MADISON, Wis. – In an intense battle, the 14th-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team was swept by No. 2 Penn State 3-0 on Friday night in the UW Field House. Despite a tenacious performance and season-high crowd, the Badgers dropped a 25-23, 27-25, 25-16 loss to the Nittany Lions in front of 5,897 fans.
With the loss, Wisconsin falls to 19-8 overall on the season and 8-7 in the Big Ten Conference, tied for fifth place with Michigan State.
“I thought we played pretty well today,” said first-year head coach Kelly Sheffield. “(The Nittany Lions) were very inspired defensively on that side of the net. I thought we had some really nice swings on some balls that weren’t going down. I thought we battled really hard.
“Games 1 and 2 were pretty even. I thought most of that match was neck and neck and pretty even. They won the two close ones and then got us stuck in a rotation that we couldn’t get out of in Game 3.”
‘Resilience’ was tonight’s key word as Wisconsin scrapped it out with Penn State (23-2, 13-1), losing by the just two points in the first two sets. The Nittany Lions stole that momentum in the third set, however, and grabbed a nine-point victory for the match win.
Penn State looked like it could run away with the first set, jumping on a 5-1 run with the help of two service aces from junior setter Micha Hancock. The Lions had recorded three of their four team blocks in the set by the time the score was 8-4 and looked set up to win with a 19-12 lead over Wisconsin. But the Badgers battled back with a 9-3 run, bringing the score to 21-22. UW held off two set points – at 24-22 and at 24-23 – but a kill from Megan Courtney ended the late rate. The Badgers hit just .083 in the set (9 kills – 6 errors – 36 attempts) and tallied only one block.
The momentum from the first set carried over into the second and it was an all-out battle between the two teams. The set went back-and-forth, with 19 ties and 10 lead changes. Wisconsin trailed 20-19 but scored two straight to take a 21-20 lead behind kills from Ellen Chapman and Courtney Thomas. The score was tied three more times before a kill from Deme Morales gave UW set point at 24-23. Two straight kills form Penn State gave it set point at 25-24 but a Nittany Lion service error tied the set again. The Badgers couldn’t take advantage of the error as Penn State took a 2-0 lead into the break.
Junior Dominique Thompson caught fire for the Badgers, putting away eight kills in the second set alone, but Penn State’s Courtney countered with seven kills to lead the Lions in the period. The Badgers also recorded three crucial service errors in the set.
Two Penn State net violations and a service error helped boost Wisconsin to a 9-5 lead in the third set, but the Lions tied up the score at 10-10 and did not look back. The Badgers seemed to have lost their previous energy, and Penn State went on to win by the largest margin of the match. The Lions put up five blocks in the set, holding Wisconsin to a .000 hitting percentage (9-9-44).
“I don’t think we lost our energy,” Sheffield said of his team’s performance in the third set.
“They’ve got Katie Slay and Ariel Scott up there blocking our 5-7 outside hitter. That’s probably the biggest block in the country going up against the smallest outside hitter in the country. Deme’s (Morales) a warrior, but that’s a pretty tough thing to do.
“I saw us continuing to battle—not just her, but all of us. I didn’t get the sense that we were losing energy. The crowd probably lost energy, but I didn’t sense our team was. These guys, I thought, were fighting to the very, very end. That was the impression I got.”
Wisconsin struggled offensively against Penn State’s tough net defense. The Badgers hit just .129 (37 – 20 – 132) on the match, while the Lions recorded a .220 attack percentage (45-17-127), their lowest since Oct. 5 against Purdue.
“We really felt like we could win the game, and we were really trying to be confident with everything that we were doing”, Thompson said. “We just tried to fight and take it.”
The Badgers were led by Ellen Chapman and Thompson with double-figure kills. The two juniors recorded 12 and 10 kills respectively. Chapman’s 12 putaways bring her just 21 shy of 1,000 career kills.
Defensively, blocks were a major difference-maker in the match as Penn State put up three times as many as Wisconsin. The Lions recorded 12 team blocks, led by Big Ten leader and 6-6 middle blocker Katie Slay with eight, while the Badgers managed just four total stuffs.
Wisconsin, the Big Ten’s leader in digs, was out-dug by the Nittany Lions 62-54. Three Badgers recorded double-figure saves, led by senior Annemarie Hickey with 13, her 17th double-figure match of the season. Deme Morales (12) and Courtney Thomas (10) rounded out the Badger defense.
Though both teams recorded eight total service errors, Penn State had the advantage with four service aces versus two from Wisconsin. Six of the Badgers eight errors came in the first two sets.
The Badgers get back on the court Sunday as they face Ohio State and honor senior Annemarie Hickey in their final home match of the season. Game time against the Buckeyes is 1 p.m. in the UW Field House