Volleyball seeks second straight win over Gophers

first_imgAfter spending the last two weeks ranked sixth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the Wisconsin volleyball team bumped up a spot to fifth in the nation in this week’s poll.This week, the Badgers have two matchups with No. 23 Minnesota in this year’s installment of the Border Battle.The team will look to take advantage of that scheduling oddity — playing the same team twice in four days — according to head coach Kelly Sheffield. However, this is something the coach has never had to prepare for.“Usually you got two different opponents that you’re focusing on throughout the week, and this week it’s all about the Gophers,” Sheffield said Monday in his weekly press conference. “So we’re excited about that. They’re a really talented team. It’s a place that we’ve had a difficult time going and winning and playing well at their place, so we’re excited about that challenge.”From a preparation standpoint, Sheffield said playing the same team with a quick turnaround has some of its advantages, such as focusing on one opponent for an entire week.“I guess what it does allow is that you’re focusing on one team. You get to go back, watch video. You get to train and prepare again and fix some of the things that didn’t go your way the first time and try and make it better,” Sheffield said. “From a coaching standpoint, I kind of like it.”The Badgers had not won a game on the road at Minnesota since 2007. For the senior class, that is something they wanted to end Wednesday night.“We need to beat them at their house,” Thompson said before the game. “We haven’t done it since I’ve been here … There’s definitely an urgency.”Thompson and her fellow seniors achieved that goal Wednesday, earning a three-set sweep against Minnesota (25-16, 25-19, 30-28). Senior outside hitter Ellen Chapman led the way for UW with 12 kills.Thompson, a Plymouth, Minnesota, native always has a large crowd of supporters when Wisconsin plays Minnesota. She said she used to press during matches at Minnesota, but calming down in front of her fans is something that came with maturity.“It’s really special,” Thompson said. “I get to play in front of the people that love me the most. Being able to play well and have that support is awesome … and it being my last time [playing there] it will be just as special, if not more.”Her play this season, along with the emergence of fellow blocker sophomore Haleigh Nelson, has given the Badgers viable offensive options in the middle of the court. Their offensive attack usually stems from a quick set from sophomore setter Lauren Carlini, and then either Thompson or Nelson bury the ball before opposing defenses are able to react.Nelson leads the team with 3.38 kills per set, while Thompson averages 2.38 kills per set. They both make the most of the opportunities, with Nelson (.388) ranking fifth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage and Thompson ranked eight (.367). The two both picked up six kills in Wednesday’s match.Carlini herself is on a hot streak. In addition to averaging 11.55 assists per set, she ranks seconds on the team in digs per set (3.05) and leads the Big Ten in double-doubles with 11. Wednesday night, she had 34 assists and a career-high 18 digs.Carlini’s defensive emergence is a byproduct of her adjustment to the college game, she said.“I feel like I had a lot on my plate to focus on last year,” Carlini said. “I’ve been able to focus a little bit more on things other than just setting, so that’s why my numbers have gone up a little.”Up front, the Gophers display heavy-hitter Daly Santana. The junior outside hitter averages 4.08 kills per set and had a match-high 17 kills against the Badgers Wednesday night. Sarah Wilhite, a sophomore outside hitter, also provides an offensive presence for Minnesota, averaging 3.31 kills per set. Those two players also lead the team in digs on the defensive side of the ball.Minnesota was held to a .103 hitting percentage by Wisconsin, behind a match-high six blocks from Nelson. Junior libero Taylor Morey had a match-high 24 digs.More than a third of the way through conference play, the Badgers solely commanded second place in the Big Ten with a 6-1 conference record, trailing Purdue, who is undefeated through its six first conference matches.The Badgers have now won six straight conference matches, their longest Big Ten winning-streak since 2007 when the team won its first nine conference matches.Wisconsin will host the Gophers Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the UW Field House.last_img

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