Volleyball: Badgers set to go dancing

first_imgSunday marked a day of praise for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, who were announced as the sixth overall seed in the NCAA Tournament by the selection committee that night.After a season in which a young group of players learned to come together in the face of adversity, it’s a fitting position for such a talented team. They’ve almost made it to the top, but there’s still work to be done.The Badgers (24-6 Overall, 16-4 Big Ten) rode a 12-game win streak to end the season, boosting their stock just before tournament play begins. That added effort, in which they defeated six ranked teams, pushed Wisconsin to a new level of play and helped secure their high standing, making them, arguably, one of the most feared teams this postseason.But unique scheduling, as UW head coach Kelly Sheffield put it, brought another dark-horse to the UW Field House in the form of Oregon (16-13 Overall, 10-10 Pacific 12), whom the Badgers will face Thursday at 7:30 p.m.“I would say on paper it probably has the potential of being one of the best, most competitive first-round matches for a seeded team in a long time,” Sheffield said. “We’re excited that the NCAA chose us to be a part of that.”The Ducks finished their regular season on a 6-3 run, capped by wins over Colorado and UCLA. Five players average more than 1.5 kills per set — contributing to Oregon’s place at the top of the Pac-12 in kills per set (14.25) — and junior libero Amanda Benson, Pac-12 defensive player of the week, is third in her conference in digs per set (4.65).Assists are doled out by the tandem of setters, Maggie Scott (9.83 per set) and August Raske (4.9 per set), allowing the Ducks to spread the court and stay fresh.The challenge they present will be picked up by a Wisconsin front line which averages 2.76 blocks per set and an opponent’s hitting percentage of .161, making for exciting net play, especially with the offensive scheme Oregon’s runs.“They play a different style than anybody else in the country does,” Sheffield said. “They will run plays where their outside hitters are coming in for quicks. Their outside hitters will pass in front of the setter over in the corner, and pass the ball and run to the exact opposite corner and hit a one-foot slide behind the setter. Nobody does that!”Wisconsin, having exerted so much effort just to get to this point of the season, is not ready to let any of Oregon’s tricks get the best of them though.Sheffield said he will shorten practices in order to rest his team, confident after performances against Illinois and Purdue. He also stated that they’ve cleaned up their plays and are running them without hiccups, setting up a scenario where Sheffield must balance between overworking and underworking his team before the most important match of the season.Despite the obvious anxiety that surrounds Wisconsin, questions of whether to have longer practices or not and what minor last tweaks can be made, Sheffield calmed nerves with his usual reassuring attitude.“I think what we’re starting to get is more than just one or two people on their game,” Sheffield said. “Where we’re starting to be — there are quite a few people that are playing well every night,” he said.Even with facing Oregon’s obvious skill, Sheffield’s confidence is not misplaced. Five Badgers average 2.21 kills per set or more and with Lauren Carlini playing arguably the best in her career, averaging 11.91 assists per set, offense is not hard to come by in Madison. Regardless, as Sheffield pointed out, defense is the true focal point of this squad and where success will begin and end for Wisconsin.“Defensively we’re playing so much harder,” Sheffield said. “We’re taking pride in keeping the ball off the floor. We’re taking pride that our opponents aren’t acing us, and so much of that is just, I would say, a mentality of ‘You’re not going to get the easy stuff against us.’”With that in mind, these next few days will become a waiting game for Wisconsin as they brace themselves to write the next chapter in the program’s legacy.last_img

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