Tionna Williams, Badgers look to end losing streak vs. Minnesota
Tionna Williams has some unfinished business to conduct during her senior season with the University of Wisconsin volleyball team.
Topping her current checklist: Beat Minnesota.
That’s something no one on the Badgers roster has accomplished, as the Gophers have won the past six meetings between the two power programs.
The No. 5 Badgers (9-1, 2-0 Big Ten Conference) will get a chance to snap that string Wednesday night when they travel to Minneapolis to play the No. 6 Gophers (8-2, 2-0) at the Maturi Pavilion.
And while she doesn’t obsess about her 0-6 record against the Gophers, Williams can’t help but think about it a little with just two more chances assured in her career.
“I definitely think about it going into the match, but I don’t let that dictate how I go about things,” said Williams, the team’s lone senior. “I still approach it the same way, but there’s always that little thought that we have yet to beat them … I have yet to beat them. Nobody here has.”
Not that the Badgers haven’t come close. Three of those six losses have come in five sets, including last year’s match in Madison when the Gophers rallied to win the last two sets, taking the fifth 15-13.
“We’ve had some amazing matches with them the past few years,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We’ve come up on the short end more that what we’d like. It’s two teams that battle really well.”
Given the closeness of the matches and the relatively small sample size, it would be easy to write off the streak as a run of tough luck for the Badgers. But Williams can’t quite go there.
“I don’t want to say it’s the luck of the draw,” she said. “Minnesota is obviously a really good team year-in and year-out. They run a really fast tempo and I feel like we struggled with that the past couple of years, especially last year having a lot of new players who hadn’t played Minnesota.
“Going into this year we have a better understanding of what they’re trying to do and we’re more confident on the court with each other and with ourselves. I think it’s going to be a really good battle.”
The Gophers, whose only losses came back-to-back against Pac-12 powers Oregon and Stanford, again boast a talented, athletic lineup. At the center of things is senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, a three-time All-American who, of course, has never lost to the Badgers. She has no shortage of offensive weapons at her disposal, beginning with sophomore opposite Stephanie Samedy and junior outside hitter Alexis Hart, who had 47 kills in the two matches against UW last season.
Sheffield considers Seliger-Swenson and Samedy as good as anybody in the country at their positions.
“Their high end is awfully good,” Sheffield said. “When they’re in system, they’re awfully, awfully good. That’s not hyperbole. They run it really fast.”
Growing up in suburban Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, UW sophomore setter Sydney Hilley is quite familiar with all that is Gophers volleyball. And as much as she’d like to say it’s just another match, she knows that’s only partially true.
“Every match counts the same, but obviously, Minnesota is really good and it’s in my home city and I’ll have a bunch of people there,” Hilley said. “So that part’s different, but I think we should prepare the same way and have the right mindset going in. I think there is a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because they have beaten us so many times and nobody here has ever beaten them.
“I’m sure they’re going to sell out and it’s going to be super loud and super hot in there like it always is. And they’re going to be doing their “Point U” and their little fight song. It’s kind of fun for me to be in that environment because I grew up watching it. I know it’s annoying for other teams to go in there and hear the fight song over and over again. But it is kind of fun.”
As a veteran who has seen it all, Williams appreciates the intense environment that accompanies these kind of matches. But ultimately, the outcome is determined by the same factors as most any other match.
“It comes down to the same three things every match — serving, passing and defense,” Williams said. “If we really grind it out in those areas we can beat any team in the nation.”