Badgers face crucial stretch against Illinois, Northwestern

September 17, 2020

first_imgRecovering from their first two losses of the season, practice seemed a little less upbeat this week for the Wisconsin volleyball team.However, players and coaches are remaining confident that there will be no hangover effect following a five-set loss to Ohio State and a 3-0 sweep provided by Penn State.“Well you don’t dwell on the loss, you really look at what you did well, what you need to work on and keep improving because we need to become a much more solid team,” head coach Pete Waite said. “We have to take care of the little things that make the difference in the end to win those close ones.”The Badgers fought tremendously hard against the Buckeyes on Friday and were leading for much of the match-deciding fifth set, but the Buckeyes ultimately prevailed.Against Penn State, Wisconsin was never quite in the match despite solid effort.Hoping to turn the page Wednesday, Wisconsin hosts a tenacious Illinois team who has been in the nation’s top ten all season long.One of only two Illini losses on the season came September 11 against the No. 6 Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln after they lost one of their two All-Americans, Michelle Bartsch, to an ankle injury midway through the third set. The other loss came in five sets on the road against No. 25 Cincinnati.Illinois also has the benefit of transfer Colleen Ward, who came to Champaign after spending two seasons at Florida. Ward, a Naperville, Ill. native, leads the team with 190 kills and 17 aces.“[Being] from the Chicago area, a number of our players know her from their club ball days and we’ve seen her a lot before she came back to the state of Illinois,” Waite said. “She has been a nice addition to the team, she leads the team in kills and she also has a nice jump serve. So number one, we have to take care of her jump serve, and attacking-wise, we’re gonna have to dig well around our block.”At a crossroads, the Badgers face a brutally important week. After Illinois, a Northwestern team many regarded as a snub to the NCAA tournament last season comes to Madison Saturday.Currently sitting without a conference win, Wisconsin faces the prospect of starting their conference season 0-4.“That would really be a burden on us if we go down 0-4 after the first two weeks of Big Ten play,” sophomore middle blocker Alexis Mitchell said. “Illinois has obviously proved that they are one of the best teams, if not the best team in the Big Ten, [but] it could be anyone’s game any day so we just need to refocus, practice hard and get a good game plan so we can take care of those teams this week.”Mitchell, who was battling an ankle injury last week, admitted the injury bothered her timing and leaping ability this past weekend.“It’s just tender and sore, so it was really hard to get the explosiveness off the ground because I didn’t want to push it too much and make it worse or anything,” Mitchell said. “My game did change a bit [in the matches this last weekend], I wasn’t as fast and as effective as I have been so I’m just trying to rest up and get better so I can get back to where I was before the injury.”Despite a less than ideal start to conference play, the Badgers’ three contributing freshmen all made successful debuts.Elise Walch, the 26th-rated player in last year’s recruiting class according to, had an impressive 8 kills and led the blocking effort.“It felt awesome, there is a lot of energy and it felt really good to play all the great teams,” Walch said.The opening serve for today’s match at the UW Fieldhouse is set for 6 p.m.last_img

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