After opening its spring season with drills at Marquette, the Wisconsin volleyball team continued competition Sunday afternoon, hosting Minnesota in the UW Field House. What was initially planned to be a full match was cut down to a three-set scrimmage due to opponent injuries. Despite the event's brevity, the crowd of more than 500 people was given a good taste of what to expect from the NCAA runner-up Badgers in the 2014-15 season.
The match featured a mix of familiar and new, as redshirt freshman Taylor Fricano and freshman Tori Blake both saw ample playing time. Sophomore Taylor Morey looked a natural in her role as libero, taking over for senior Annemarie Hickey, who coached from the sideline and assisted in drills before the match.
Blake, who saw action in just 22 sets last fall, switched off with junior Dominique Thompson and fellow freshman Haleigh Nelson at middle blocker. During the team's four-month break, Blake seems to have gained more control as a hitter, and fans can expect to see more of her in the upcoming season as she gains experience working with 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Lauren Carlini.
Time plays an integral role in the relationship between a setter and middle, allowing for their chemistry to build both on and off the court. This was apparent in the progression of Nelson through her first season, as she improved from one kill in her first match in the Cardinal and White to averaging 1.74 kills per set on a .318 attack percentage for her rookie season. In the same way, look for Blake and Carlini's on-the-court communication to progress as the pair works together throughout the spring and offseason.
Another new face on the court was Fricano, the 6-4 right side/outside hitter, who saw playing time after taking a redshirt during the 2013 season. Along with junior Ellen Chapman, Fricano stands as the team's tallest player. The two will complement one another nicely at the net with Chapman on the outside and Fricano on the right. The Badgers finished just seventh in the Big Ten with 2.33 blocks per set last season, and height may be a new defensive weapon for the team in the upcoming season.
One very familiar aspect of the scrimmage was the Badgers' signature aggressive serving. Head Coach Kelly Sheffield, 2013 Volleyball Magazine National Coach of the Year, has emphasized in the past that players have "been given the green light to be very aggressive" at the service line. This trend continued into spring competition, as UW garnered aces from multiple players including Chapman, who led the team in aces per set (0.23) in 2013. The crowd also saw a new face at the line as Nelson served for the first time on her birthday. Whether this was a birthday gift from Coach Sheffield or the start of a new trend for the 6-3 middle blocker is yet to be determined. Morey also made a serving transition, moving from a long float serve to a jump serve during the scrimmage.
Wisconsin will continue spring competition on Wednesday, April 16 as it hosts Marquette for a full match. Competition will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the UW Field House. Admission is free to all with several members of the team available afterwards for a Q&A.