MADISON, Wis. – In its final home match of the 2013 regular season, the 14th-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team won a battle against Ohio State with a 3-1 win on Sunday afternoon in the UW Field House. The Badgers grabbed a 23-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-21 victory over the Buckeyes to improve to 20-8 on the season and 9-7 in the Big Ten Conference, tied for fifth place with Michigan State. It is the Badgers’ first 20-win season since 2007.
“I thought we had a really balanced match,” said head coach Kelly Sheffield. “I just thought we played good volleyball today. Across the board, I thought we did a lot really good things.”
A dominant offensive performance keyed Wisconsin’s win as four players recorded double figure kills. Courtney Thomas and Dominique Thompson each put away 13 kills to lead the team, followed by Ellen Chapman (12) and Deme Morales (11). Chapman’s 12 kills bring the 6-4 outside hitter just nine shy of recording her 1,000th career kill.
“(It was a) great offensive performance by our hitters,” Sheffield added. “Offensively, our attackers were hitting at a really high level. They were, for the most part, recognizing what shots were being given and going out there and being aggressive. They went with the flow, they executed with confidence.”
Four Badgers also hit over .300 on the match to lead the team to victory and contribute to Wisconsin’s .268 (59 kills – 19 errors – 149 attempts) team attack percentage. Thomas led the team, hitting .417 (13-3-24) on the match. Chapman (.357/12-2-28), Haleigh Nelson (.34/ 9-1-23), and Thompson (.333/13-5-24) rounded out the Badgers’ dominant offensive performance.
“Our hitters were really keying in on where we were supposed to be hitting at the net,” said setter Lauren Carlini. “We were running a lot of different plays behind (the setter) and our outsides were running different plays. So I think it definitely helped as keeping the other team off balanced.”
Ohio State (16-12, 4-12) hit .181 (52-24-155) on the match. Senior Kaitlyn Leary, the Big Ten’s leader in kills, grabbed match-high honors with 17 kills to lead the Buckeyes.
Wisconsin also impressed on the defensive end as five players recorded double-figure digs. Senior Annemarie Hickey, who was honored in a pre-match ceremony, showed no letup in playing in her final regular-season home match. She led the team with 15 digs and recorded a perfect 1.000 on 34 service receptions and no errors. Taylor Morey and Thomas each added 13 digs, followed by Carlini and Morales with 12 apiece.
“Anne is a rock, she doesn’t get bothered,” said Sheffield of his lone senior. “She’s the same as the same as the same. She’s going to bring it every night.”
Hickey agreed with Sheffield. “I can’t really focus on myself and that’s kind of how it went. I have to give credit to my team. We played awesome and really followed what we were supposed to do for that game. We came out there fighting and we really wanted to beat the Buckeyes.”
Carlini added 50 assists for her 16th season double-double, a team high. Thomas and Morales also recorded double-doubles the match
At the net, Wisconsin out-blocked the Buckeyes 9-8. Nelson led all players with eight blocks, the 12th time this season the freshman has recorded five-or-more blocks in a match. Thomas added four blocks for the team.
The Badgers started out hot right away, going on a 4-0 run in the first set with the help of two straight blocks by Nelson and Thomas. Three straight kills from Morales gave Wisconsin a 9-4 lead and UW upped its lead to 17-10 off a kill by Thomas. But Ohio State countered with a 9-1 run to take a 19-18 lead. The two teams battle through a 23-23 tie before two straight Badger errors gave OSU the win.
“... obviously we let a big lead go in game one, but the reason why the fans are coming back is because of how we responded to that afterwards,” Sheffield said. “I thought we got right back to work in game two and that shows a lot of the heart.”
After being tied 4-4 in the second set, the Badgers took control, hitting .429 (15-3-28) to breeze by the Buckeyes. Ohio State struggled on offense as Wisconsin went up 20-9. The Buckeyes held off three UW set points but a kill by Nelson tied the match heading into the break.
“We certainly had some errors defensively on our side, there’s no question about it, but considering what they’re bringing, what they’re throwing at you, I thought we did a really good job,” said Sheffield. “That low hitting percentage was because of all of those things - the serving, the blocking, the backcourt defense, all of those things working pretty well together.”
The two teams were neck-and- neck throughout most of the third set, which featured 12 ties and four lead changes. Leading 18-17, Wisconsin was able to pull ahead with 3-0 run. The Buckeyes cut it to two (22-20) but the Badgers hit .429 (16-1-35) for the second straight set.
Ohio State jumped out to 6-2 lead in the fourth set, but Wisconsin was able to pull ahead on a 4-0 run to make it 16-15. The Badgers hit just .171 (12-5-41) in the set, but four team blocks held Ohio State to a .049 attack percentage (11-9-41), and Wisconsin went on to claim the set and match victory.
“In game four, you don’t sit there and go ‘Oh, my goodness, we’re going to game five,’” said Sheffield of his team’s performance. “You just keep battling and I thought we did that. We put a lot of pressure on them with our serve and I thought we defended really, really well in the backcourt.”
The Badgers play their last four regular-season matches on the road, traveling to Michigan State and Michigan next weekend. Wisconsin takes on No. 16 Michigan State on Friday, Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in East Lansing, Mich. UW faces the No. 19 Wolverines on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. in Ann Arbor, Mich.