Badgers volleyball falls in four sets to Nittany Lions - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Badgers volleyball falls in four sets to Nittany Lions

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 LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A record-breaking season for the fourth-seeded Wisconsin volleyball team came to an end Saturday as the Badgers fell to Penn State in four sets (22-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-19) in the NCAA Regional Final at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

“It's tough any time that your season ends and you're with people that you love and everybody is just moving in the same direction,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “As far as the match, I thought it was two teams that were just battling like crazy. It was a great sporting event.”

Sophomore Lauren Carlini tallied her 18th double-double this season after recording 38 assists and 10 digs. Freshman Kelli Bates put up 12 kills and 12 digs, marking her seventh double-double of the 2014 campaign.

Senior Courtney Thomas led the Badger hitters with 13 kills and a .300 (13 kills -4 errors-30 attempts) attack percentage, followed by senior Domonique Thompson, who hit .391 (12-3-23) with 12 kills.

Thomas also put up a career-high eight blocks, helping UW outblock PSU 14-11. Sophomore Haleigh Nelson recorded a team-best nine stuffs.

But the Penn State defense also proved tough, holding Wisconsin to a .155 (45-22-148) attack percentage. The Nittany Lions hit .182 overall, led by Aiyana Whitney with 16 kills.

But the biggest hurdle for Wisconsin was the service line, evident in the Badgers' 14 service errors.

“Penn State is incredible,” Sheffield said.  “There is a lot of punch and if they are in system then it's going to be pretty tough.  One to 14, that's not a very good ratio.  We had quite a few service errors, whether that was the difference in the match, I don't know or not.  I know it wouldn't have been near as long if we would have put in lollipops.  We just didn't execute them at the level that was needed.”    

The Badgers went on a 5-0 run midway through the first to grab a 16-12 lead. UW held a 19-16 lead before PSU grabbed four of the next six points to narrow the Wisconsin advantage to 21-20. The Badgers responded, starting with a 3-0 run before Thomas sent the set-winning smack to the floor in a 25-22 victory for Wisconsin.

The set victory by Wisconsin handed Penn State its first set loss since Oct. 17, as the Nittany Lions entered the match with a 50-set winning streak.

UW outblocked PSU 3-1 in the first set, helping hold the Nittany Lions to a .095 (12-8-42) attack percentage. Wisconsin hit .278 (13-3-36) behind four kills by Bates.

Two more service errors plagued the Badgers in the beginning of the second set, but consistent blocking and attacking efforts from both sides left the score knotted at 8-8.

With the second score knotted at eight, Penn State gradually took the lead with a combination of kills and UW attack errors, ending a 3-0 streak with a block that set the score at 18-12. Penn State grabbed seven of the next 11 points to win the set, 25-16.

The Nittany Lions hit .286 in the second frame, while the Badgers hit .026.

The third set was a battle as it had eight ties and five lead changes. With the score tied at 21, PSU's Micha Hancock served two tough aces to lift Penn State to a 24-21 advantage as the NIttany Lions claimed the third frame, 25-22.

Both squads struggled at the net in the third set, with Wisconsin marking a .162 attack percentage while Penn State hit .100. The Badgers' increased their blocking effort, putting up six stuffs compared to the Nittany Lion's four.

Thompson put away four kills in the beginning of the fourth set as the teams battled to a 10-10 tie. Penn State soon took advantage of another two UW service errors with a 4-0 run that propelled the Nittany Lions to a 22-18 lead.

Wisconsin scored just one more point before two PSU kills and a final block awarded Penn State the match as the Nittany Lions took the final set, 25-19.

“Certainly we're upset that we weren't able to do something that we set a goal of ours,” Sheffield said. “But one loss doesn't define our season or define our careers or anything. If someone is going to take you down, you want them to take you down when you're leaving it all out there.”

Wisconsin ended the season with a 31-3 record, tallying the second-most wins in program history. UW's winning percentage of .912 marks the best winning percentage in program history.

Saturday's game marked the final game in the careers of Ellen Chapman, Kt Kvas, Julie Mikaelsen. Deme Morales, Thomas, Thompson, and Caroline Workman.  The group of seven played a huge role in helping the Badgers' advance to the national title game last year and helped Wisconsin win the Big Ten title this season.

“It hasn't hit me yet,” Thomas said about her Wisconsin career drawing to a close. “These girls are my sisters. They're my friends for the rest of my life, so it's not like I'm never going to see them again. Yeah, I'll never play volleyball again, but I love them, and this group of seniors is unbelievable.

“There are seven of us, and we've been together for so long. It's going to be hard. It's going to be really hard, but I hope the best for them next year and I hope they can pull it out and do even better than we did this year.”

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