MADISON (UW Athletics) – For the first time in program history, the 16th-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team defeated back-to-back top 10 ranked opponents with an 18-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-20 win over No. 7 Minnesota Wednesday night in the Field House. The win followed a 3-1 win over No. 5 Michigan State on Sunday at home.
The Badgers improve to 17-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten Conference to move into a three-way tie for third place with the Golden Gophers (18-4, 6-3) and Michigan State.
"I thought that was a really good team win," first-year head coach Kelly Sheffield said after the match. "I thought we were solid in all areas. We had a lot of help throughout our lineup. And that's the way that we've got to win.
"We might not have some of the ‘superstars' that some other teams have but what we've got to do is we've got to play well. We're just dependent on everybody. And we've got to play with a tremendous amount of heart and I thought we did that tonight."
Team effort was the phrase of the night as four Badgers recorded double-figure kills, led by junior Deme Morales with 15. Junior Ellen Chapman (14), freshman Haleigh Nelson (12) and junior Courtney Thomas (10) rounded out a strong offense performance by the Cardinal and White.
"I think our players were getting a better feel for where to attack the ball," Sheffield said as the match went on. "I think Lauren (Carlini) made a lot better decisions as the match went on. And that's an elite blocking team and we didn't get blocked that much. Our hitters were hitting really smart shots and Lauren's decision making put us in a good position.
Carlini put up all but 10 of the team's assists, recording 49, just three shy of her career high. Her setting led the Badgers' to a .256 hitting percentage (63 kills – 18 errors – 176 attempts), their second-highest in Big Ten play. But the Gophers hit an opponent season-high .268 percent (58-14-164), only the second time this season Wisconsin has won when hitting less than a foe.
"What our players did, especially with Ellen and Deme, I think they did a great job of just working the ball around, working the ball to different areas of the court," said Sheffield. "Not just going after the same shot over and over and over again. Just really trying to keep the defense off balance and I thought they did a great job."
Minnesota was led by three players posting double-figure kills. Senior Tori Dixon led all players with 20 kills, followed by senior Ashley Wittman (18) and junior Adrianna Nora (10). Defensively, five players put up double-figure digs, led by sophomore Daly Santana with 17.
It was team effort on the defensive end as well. For the first time under 25-point rally scoring, three Badgers recorded 15-or-more digs. Thomas and Carlini each contributed 18 digs apiece to lead the team and record double-doubles. Senior Annemarie Hickey added 16 saves.
"I think it was a complete team effort in this match which kept our energy high," Carlini said. "There wasn't one person that we had to keep carrying the momentum for the whole team. It was everybody was moving forward after a good play or a bad play."
Wisconsin outblocked the Gophers, the Big Ten leading blocking team, 8-7, behind the dominance of Nelson at the net. She put up a team-high six blocks, including three in the second set, and hit a team-best .500 (12-0-24). Thomas put up four blocks for the Badger defense.
In an evenly matched performance, service errors were a deal breaker for Minnesota. The Gophers totaled 10 service errors against just five from Wisconsin. Other than service aces, both teams recorded very similar team statistics.
"I think that was a match that was won on execution," said Sheffield. "It was a great effort by the players and our players were taking ownership and I think they're going to do this. I'm not going to change what they're doing."
Minnesota dominated the first set offensively, hitting .432 (18-2-37) as a team. The set featured seven ties and three lead changes, but the Gophers were able to pull ahead and capture a 25-18 win with three consecutive points. Thomas led the Badgers with five kills this set.
The Gophers scored three straight points to jump out to a 6-2 in the second set. The Badgers trailed 12-9 but a 5-0 run behind the serve of Carlini put UW up 14-12. The set was close until Wisconsin broke a 19-19 tie, scoring three straight on a service ace from Morales. Minnesota held off one set point but the Badgers evened the match at one set apiece.
In the third set, it was Wisconsin that jumped out to a 6-2 lead. The Gophers rallied to tie the set at six and remain close until 16-15. UW scored two straight on kills from Morales and Chapman to go up 18-15, a lead the Gophers would never threaten. The Badgers hit a match-high .353 (14-2-34) and took advantage of costly Gopher errors, including three service errors, to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Big play at the net by Wisconsin started off the fourth set as the Badgers took a 7-3 lead. The Gophers again fought back until a rotation error and huge Badger block gave Wisconsin an 18-16 lead. A kill by Morales sealed the win.
"We just need to keep up the serving and passing," said Chapman. "That's definitely what we have over other teams in this conference. Our serve is really tough and our back row is the best in the country. Just keep going with that, I think we can't really lose if we keep that up."
The Badgers wrap up the first half of Big Ten play against Illinois on Sunday, Oct. 27. Match time against the Illini is 1 p.m. in the UW Field House.
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