MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin volleyball team (5-1), fresh off a 3-0 weekend at the Long Beach State Invitational, takes to the home court for the first time season, hosting the 21st annual InnTowner Invitational Friday and Saturday night in the UW Field House.
Wisconsin will face Drake Friday night before taking on North Dakota State and Milwaukee Saturday.
Head coach Pete Waite said opening the season at 5-1 is just what the team had hoped for heading into the annual tournament.
“Yeah, it's exactly what we were hoping for,” Waite said. “It all worked out perfectly for us. We came out of (Long Beach Invitational) without any major injuries and that was good. And it's becoming a more solid team and we like that.”
Among the team’s leaders emerging this season has been senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell. Mitchell leads the team with a .409 hitting percentage while adding 2.86 kills per set and shares the team lead with 1.33 blocks per set.
“She's really leading the team in a lot of ways, emotionally,” Waite said. “Almost every category I could say she's doing it. But she's worked hard over the last four years coming from a very raw athlete out of Iowa. It’s really been exciting to watch her progress.”
The Badgers begin the tournament play taking on Drake University Friday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs come into Madison winless on the season, having been swept in tournaments the past two weekends in a row. Drake has won just two sets in six matches but the Bulldogs have lost five sets this season by just three points or less.
Drake is led by freshman middle blocker Cassie Effken who is averaging a team-best 2.35 kills per set, along with 1.35 blocks per set.
Saturday, the Badgers take on North Dakota State at noon, before finishing up tournament play at 7 p.m. against Milwaukee.
North Dakota State (1-5) has one win in 2012, a victory last weekend over Air Force at the Northern Colorado Classic. The Bison are fresh off a strong 26-9 campaign in 2011, but lost three starters in the off-season.
Stepping up for North Dakota State this season has been senior outside hitter Brynn Joki and senior middle blocker Megan Lamberston. Joki is averaging 3.27 kills and 2.77 digs per set while Lambertson lead the team with 1.23 blocks per set while also averaging 2.27 kills per set.
Tournament play wraps up Saturday night when Wisconsin faces Milwaukee (4-3), a team that finished 25-5 in 2011, including 16-0 in Horizon League play. In the spring season however, the Badgers swept the Panthers 3-1 at the Field House in March.
Milwaukee is powered by sophomore Julie Kolinske, a 6-2 outside hitter whose 3.78 kills per set leads the team. Junior middle blocker Rachel Nueberger leads Milwaukee with a .395 hitting percentage while contributing 2.48 kills per set.
The Badgers have claimed 15-of-20 InnTowner Invitational titles, but have not won since 2010, with Notre Dame taking the 2011 title.