Texas was poised to stake its claim as the No. 1 volleyball team in the nation with a victory on Saturday night.
But the University of Wisconsin volleyball team was having none of that. At least on this night, it was the No. 8 Badgers who looked the part of a champion with a convincing four-set victory over the No. 2 Longhorns 25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-12 before a sellout crowd of 7,052 at the UW Field House.
It was a match that more than lived up to the hype as the Badgers (3-0) played well in all phases of the game to hold the Longhorns (2-1) in check most of the night. And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, coming in the home opener with the much-anticipated reopening of the upper deck that accommodated the largest crowd since 2006 and the fifth-largest crowd in program history.
“If I have to describe it in one word it would be ‘fun,’” said sophomore setter Sydney Hilley. “The energy that the upper deck brought, it was so much louder than it normally is. We had just amazing energy with the adrenaline going.
“I was so confident the entire time, even when we were down a little bit I still felt like we were going to take that match. I’m really proud of the way we played.”
Coach Kelly Sheffield credited Hilley with executing the game plan to perfection and utilizing all of her attacking options.
“I thought Syd was fantastic tonight,” Sheffield said. “She kept everybody engaged. And I thought our attackers were hitting what they were given and not forcing anything.”
Sophomore outside hitter Grace Loberg led the way with 19 kills, hitting a match-high .457. She also had a career-high 18 digs. Redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty also had a double-double with 16 kills and 15 digs.
Sheffield also singled out sophomore middle Dana Rettke for setting the tone early with five kills on six swings as the Badgers controlled the first set.
“I thought a real big key is how Dana started out,” he said. “Her hitting percentage didn’t end up being real high (.240) but I thought how she came out and how aggressive she was and some of the swings, they changed how they were blocking.”
After controlling the first set, the Badgers were challenged in a tough second set that was tied at 17 before UW went on an 8-5 roll that included kills by five players.
Texas, which likely would’ve assumed the top spot in the coaches poll following No. 1 Stanford’s loss to BYU on Friday, bounced back to pull out a back-and-forth third set.
But rather than wilting as they did on multiple occasions a year ago, the Badgers rose to the challenge by racing out to a 14-4 lead in the fourth set and never let up.
“We knew we were going to win the fourth set,” Haggerty said. “I think that’s a huge thing that we learned from last year. It’s all about what we’re doing and what we’re saying to ourselves. I think we did a great job of communicating to ourselves and having a lot of confidence in that fourth set.”
Haggerty said the Badgers were determined to focus on their side of the net and not worry about what the Longhorns were doing.
Good thing, from Sheffield’s perspective.
“Those guys are just ridiculous athletes on the other side,” Sheffield said of the Longhorns, who were led by junior Micaya White and freshman Logan Eggleston with 16 kills each. “The highlight reel between the two teams would look way more impressive. They’d look varsity, we’d look JV on a highlight reel.
“But I thought we did a real good job in how we stretched out the good. We were good for long periods of time tonight and we did a great job of moving onto the next play. That shows me that there was a team that had a lot of confidence and was enjoying the battle.”
TEXAS (kills-digs-blocks) — White 16-11-1, Shook 1-5-2, Butler 8-0-3, Johnson 6-3-4, Luketic 1-0-1, Eggleston 16-1-2, Gabriel 0-1-0, Fisbeck 0-0-0, Hahn 0-6-0, Petersen 0-14-0, Rounsaville 0-9-0, Bedart-Ghani 2-2-0. Totals 50-52-7.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 2-8-2, Williams 6-0-5, Rettke 11-5-4, Dodge 0-0-0, Loberg 19-18-2, Haggerty 16-15-3, Duello 8-4-2, Clark 0-16-0. Totals 62-66-9.
Hitting percentage — T .231, W .288. Aces — T 1 (White), W 4 (Duello 2). Assists — T 50 (Shook 45), W 60 (Hilley 50). Att. — 7,052.