8-1) 3-2 (15-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-13) to remain unbeaten heading into conference play.

Junior Anna Smrek built off her big night Wednesday against the Marquette Golden Eagles with a 16-kill performance where she saved her best in crunch time. Outside hitter Sarah Franklin finished with 13 kills and 10 digs for a double-double.

But the Badgers fell in a hole early in Gainesville in what was a crowd of over 10,000 fans — a new record for the Florida Gators. The Gator faithful had a lot to cheer about in the opening set, as they built a 25-15 set win while holding the Badgers to a .000 hitting percentage.

Wisconsin was having struggles building an efficient attack with their outside hitters and Temi Thomas-Ailara. Both players were hitting in the negatives at that point as Florida was doing a good job of keeping balls up in their back end.

Although the Badger attack improved slightly in the second set, Florida held off some Badger runs to win the second set 25-22. It was a slightly Pyrrhic victory as Florida’s All-American setter Alexis Stucky went down with an apparent right leg injury that brought the loud crowd to concerned silence.

Head coach Kelly Sheffield began tweaking the rotation in the later sets, with sophomore Gülce Güçtekin and freshman Saige Damrow coming in as defensive substitutions to try and help the team improve their passing. The Gators’ serve was definitely putting UW’s offense under pressure, and Sheffield said post game that Güçtekin’s introduction “gave (UW) a real lift.”

The Badgers really came out swinging in the third set, sprinting to a 13-4 lead. The Gators fought back to keep it closer, but Wisconsin’s attack got back on its feet to hit .406 in the third frame.

Sheffield also said he felt the match was a big grind, and there were many long rallies across the match because of the impressive hustle from both teams’ backrows. Florida out-dug Wisconsin 74-70, but the Badgers had four players in double digits with digs including setter MJ Hammill who had 17, and junior Julia Orzoł, who is looking more comfortable in the libero shirt.

In the final set, the Badgers faced an early deficit and were down 8-7 before the decider was knotted at 10-10. Then, with Hammill behind the service line, the Badgers went on a 3-0 run. The senior’s cool presence on the serve once again gave UW some breathing space in a crucial match.

Smrek then had the final two kills for Wisconsin — the Canadian middle blocker had four of her 16 kills in the last set — to close out another statement win for the Badgers.

The win over Florida is Wisconsin’s fifth win over a ranked team this season and was the last test for the Badgers before conference play.

The Badgers’ first game of Big Ten play is a road match against the Northwestern Wildcats (6-4) on Friday at 7:00 p.m. That match will be streaming on Big Ten+.