Well-balanced performances lead way for UW’s weekend sweeps
The No. 6 Wisconsin volleyball team proved it is worthy of its high ranking over the weekend with two quick defeats of Big Ten newcomers Rutgers and Maryland, both of which came in straight sets.In the weekend finale Sunday afternoon, the Maryland Terrapins (7-10, 0-6 Big Ten) faced the well-prepared Badgers (14-2, 5-1 Big Ten) in front of a sellout crowd of 6,012, and UW earned a 25-14, 25-17, 25-17 win.Badgers sweep Maryland to complete perfect weekendThe No. 6 Wisconsin volleyball team hadn’t won more than three straight Big Ten matches since 2008. That was, until Read…“One of the great feelings is walking out in the Field House and hearing people get excited for you and so the fact that we had, again, so many people that are coming out is awesome,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We appreciate the support and you can tell that there’s momentum that’s behind us and we don’t take that for granted. We can feel it so we’re very appreciative of that.”The Badgers certainly did not let down their enthusiastic home crowd with the straight sets win against Maryland. In the first set, the Badgers quickly put the Terrapins away, but the second and third sets saw Maryland rally back and stay with Wisconsin for a good portion of the two sets.UW senior outside hitter Courtney Thomas had a big day, hitting at an impressive .750 for the match with a team-high nine kills. Thomas has made a name for herself as a well-rounded player that not only always puts forth great effort on the court, but is also praised as an “emotional leader” by her teammates.“It wasn’t just her hitting percentage,” Sheffield said when asked about Thomas’s successful game. “One of the things she hasn’t been very good at is implementing off-speed shots into her game and she came out and I think three of her kills were off-speed shots, roll shots or tips, and that’s exciting. I told her if she gets good at that, it will change her game. It’ll be a game changer because everyone can just dig in on her and they know she’s just about bringing heat all the time. She’s one of the people that I’m excited about that’s adding more tools to the toolbox.”The middle blockers for the Badgers, Dominique Thompson and Haleigh Nelson, also dominated the court, not only Sunday but over the course of the entire weekend. Of the 14 block-assists Wisconsin had against the Terrapins, Nelson and Thompson combined for seven of them, with Nelson totaling six block-assists Friday night against Rutgers. The pair also had an outstanding couple of games in the hitting department with a total of 14 kills on 23 chances Sunday and nine kills from Nelson Friday night.Focusing on her hitting game paid off for Nelson over the weekend.“Slides are something I’ve really been working on in practice lately, hitting all types of different shots and not just in one area of the court over and over,” Nelson said. “So tonight I really just tried to spread the ball around and show them different looks behind the setter.”Sophomore setter Lauren Carlini also contributed a great deal to Wisconsin’s victory over Maryland and the solid weekend. Not only did Carlini have 33 assists but she also played intelligently, dumping several of her sets over the net to throw off Maryland’s blockers, which resulted in four kills. Although Carlini had a rather quiet night in the assist category Friday, finishing with just 22, she compiled 11 digs to earn her 10th double-double of the season.As was the trend with Nelson and Thompson, both victories were in large part due to Wisconsin’s overall effective hitting and blocking. The Badgers showed versatility on the court through their middle blockers switching where they hit from, benefited by Carlini’s many successful tips and dumps. In all three matches Sunday, Wisconsin hit more than .350 with only 11 total errors on 79 total attacking attempts.Both Maryland and Rutgers just could not keep up with the dominant Badgers, and both of UW’s opponents played sloppily for large portions of the matches. The Terrapins had 20 errors over the three sets and failed to hit above .100 in any of them, while the Scarlet Knights also had 20 errors and hit less than .200 in all three sets.However, Sheffield said the errors did not impact the way his team executed its own play.“We didn’t really talk about their errors at all,” Sheffield said. “Courtney [Thomas] was right, we talked about what we need to do, what they’re trying to do and what we need to do. We don’t really talk about other team’s errors or any previous play that we do. We try to keep our mind in the present and the future rather than the past: this is what they’re likely to do right now and this is what we need to do right now. It’s more that type of communication.”Despite Wisconsin’s limited history against its new Big Ten foes, the Badgers heeded Sheffield’s advice on the way to two impressive, all-around team wins.