Oct. 25, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- The secrets are all out in Big Ten Conference play now. With just about every team in the league having played each other once, schools have a good idea what to expect for the second half of the season.
“Everybody knows each other pretty darn well because, having played each other, watching more videotape on each other,” head coach Pete Waite said. “But it makes everybody become better because they've got to step up their games.”
For the Wisconsin volleyball team (15-8 overall, 3-7 Big Ten), it faces a pair of a familiar foes for the second time this season in Illinois (10-10, 4-6) and Northwestern (14-7, 3-7) at the UW Field House Friday and Sunday, respectively. The Badgers look to complete a sweep over the Wildcats while splitting the season series against the Illini.
“(In the) first round of Big Ten play, we went down to Northwestern and got the win there and lost in five at Illinois - just missed that one,” Waite said. “We're hoping (to) get them on our home court this weekend and get a couple of wins. We need to and want to improve in the second half of Big Ten play here.”
Wisconsin will be in search of redemption Friday night after a tough 3-2 loss at Illinois in late September. In that match, the Badgers and Illini traded sets before Illinois took the match with a 15-9 set win. Since then, the Illini have built a 4-6 conference record including two wins in its last three matches. Illinois defeated then-No. 25 Michigan State Oct. 13 and Northwestern Oct. 17 both by 3-2 scores, while falling to No. 4 Nebraska in a sweep on Sunday.
Redshirt freshman Jocelyn Birks, a 6-2 outside hitter, leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 4.09 kills per set. She also has a team-best 18 service aces (0.22/set). Sophomore Liz McMahon, a 6-6 outside hitter, adds 2.82 kills per set as the only other Illini player averaging more than 2.0 kills per set.
Wisconsin also looks to snap a current nine-match losing streak to the Illini.
The Badgers get a day off before taking on Northwestern Sunday, a team they handled 3-1 on the road in the conference opener. After taking the first set in that match, Wisconsin dropped the second, but finished off the Wildcats by winning the final two sets.
Nine matches later, the Badgers and Wildcats sit in a tie for ninth place in the conference at 3-7. Northwestern fell to then-No. 25 Illinois 3-2 last week before sweeping Iowa Sunday.
Junior Stephanie Holthus, a 5-11 outside hitter, leads the team and ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 4.22 kills per set. Sophomore Yewande Akanbi, a 5-10 outside hitter, chips in 2.52 kills per set while sophomore Katie Dutchman, a 6-0 middle blocker, adds 2.40 kills per set, compiling a team-best hitting percentage of .374.
Against the Wildcats, Wisconsin has lost just eight times ever in Madison, while winning 25.
Coach Waite noted that sophomore Ellen Chapman has been on a tear offensively recently.
“She's been great offensively,” Waite said. “Friday night's match she had 24 kills (and only) one error, which is outstanding for an outside hitter. We need the rest of the team to get on board and in sync offensively so we have more of a balanced attack so it's not just Ellen carrying the load.”
Just two matches out of fifth place, coach Waite knows this weekend is a great opportunity to jump up in the Big Ten standings.
“This is our chance right now,” Waite said. “We've got two home games this weekend to get it done with. There's no reason not to.”