The University of Wisconsin volleyball team has already had its share of intense, high-pressure matches and it figures to have several more in the next few weeks.
Friday night’s match against Rutgers, however, was not one of those.
The No. 3 Badgers wasted no time in taking care of the overmatched Scarlet Knights, rolling to a 25-13, 25-12, 25-12 sweep at the UW Field House.
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“Good quick win,” coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We played a really clean volleyball match tonight.
"It was an efficient night. Dan hitting 1.000 and Frankie hitting (.400), that’s a pretty efficient night. But it was more than just hitting.”
Indeed, the Badgers were able to hold their errors to a bare minimum in just about every facet of the game.
They hit .414, their third-highest percentage of the season and their best in the Big Ten, and compiled 10 service aces with just one error. And perhaps most notably, after getting riddled for 13 aces in their previous match against Indiana, the Badgers were perfect in serve receive.
“That’s about as clean as you can get on the serve and pass game,” Sheffield said. “I’d say a lot of things start from that point.”
The Badgers’ backcourt was boosted by the return of freshman libero Gulce Guctekin, who missed the past three matches with a leg injury. She, Franklin and Julia Orzol handled all but one of the Scarlet Knights’ 29 serves, with Hart taking care of the other.
“Me, GG and Ozzie have a really good connection on the serve-receive line,” Franklin said. “It was great to have her back and to have her healthy with us because she brings a great energy to the court.”
Rutgers (8-19, 2-13) hit .134 for the match and was led by freshman Taylor Humphrey and junior Kristina Grkovic with eight kills each.
The Scarlet Knights’ only two Big Ten victories came against the two teams behind them in the standings, Michigan State and Iowa.
Sometimes teams can come out flat in obvious mismatches. But that was not the case with the Badgers as they took command of each set early and avoided the lulls that they’ve had at times in other matches.
“That doesn’t happen without coming in with the right mindset,” Hart said. “That’s something we’ve been working on for a long time now, trying to start off strong and just continue to build on that moving forward.
“There’s pride in Badger volleyball and we want to make sure that we’re playing at our pace, our rhythm, staying aggressive on our side with courage every time. Every match is another opportunity to get better. Time is running out and we want to continue improving as the season is going on and trying to take advantage of every one of those is really important to us. Especially with the goals we have in front of us.”
The Badgers, who entered the match tied for first place in the conference with Nebraska and Ohio State, will play their final regular season home match Saturday against Maryland. They close out the Big Ten season with four road matches, including showdowns with Nebraska and Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend.
So while there promises to be plenty of dramatic moments in the weeks ahead as the Badgers pursue their fourth consecutive Big Ten title and defend their national championship, they weren’t about to overlook any match.
“We just talked about being grateful for every moment we have together,” Franklin said. “So just going out there and having fun, playing as a team, staying connected, I think was really important for us going into this match.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net, we want to play Badger volleyball whenever we get out on the court.”
Rutgers 13 12 12
Wisconsin 25 25 25
RUTGERS (kills-digs-blocks) — Malone 0-4-0, Chitty 0-6-0, DeLo 1-2-1, Nayar 0-2-0, Visintine 2-3-0, Humphrey 8-1-1, Vernon 1-0-3, Grkovic 8-2-1, Williams 1-0-0, Kinkela 7-2-3. Totals 28-22-5.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Boyer 0-0-0, MacDonald 0-1-0, Gregorski 0-0-0, Bramschreiber 0-13-0, Hammill 0-5-0, Robinson 4-1-3, Ashburn 0-4-0, Franklin 11-3-0, Smrek 2-0-2, Demps 6-2-2, Hart 8-1-4, Guctekin 0-10-0, Orzol 6-7-1. Totals 37-34-6.
Hitting percentage — R .134, W .414. Aces — R 0, W 10 (Orzol 3). Assists — R 26 (DeLo 15), W 31 (Ashburn 17). Att. – 7,229.