No. 3 Badgers sweep No. 15 Michigan State - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

No. 3 Badgers sweep No. 15 Michigan State

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MADISON, Wis. -- The third-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team faced the challenge of back-to-back ranked opponents this weekend, rising to the occasion to sweep No. 13 Michigan State on Saturday night. The Badgers tied a program record with 11 wins against ranked opponents this season in front of a sellout crowd of 6,012 at the UW Field House.

Wisconsin improved to 24-3 overall with the 25-20, 25-19, 25-23 victory, sitting just one game out of first place in Big Ten Conference standings with a 16-2 league performance.

"I thought we did a really good job of being resilient," UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. "Those guys have some servers that were pacing some bombs over there. I thought we battled and fought to try to get the ball up in the air. To hold that team to hitting .103 was another really good defensive night for us. That’s starting to turn into a big time strength for our players.

“To come in here 2-0 for these two teams that will probably be seeded going into the NCAA tournament, I’d say this was probably a pretty good weekend for us."

The Badgers connected on a .220 attack percentage (46 kills - 19 errors - 123 attempts) despite Michigan State (23-7, 12-6 Big Ten) outblocking UW 13-8. The Badgers held the Spartans to a .103 hitting percentage (34 - 22 - 117), narrowly outdigging MSU 55-50.

Freshman Molly Haggerty led the match in kills for the second contest in a row, putting away 14 swings. Junior Lauryn Gillis contributed nine kills while senior Haleigh Nelson and redshirt senior Romana Kriskova each added eight kills.

Senior Lauren Carlini recorded 38 assists while adding seven digs, two kills and a service ace.

Junior Kelli Bates saved a team-high 15 digs, Haggerty added seven while Gillis, Nelson, freshman M.E. Dodge and sophomore Amber MacDonald contributed six digs apiece.

Wisconsin held the Big Ten’s best serving team to just four service aces in the match, below MSU’s season average of 2.04 aces per set.

Sophomore Tionna Williams led the Badgers with six blocks.

The Spartans raced to a 7-5 lead in set one after scoring five unanswered points, but Wisconsin slowly climbed back to reclaim a 16-14 advantage and force an MSU timeout on back-to-back kills from Kriskova. Michigan State's 3-1 run after the break was cut short by the Badger offense, who put away four kills and forced a Spartan hitting error for a 22-17 lead. Wisconsin finished off the set, 25-20, when Williams and Gillis teamed up UW’s first block of the mach.

Set two began as a battle, with the two teams knotted at five. Wisconsin outscored the Spartans 10-5 to force a timeout with a 15-10 lead, then went on to score five of the next eight points to back Michigan State into using its second timeout with the score 20-13. The Spartans closed within five points (24-19) and holding off one Badger set point, but Nelson terminated a kill for the 2-0 set lead.

In the third set, the Spartans took a 7-6 lead after scoring four consecutive points, but the Badgers answered back with a 6-0 run to reclaim the upper hand, 12-7. After MSU won a review challenge to tie things up at 14l, UW dished out six kills, two blocks, and an ace to lead 23-15. The Spartans rallied late, going on a 7-0 tear to cut it to 23-22. A Spartan hitting error gave the Badgers their first match point at 24-22 but MSU stopped UW’s attack with a block. At the second set point, Kriskova crushed the final kill for Wisconsin's ninth-consecutive victory.

"It feels pretty good," Nelson said, "because what we talked about all week is that this is like a weekend we’ll see in the NCAA tournament. To come out and play clean two matches in a row is something we haven’t really done lately. So keeping that play level really high was important to us. I’m really proud of how we responded even when things started to go the other team’s way. We stuck together and looked in each other’s eyes and knew we were going to pull it out."

UW returns to the UW Field House on Wednesday, facing Iowa at 7 p.m. The team will honor its senior class of Tori Blake, Lauren Carlini, Romana Kriskova and Haleigh Nelson after the match. The Big Ten season wraps up on Nov. 26 when the Badgers travel to second-ranked Minnesota for a 7:30 p.m. match from Minneapolis.

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