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Early Struggles Sink Badgers

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin volleyball team has shown time and again this season it will not go down easy. Friday was no different as the Badgers fought back from a 2-0 deficit before eventually falling 3-1 (25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 25-23) to No. 25 Michigan State at the UW Field House.

After losing two tough sets to begin the match, the Badgers (13-5, 1-4 Big Ten) found new life in the third set, unwilling to give in. Neither team led by more than two points early with the score tied at 11 ties early. A long rally won by MSU (15-2, 3-2) tied the score at 14-14 before Wisconsin opened up the score with a 6-1 run to take a 20-15 lead. The Spartans took the next point but the Badgers put up a 4-0 run to draw set point. MSU didn’t go down easy, claiming the next two points, but the third time was the charm for Wisconsin as senior Alexis Mitchell put down a kill for the 25-18 win.

“After a slow start, I was encouraged that we came out of the locker room (between sets two and three and) turned things around,” said UW head coach Pete Waite. “I thought it was much different attitude on the court. They were playing with a lot more confidence.”

The fourth set featured an unfathomable 20 ties as well as six lead changes. Neither team took more than a one-point lead until a 4-0 Spartan run gave MSU a 10-7 lead. The Badgers came back with a 3-0 run of their own to tie the score at 10-10. Neither team would see more than a one-point lead again until a kill from Ellen Chapman gave Wisconsin a 20-18 lead. Both teams traded points to put the Badgers up 23-22, but the Spartans grabbed the last three points to take the set and match 25-23.

In the first set, the Badgers fell into an early 7-1 hole but a 4-0 run brought Wisconsin to within one point again, trailing 14-13. The Spartans stretched their lead to 22-17 but behind two kills from Chapman Wisconsin scored four straight to again pull within one (22-21). But the Badgers could never even the score as MSU won 25-22.

It’s tough to find a closer set than the one Michigan State and Wisconsin encountered in set number two. Neither team led by more than two points until the Spartans broke a 20-20 tie, scoring two straight. An MSU attack error edged the Badgers to within one before Michigan State finished off the set with a 3-0 run to take a 2-0 lead in the match.

The Badgers had three players in double-digit kills with Ellen Chapman, Crystal Graff and Julie Mikaelsen putting away 10 kills apiece. Courtney Thomas shared match-high honors with 19 digs while Caroline Workman contributed a career-high 18 saves and Annemarie Hickey added 17 digs. Thomas put up 47 assists to record her eighth double-double of the season.

Once again, the Badgers were dominant on the block with 12 compared with MSU’s five. Mary Ording led all players with seven stuffs, including two solos. Wisconsin hit .182 (48 kills -20 errors -154 attempts) for the match, boosted by a .342 (15-2-38) effort in the fourth set. Michigan State finished well below its season average of .309, connecting on 19.3 percent (60-27-131) of its attacks. MSU’s Lauren Wicinski and Taylor Galloway led all hitters with 19 and 16 kills, respectively.

“Looking at the stats, we had 12 blocks for their five,” explained Waite. “I think that says a lot for what were doing with the block but offensively our numbers were lower than we needed to be.

“Defensively, we outdug them by almost 10 so a couple of good things there but still (we lack) the consistency we need to finish off a match.”

The Badgers certainly were a different team in the final two sets. Wisconsin committed 14 hitting errors, including 11 unforced, in the first two sets, but only six attack errors (four unforced) in the final two.

After failing to score a service ace in its last two matches, UW scored on six aces, led by three from Hickey and two from Workman. The Badgers were aced only four times by the Spartans, the Big Ten leader in service aces with 1.72 per set.

“I’m hoping that our team will gain some confidence in themselves that they can beat a team like this,” said Waite. “We just have to go from point 1 to point 25 steadily and not give up some easy points which I think is what happened in each of the sets.”

Wisconsin, still in search of its first home Big Ten win, heads back to the court Sunday. After four-straight ranked opponents, the Badgers will face unranked Michigan at 1 p.m. in the Field House.


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