Thursday night in Madison, Wisconsin, the Badgers had more aces than movie theaters streaming Top Gun last summer.
That serving onslaught helped the Badgers (6-0) sweep the Arizona Wildcats (3-4) 3-0 (25-17, 25-21, 25-20) in a much needed quick win after some grueling five-set matches.
Graduate transfer Temi Thomas-Ailara tied a school record for a three-set match with six serves as the Badgers combined for 11 aces with just 10 service errors.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said after the match the servers were a real weapon for the Badgers tonight, but while the aces were important, the tough serving helped get the Wildcats out of system on offense.
The first instance of that service pressure came from setter MJ Hammill. Her serving helped UW sprint to a 6-0 run in the first set to go up 11-3 early on.
Thomas-Ailara steadily zeroed in her serve throughout the match, getting five aces in the last two sets. Improving the service game was an emphasis this week, and Thomas-Ailara felt the results spoke for themselves.
“I think (we as a team) served really well today,” Thomas-Ailara said.
We serve on AND off the court pic.twitter.com/JwDDSJtlSQ— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) September 8, 2023
Arizona fought back in the first set to get within three thanks to a service run from their libero Giorgia Mandotti, but junior Sarah Franklin’s arm helped settle the nerves of the Badgers.
Frank the Tank had eight kills in the first set including the final one to pace UW’s attack early on. Franklin led all players with 15 kills on .387 hitting in another clean performance.
In the second set, both offenses were able to get going early, as both teams hit over .350 at the first timeout. The Badgers clung to a 15-14 set lead as Arizona’s Sofia Maldonado Diaz, who finished with 13 kills, began to get some balls down. Sheffield said the UW struggled to stop her in the match, but felt they did a good job on some of Arizona’s other hitters.
The block also was again a big factor for Wisconsin. CC Crawford posted a team-high five blocks for the Badgers, including pairing up with Sarah Franklin for a combined block to give UW a 23-20 cushion.
With the service game rolling, Crawford said the Wildcats were forced into more out-of-system attacks, which helps make the opposing offense more predictable as they scramble to try and get the ball over the net.
“It is easier to tell where the set is going to go,” Crawford said. “It allows us to line up our block better and get (our hands) over the net and press farther.
A clean sweep was much needed after the Badgers nearly let a 2-0 advantage slip against the Tennessee Volunteers Sunday afternoon before coming back to win in five sets. Crawford said playing challenging matches early in the year helps teach the team lessons ahead of conference play. She felt the lesson from that one was the Badgers had to “bring it” every single point, which she said they addressed tonight.
“Right off the bounce, (we said) let’s just jump on them and bring that momentum,” Crawford said.
Wisconsin did not let their heads drop in the third set, even when they let Arizona take the lead 10-9 in the third despite holding an early advantage. Instead, Thomas-Ailara uncorked her serve with a 5-0 run for Wisconsin as the crowd loved every bit of it.
Until you’ve been in the Fieldhouse for a match, you have no idea… @BadgerVB— Connor Essegian (@CEssegian) September 8, 2023
Sheffield tinkered with different rotations tonight, letting outside hitters stay in the match for six rotations and having Julia Orzoł once again play libero.
Despite the lack of continuity and the changes, Sheffield praised the team, but especially Crawford and Thomas-Ailara, for their maturity tonight and finding other ways to impact the match. Both players did not have their best offensive days — both hit .000 in the match — but Thomas-Ailara was able to find some kills and get her serve going while Crawford was everywhere on the block.
That’s the type of “Badger volleyball” UW fans know and love, and the type of things fans at the UW Field House notice and celebrate on a night like tonight.
The fans will get to be back out for the Badgers Friday night to take on the Miami Hurricanes (4-1).