Sweet 16 Bound! Badgers sweep Cougars in second round - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Sweet 16 Bound! Badgers sweep Cougars in second round

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MADISON, Wis. -- For the fourth consecutive year, the third-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team will advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship with a 3-0 win over No. 25 Washington State on Friday at the UW Field House. The Badgers swept the Cougars 25-18, 25-18, 25-17.

“I think our team just keeps getting better and better," UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. "I thought that was a really good win against a team with a coaching staff that I’ve got a lot of respect for and the year that they’ve had and the direction that they’re heading. That’s a hard conference to make the move up like they’ve had and they’ve had a lot of great wins and a lot of talented players over there. 

"With that firepower that they have and you hold them to hitting zero those last two sets and under .100 for the match, I think you have to feel good about how our defense is playing, how our serving is doing. It’s a really good blocking team and they didn’t really get going with their blocks but on the other hand I think we did a really good job of getting our hands across the net and finishing our blocks. We were excited about the opportunity that we had tonight and we’re certainly very excited about the opportunity to continue playing.”

Washington State (22-12) came into the match ranked third in the nation with an average of 3.30 blocks per set, but the Badgers, now 27-4 overall, out blocked the Cougars 13-6 and out dug them 43-37 for the match.

“Going into this match, we knew that they were the third-best blocking team in the country," senior Haleigh Nelson said. "That really fired us up as front-row players and that really gave us some motivation. We talked before the match that we wanted to make it a goal of ours to try and beat them in team blocks over the course of the match. I think the pins really stepped up and made some great plays. There were a lot of big stuffs on their part and I think it’s just when you go up against a team that has a strength like that, it kind of gives you a little extra motivation to see if you can outdo them on that front and I think we definitely performed.”

Nelson led all players with seven blocks, while sophomore Tionna Williams and senior Lauren Carlini stuffed five apiece.

Junior Kelli Bates recorded a match-high 10 digs while Carlini saved nine and sophomore Amber MacDonald contributed five digs.

Carlini put up 33 assist while adding three kills.

Wisconsin's offense averaged a .248 hitting percentage (42 kills - 15 errors - 109 attempts) and recorded three aces to the Cougars' one. UW held the Cougars to a .067 clip (29-22-104), forcing WSU to hit .000 in both the second and third sets.

Junior Lauryn Gillis led Wisconsin with 12 kills while adding four blocks. Nelson recorded eight kills and a match-high .533 attack percentage (8-0-15). Williams finished off seven kills while redshirt senior Romana Kriskova and freshman Molly Haggerty each contributed six kills.

Wisconsin started the match with an 11-7 advantage in the first set, forcing the Cougars to take a timeout after a kill from Kriskova. The Badgers went on an 8-3 run, widening their lead to 19-10, then traded points with the Cougars until match point, 24-15. Washington State held off three UW match points with three consecutive kills, but Williams slammed a kill down the line to finish the set, 25-18.

The Cougars kept in hot pursuit of Wisconsin to begin set two, trailing 8-7. The Badgers pulled away on a 6-1 run before forcing a WSU timeout. The two teams split the next 10 points with Wisconsin up 19-13 before the Cougars took their second timeout. Washington State rallied late with another point-for-point battle, but UW held on to its lead for another 25-18 victory and the 2-0 set lead.

Washington State's offense struggled in the final set after taking an early 3-2 lead on a kill from Casey Schoenlein. The Cougars would not terminate another kill until Kyra Holt cut the Wisconsin lead to 15-7, as their only points came off UW errors. WSU outscored the Badgers 5-3, closing in on the 18-12 Wisconsin lead, but kills from Carlini and Williams and a Haggerty ace kept the nine-point gap, 21-12. Despite being outscored 5-4 over the final points, the Badgers held strong for a 25-17 victory to advance to the Sweet 16.

“I’d say it’s great to go to the Sweet 16 and it’s always such an awesome feeling to advance in the tournament," Nelson said. "There’s nothing like it all year long, but our end goal is to have the confetti fall Dec. 17. While it feels great to move on, we have a lot more things in front of us and another team coming up next week. It feels good now but it’s time to get back down to it and get to work.”

“First of all Wisconsin is extremely good," WSU head coach Jen Greeny said. "I’m proud of this team for how far we’ve come into the second round, but Wisconsin is a fabulous team. We definitely couldn’t get our offense going tonight against Wisconsin’s great defense. Excited for Wisconsin to go on and I’m very proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished this year.”

"I think Wisconsin is a fabulous team. I’ll just say right now that they are going to win it all."

The Badgers return to the UW Field House to host an NCAA Regional on Friday-Saturday, Dec. 9-10. Wisconsin will face the winner of the Ohio State and Kansas State match on Friday, with match times being announced on Sunday. The teams for the other regional semifinal will be decided on Saturday night, following NCAA second-round play.

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