Oct. 11, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- When you play volleyball in the Big Ten Conference, there’s no such thing as respite. After facing four ranked teams in its last five matches, including No. 1 Penn State two weeks ago, the Wisconsin volleyball team takes to the road this weekend to face No. 3 Nebraska and an Iowa squad that’s proven it can hang with any team.
The Badgers (14-5, 2-4) head to Lincoln, Neb., Friday for a 7 p.m. matchup against the Cornhuskers (13-2, 5-1). Wisconsin suffered a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Nebraska in Madison last season before falling 3-1 to then-No. 4 Nebraska in Lincoln at the end of the season.
Now the No. 3 Cornhuskers stand waiting for Wisconsin. After opening Big Ten play with a 3-1 loss to then-No. 4 Penn State, Nebraska has won five straight, taking down then-No. 23 Ohio State, then-No. 24 Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and then-No. 12 Purdue. The Michigan State and Purdue matches were 3-0 sweeps for the Huskers while Indiana pushed Nebraska to five sets last weekend.
The Huskers only other loss came at the end of their non-conference season with a 3-1 defeat on the road at then-No. 25 Iowa State.
“It’s just a team that’s been tested this year,” head coach Pete Waite said. “They’ve taken some losses and had some good wins. It’s just a matter of us going in there with our best game and taking our shot at them.”
Senior Gina Mancuso, a 6-1 outside hitter, leads Nebraska with 3.44 kills per set and also has a team-best 17 service aces (0.31/set). Senior Hannah Werth, a 6-1 outside hitter, adds 3.00 kills per set and leads the team with 3.17 digs per set.
“Nebraska is a powerful team,” Waite said. “You can go down the roster in every position and they have good, strong athletes. Mancuso and Werth on the outside at times can be dominating players. They’re exciting to play against.”
The Badgers have not defeated the Huskers since 1978, dropping 13-straight decisions, including a 3-2 loss in the 2000 NCAA Championship match.
“When you play a ranked team, there’s very little margin for error,” Waite said. “You have to be right on your game and be spot on, and if you do that you have a great shot at getting the win because every team is vulnerable.”
While Iowa (10-9, 2-4) marks the first conference team Wisconsin faces this Big Ten season that hasn’t at least received votes in the national poll, the Hawkeyes demonstrated last week just how dangerous they can be. Heading into West Lafayette, Ind., to face a Purdue team that was ranked No. 12 in the country, Iowa came away with a shocking 3-0 sweep.
“Iowa is a team that had been struggling for wins but then went in and really shocked Purdue at home in three sets,” Waite said. “I’ve said it all year, anybody in our conference can beat anybody else on any given day if you’re not ready to go.”
Sophomore Alex Lovell, a 5-11 outside hitter, leads the Hawks with 3.34 kills per set. Junior Rachael Bedell, a 6-1 outside hitter, adds 2.99 kills per set while freshman Erin Radke, a 6-1 right-side hitter, contributes 2.31 kills per set.
“They had the weapons to get the job done on the road that weekend,” Waite said. “We know they’re a team we’ve really got to deal with.”
Wisconsin is 44-20-1 all-time against Iowa, including a four-match winning streak. Last season, the Badgers swept the Hawkeyes in both matches. Game time for Saturday’s match in Iowa City is 7 p.m.
Waite said he hopes his team’s win last Sunday over Michigan will give the Badgers a boost heading into this weekend.
“Not just because we got the win but because we played well,” Waite said. “I thought all the things we had been working on and doing as a team, showed up. And the players definitely feel a shot of confidence because of that.”