The dream falls short

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.”

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Edited by Diane Nordstrom.


Badgers freeze out Toreros

A point-for-point battle in the third set wasn’t enough to derail the second-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team as it swept No. 18 University of San Diego in the opening match of the HotelRED Invitational on Friday night.

The Badgers gave the sellout crowd of 6,012 a show, topping the Toreros (1-2) 25-15, 25-16, 25-20 to improve to 4-0 on the season.

“We knew we were playing a team tonight that is awfully good defensively,” UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “When you watch them on film, their bodies are flying all over the place. They are covering their attackers really, really well.

“That was something that we went into the match emphasizing on our end is can we be a more defensive-minded team than a team that was really good at the defense? Be grittier than a team that we felt was really gritty.”

Junior Lauryn Gillis led the UW offense, recording 11 kills and adding six digs. Freshman Molly Haggerty added eight kills while redshirt senior Romana Kriskova tabbed seven of her own, along with four blocks. All five starting hitters recorded five-or-more kills.

Senior Lauren Carlini, the reigning co-Big Ten Setter of the Week, paced the team with 28 assists.

“Tonight I thought Romana really kind of set the tone early with some blocks on probably their best attacker and everybody else kind of followed suit,” Sheffield explained. “I thought we were strong up there at the net and getting across and finishing our blocks rather than just being soft with our blocks. We were physical at the net.

“You hold a really good team, that is very, very balanced, to the hitting percentage that we held them to is a pretty good defensive effort.”

Wisconsin held USD to a .009 hitting percentage (29 kills – 28 errors – 111 attempts) for the match after forcing the Toreros into negative percentage in the first two sets.

Senior Haleigh Nelson led the Badger charge with seven blocks while sophomore Tionna Williams added six blocks. Haggerty had a career-high five stuffs while UW’s frontline all finished with at least two blocks.

The Badgers also out-dug San Diego, 45-41, achieving a goal the team had set for themselves coming into the match.

“That was our big goal in this game,” Gillis said. “It was good we came out of that with a win and knowing that we put that work in and do what we needed to do and it paid off. That is kind of why we won.”

Senior Kelli Bates recorded her fourth-straight game in double-figure digs, notching 12 saves.

UW began the night with a 4-1 lead in the first set on two blocks from Nelson, but the Toreros traded points to stay within three points of Wisconsin, including at 16-13, until late in the set. Gillis’ third kill of the set left the Toreros watching the ball hit the hardwood as Wisconsin took a 22-14 lead, forcing San Diego to take a timeout to regroup. A block and a kill by Nelson gave the Badgers the 1-0 set lead.

The Badgers kept the ball rolling into the second set, taking an immediate 4-0 lead. Five straight serves from Nelson gave Wisconsin the 10-5 lead before the teams began trading points to keep the lead at five points. Back-to-back kills from Haggerty forced another USD timeout at 22-15, but the Badgers kept the momentum to win the set and take a 2-0 lead.

The Toreros grabbed the first two points of the final set before Gillis put on a hitting clinic, sending six kills to the floor and adding three blocks in the frame, as the Badgers led 11-9. Nelson, Gillis and Carlini combined to helped the Badgers make a 5-0 run, widening the lead 16-9, but San Diego started picking up points to keep the match within reach.

“It is extremely frustrating whenever you are hitting those really great shots and all of a sudden the libero is picking that up,” Gillis said. “That is just part of the game. You have to see where she was, and where she picked that ball up and you know that she can’t be at two places at one time, so you go to the other spot where she is not. It makes the game more fun. You have to think more throughout it and it is just more challenging, but it is a lot more fun.”

A service ace and UW attack error brought the Toreros within four points (24-20) of Wisconsin, but Gillis found a gap and put away a kill as the Badgers swept their home-opener.

The HotelRED Invitational continues Saturday with San Diego facing Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi at 4 p.m. at the UW Field House. The Badgers return to the court on Sunday, facing the Islanders at 1 p.m.


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Edited by Diane Nordstrom

Third-set rally lifts Badgers over Illini

An impressive come-from-behind rally in the third set led the No. 2 Wisconsin volleyball team to a 3-1 win over No. 24 Illinois on Saturday night in the UW Field House. A sold-out crowd of 6,012 watched the Badgers win 25-15, 18-25, 26-24, 25-19.

With the match tied 1-1 and Wisconsin (14-1, 6-0 Big Ten) trailing the Illini 23-17 in set three, the Badgers called a timeout to halt a 5-1 Illinois run. Following the break, Wisconsin scored four unanswered points and forced Illinois (11-6, 4-2 Big Ten) to use both of its time outs. UW won nine of the next 10 points, surviving match point twice to secure the set win in extra points, 26-24.

“(It was) kind of an unusual match there,” UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “You have one team that comes out and kind of puts it … there wasn’t a whole lot we could do wrong (in the first set). You’re siding out at 81 percent and they’re hitting zero (but) tables got turned there for the second (set) and we really struggled with our passing and they couldn’t really do a whole lot wrong. And then it was two teams just going from there.

“Obviously that third set was the comeback. It was pretty big. I liked how we started playing clean, which we hadn’t really played clean for most of the third and second sets. Our passing wasn’t real great, we weren’t serving real well and then our serving got us back into the match. We started playing some defense and then we started feeling good about ourselves in the fourth.”

Set four looked to be just as much of a challenge with nine tie points and two lead changes. After back-to-back Illini kills tied the set at 15, junior Lauryn Gillis struck down a kill to give UW a lead it would hold for the remainder of the match. Junior Kelli Bates dealt two consecutive aces and sophomore Tionna Williams hit four kills in the final nine points of the set, finishing off the match with a 25-19 set victory.

“Well one I’m thinking, ‘Oh it’s an overpass so I’ve got to be ready,'” William’s said of her match-winning kill. “Two, don’t stand in the net, don’t touch the net. We work on it quite a bit, overpasses thanks to this guy right here (Sheffield). Sometimes he prefers us to hit it, but if I see an opening, which I did where I placed it, then I normally try to swipe it. Be a little aggressive, but smart at the same time.”

Wisconsin recorded a .329 hitting percentage (61 kills – 14 errors – 143 attempts) through four sets, dishing out 10 aces and narrowly out digging the Illini 65-60. Illinois hit .248 percent (52-16-145) and aced the Badgers only once on 84 serves.

Williams led the Badger offense, hitting a career-high 18 kills and a season-high .708 hitting percentage with one error on 24 attempts, as well as recording five total blocks. Senior Haleigh Nelson added 12 kills, seven digs and two blocks, while redshirt senior Romana Kriskova put away 10 kills and added a service ace.

Bates recorded 18 digs, two aces and a block for UW, while senior Lauren Carlini and freshman M.E. Dodge each tabbed 10 digs. Carlini led Wisconsin with 50 assists, earning her 64th career double-double, and added two blocks.

The Badgers claimed set one, 25-15, and held the Illini to a .000 hitting percentage (6-6-27) in the period. Wisconsin sprinted out to a 10-3 lead, keeping a safe seven-point distance for much of the set. Five unanswered points widened the Badgers’ lead, to 23-11, keeping Illinois at bay despite the Illini stealing four of the final six points.

In the second set, the teams battled through to a 6-6 tie before Illinois took off on an 11-2 run to lead 17-8. A UW rally late in the set couldn’t turn the tables, however, and Illinois took the period, 25-18, to knot the match at one set apiece.

“As a team,” Nelson explained, “kind of how we always have been is whenever we’re playing and even when our backs are totally against the wall and we’re down by quite a few points, we always altogether believe that we can win any set no matter what the score is. It just takes a clean, aggressive game and a lot of communication by everybody. When you know that all six people on the floor and all nine people on the bench believe that you can win a set, then you can really do anything. So, even though you’re down in that third set and things look pretty grim, nobody on our bench or on our side of the net thinks we’re going to lose any set ever.”

“I don’t ever think it’s good to lose,” Sheffield said. “You’re battling, it’s the Big Ten and you’re playing against some great teams. You’re going to get smacked around at times.

“The thing we talk about a lot is how you respond in those situations, it’s not just volleyball, its life as well so when you get knocked down, you’ve got a choice to stay down or get up and punch back and so I thought our team did a pretty good job of punching back.”

The second-ranked Badgers return to the UW Field House on Wednesday, taking on No. 1 Minnesota at 8 p.m. The match, which is already sold out, airs live on the Big Ten Network.


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Edited by Diane Nordstrom

Badgers vanquish Scarlet Knights

Wisconsin shares Big Ten lead with 5-0 conference record

It took just 65 minutes for the Wisconsin volleyball team to earn a decisive sweep against Rutgers, 25-6, 25-11, 25-11, on the road at University Avenue Gymnasium on Wednesday night.

With the win, the Badgers improved to 13-1 overall and remained a perfect 5-0 in Big Ten play.

“The offense did some good things tonight,” UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “I liked how we approached the match. I also liked how we approached the lineup change coming out of the locker room. No matter who the opponent is, when you hold anybody in all three sets under 12 it’s good. We had a hard week of practice trying to get some reps in and I thought we came out there with the right mindset and did some good stuff.”

No. 2 Wisconsin hit over .400 for the third time this season, recording a .439 hitting percentage (44 kills – 8 errors – 82 attempts) and only had two service errors all match to out-ace the Scarlet Knights, 11-1.

Senior Lauren Carlini hit a career-high six aces, adding 31 assists, 10 digs and four kills for the Badgers, while freshman Sarah Dodd tied her career-high with two aces and added a career-high four digs. Redshirt senior Romana Kriskova, senior Haleigh Nelson and freshman Molly Haggerty each recorded an ace.

“An emphasis coming in was serving aggressively,” Sheffield explained, “and I thought we did a really good job with that. Sarah Dodd had two aces and she was really putting some zing on her serves and really mixing the planes up and did a really nice job. I thought everybody did a really nice job of serving, not just with the aces and the ace-to-error ratio, you can’t really control the aces. But we were really moving the serve around, rarely was it just on someone’s arms.”

Nelson hit a match high 11 kills and a .733 hitting percentage with no errors on 15 attempts. Haggerty shared the match-high kills with 11, adding two assists and nine digs. Junior Lauryn Gillis recorded eight kills, junior Kelli Bates tallied nine saves and added three kills, while sophomore Tionna Williams hit a .500 hitting percentage (4-0-8).

Wisconsin’s offense proved to be the best defense, as the Badgers tallied just five team blocks, but held Rutgers (4-14, 0-5 Big Ten) to an opponent season-low .013 hitting percentage (16-15-75) through three sets.

Set one was all offense for the Badgers, setting the tone for the night with a 25-6 set win. UW took a quick 8-2 lead, scoring three points off of unforced RU errors. After five consecutive kills gave Wisconsin a 14-4 advantage, the Badgers kept the momentum rolling through the period, finishing on an 11-2 run and taking the 1-0 set lead.

Wisconsin hit a match-high .519 percent (16-2-27) in set one, while holding Rutgers to a .000 hitting percentage (4-4-23).

The Scarlet Knights battled hard to start the second set, coming within four points of the Badgers at 11-7. Wisconsin’s serves proved too powerful though, as the Badgers dealt out four aces during an 8-1 run to widen the lead, 19-8. UW held a 4-0 run to finish the set out, 25-11.

Sheffield switched around the lineup for the final set, shifting hitters and moving Bates to libero for freshman M.E. Dodge.

“I’ve got a lot of different things at my disposal,” he noted. “It’s not a bad thing at all to be able to have some options and to figure some things out. We can do a couple different things. That first lineup is probably more of a ball control lineup and that second lineup has probably a bit more offensive punch to it.”

The offense set Wisconsin up for the sweep, sending seven kills to the floor for a 10-3 lead. Errors plagued the Knights, handing the Badgers four of their next five points (15-6). Rutgers held on to survive three match points, but the comeback was too little too late as the Badgers claimed set three, 25-11.

“To come over here to Rutgers and to have it be a smooth trip so far and smooth match, that’s positive,” Sheffield said. “We’re looking forward to Illinois (at home on Saturday). Hopefully we’ll have another great and raucous crowd.”

Wisconsin returns to the UW Field House on Saturday night to celebrate its annual pink game, facing No. 24 Illinois. The 7:30 p.m. CT match will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to receive a pink rally towel (while supplies last).


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Edited by Brandon Harrison.