MADISON, Wis.– The third-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team saw its 2016 season come to a heartbreaking end on Saturday night, falling to No. 6 Stanford, 25-18, 26-24, 21-25, 21-25, 9-15, in the NCAA Regional final at the UW Field House.
Wisconsin (28-5) completed its fifth-straight season with 20-plus wins and earned the first-ever No. 1 ranking in program history earlier this season, as well as recording a program-record 13 wins against ranked opponents.
“Couldn’t be more proud of our team and the fight that they showed,” UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “It’s hard to lose a match like that. It’s hard to be this close to a dream and fall short. We were on the other side of it 24 hours ago, and we’re on this side of it tonight. I thought it was two teams really fighting hard.
“I thought both teams were playing, laying it all out there on the court and battling and fighting, and we came up on the short end. But I’m proud of the journey this team took. I’m proud of how far we’ve come, proud of the fight, and proud of the class that they’ve shown throughout as well.”
Wisconsin seniors Lauren Carlini, Tori Blake, Romana Kriskova and Haleigh Nelson played their final match at the Field House in front of the season’s 12th sellout-crowd, finishing their careers as the second-winningest class in program history with a record of 113-25.
Carlini ranks first in program history with 73 career double-doubles and second with 5,599 career assists, while Nelson tops program records with a .375 career hitting percentage.
“I’m trying to accept the fact that we’ve played our last match in a Wisconsin jersey and as a part of this Wisconsin program,” Carlini said. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet, I can’t believe it’s over. But I am so proud of what this team has done over the years and as coach said, the journey that we’ve been on and I’m glad to have been part of this senior class.”
“I’m just so grateful to have been a part of such an amazing program and playing in such an amazing venue like the Field House,” Nelson added. “[Singing] Varsity for the last time was, after obviously a terrible loss, it hurts really bad. I really tried to enjoy it because it was my last time on the court with these people that I love so much. So while maybe it seems like it was hard, it wasn’t, because it’s just so special to me to get to play here and to get to do the things like that that makes the Field House so special.”
“They’re why you coach,” Sheffield said when asked what the seniors mean to the program. “To be with selfless people that give everything that they have for each other, for their school, for their sport. They get out of the shallow end and they dive in the deep end. They trust. They give you everything that they have. You watch them grow as people.
“It’s more than just on the court. It’s being around them every day and the people they are. It’s why you coach.”
Wisconsin hit .244 through the match (69 kills – 28 errors – 168 attempts), but the Cardinal (25-7) out-blocked Wisconsin 18-9 and hit .271 percent (67-21-170).
Nelson and junior Lauryn Gillis tied for the team lead with 15 kills, while Kriskova added 13 kills and sophomore Tionna Williams chipped in 11.
Carlini put up 57 assists, adding seven kills and seven digs.
Junior Kelli Bates led the defense with 24 digs, as well as recording four aces to tie her career-high. Freshman Molly Haggerty saved 15 digs and contributed eight kills, while sophomore Amber MacDonald recorded 11 digs and two aces.
Williams led the Badgers with five blocks. Nelson stuffed a solo block and had three block assists while Carlini and Kriskova blocked three apiece.
Wisconsin hit a match-high .432 percent (19-3-37) in the first set, running out to a quick 4-1 lead. Stanford rebounded to force three tie points, up to 11-11, until the Badgers took off on a 6-3 streak to force a Cardinal time out at 17-14. Stanford came within two points of the Badgers at 18-16, but were unable to hold off a dominant 7-2 performance by UW to end the set, 25-18.
The Cardinal started the second frame strong, taking a 3-1 lead before widening the advantage to 9-5. At the media timeout, Wisconsin trailed 15-11, struggling to string points together. UW came out of the timeout on a 6-0 tear to claim its first lead of the set, 17-15. Stanford would battle back to tie the set again at 24, holding off one set point, but the Badgers capitalized on an SU error and a kill from Nelson to win, 26-24, and take the 2-0 match lead.
During the break, Stanford made adjustments to its game and returned to the court with a 10-7 lead in set three. The Cardinal outscored Wisconsin 9-7, forcing the Badgers to call a timeout at 19-14, and held on for the 25-21 win despite being outscored 7-6 over the final points.
“We had a few miscommunication errors starting in the third,” Nelson explained, “and I mean Stanford is just a great team and they pushed us, and we tried to string some points together and make a comeback, and it just didn’t happen, wasn’t in the cards.
“I’m a player, so I don’t know maybe as much strategy as a coach would watching the match. But I don’t know if there were really exact adjustments that they made that turned the tables on us, but they’re a great team and they pushed us and they came out on top.”
The Cardinal took set four by the same score, 25-21, outmatching the Badgers in blocks (6-3) and kills (15-11). Stanford led 15-11 at the media timeout, which proved to be enough as the teams went 10-10 in points over the remainder of the set.
The Cardinal scored four unanswered points to take a 4-1 lead in the final frame, then started to pull away slowly and force a UW timeout with an 11-7 advantage. Kills from Williams and Gillis kept the Badgers in contention (12-9), but Stanford scored the final three points of the match to win, 15-9.
“At the end of the day only one team gets to win their last game,” Blake said. “That’s just kind of how it is in the tournament and it wasn’t us. It sucks and that’s the only way I can explain it. But I mean we have an amazing group of girls and they’re coming for it next year. They’re going to come in real hot. You’ll see it.”
Published on UWBadgers.com.
Edited by Diane Nordstrom.