Sept. 20, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- The schedule for the Wisconsin volleyball team kicks up a notch as Wisconsin opens the Big Ten Conference season this weekend. The Badgers (12-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) travel to undefeated Northwestern (12-0, 0-0) on Friday and No. 20 Illinois (6-4, 0-0) on Sunday.
The Badgers, who are off to one of the best starts in program history, take on the Wildcats at 7 p.m. Friday at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill. UW has a day off from competition before heading further south to face off against the Illini at 1 p.m. Sunday in Huff Hall in Champaign, Ill. Sunday’s match streams live on the BTN.com.
Northwestern is undefeated on the season and fresh off a sweep at its home tournament, taking wins over Delaware, Saint Louis and Western Michigan. The Badgers and Wildcats share one common opponent in 2012—both teams swept Drake.
The Wildcats are led by junior Stephanie Holthus, a 5-11 outside hitter, who has a team-best 4.20 kills pet set. Sophomore middle blocker Katie Dutchman adds 2.75 kills per set while leading the team with a .458 hitting percentage. Madalyn Shatler, a 6-2 setter, leads all Big Ten players with 11.93 assists per set.
As a team, Northwestern tops the Big Ten with 17.35 digs per set and ranks second in the conference with 1.73 service aces per set.
“We stack up pretty well, but obviously they’re a strong team,” head coach Pete Waite said. “They’ve faced everyone in the preseason so far and stood tall with every opponent. We know them a lot from last year so they’re a solid team, a well-coached team. (It’s a) good environment to play in, so we’re going to be ready to go.”
Wisconsin split a pair of matches against the Wildcats last season. The Badgers opened their 2011 Big Ten campaign against Northwestern last year as well, sweeping the Wildcats in Madison. Wisconsin later fell at Northwestern, 3-2.
The Badgers complete their weekend tour of Illinois with a stop in Champaign on Sunday afternoon to take on the Illini, a young team that has had to replace two key starters. Illinois lost two All-American outside hitters—Colleen Ward and Michelle Bartsch.
Despite the losses, the Badgers still face an Illini team that is only nine months removed from a NCAA national title game appearance.
“They’re just solid, they’re consistent,” said Waite. “They’ve had a lot of changes to their lineup from last year so they’re going to be a different team out there. We’re excited to go into that environment. It’s one of the best in the Big Ten.”
Illinois has stumbled at times this season while shining at others. The team’s four losses have come against Dayton, then-No. 11 Pepperdine, then No. 15 Iowa State and then-No. 24 Louisville, with one of the team’s marquee wins coming against No. 6 Texas (3-2). The Illini face No. 12 Minnesota Friday before welcoming in the Badgers Sunday.
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Jocelyn Birks leads the team with 4.26 kills per set as well as having a team-best 10 service aces. Sophomore Liz McMahon, a 6-6 outside hitter, adds 2.33 kills per set and is one of three Illinois players averaging 1.0 or more blocks per set.
The Badgers fell twice to Illinois last season, dropping a 3-0 decision in Madison and a 3-1 match in Champaign. The Illini have won the last eight meetings between the two teams.