Nov. 8, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- With just six matches to go in the regular season, the Wisconsin volleyball team knows it’s on the cusp of the team’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2007. To get there though, the Badgers will first have to push through a pair of foes this weekend who seem to be hitting their strides.
Wisconsin (16-11, 4-10) travels east this weekend to take on Michigan (19-9, 7-7) and Michigan State (19-7, 7-7), both of whom took down No. 4 Nebraska last weekend.
But the Badgers can’t let that intimidate them. With six Big Ten Conference matches left, Wisconsin is one win away from surpassing the first NCAA Tournament qualifying threshold, a record above .500.
Head Coach Pete Waite said it will take a couple more wins than that for the Badgers to write themselves a confident post season resume.
“Comfortable would be two or three wins to finish up the Big Ten schedule,” Waite said. “The first benchmark is over .500 to get in the tournament and that’s where we got stuck last year. The team’s focused on it and getting as many wins as possible. If we could get four wins, it would be great. And that would look better for the NCAA committee.”
Stuck at the 16-win threshold for their last three matches, the Badgers hope to finally break through Friday night against a Wolverine squad they defeated 3-0 earlier this season.
Wisconsin, historically, seems to always bring their best play when facing Michigan. The Badgers have won 10 of the last 13 matches and 27 of the last 31 against the Wolverines dating back to 1996. Overall, the Badgers are 45-17 against Michigan, including an 18-11 advantage in Ann Arbor.
“We’ve had some success against them,” Waite said. “But on any given day you never know how it goes. We’ll prepare ourselves as we always do and hope for the best.”
UM has a balanced offense with four players averaging 2.2 or more kills per set. Junior Lexi Erwin, a 6-1 outside hitter, leads the team with 3.91 kills per set. Junior Molly Toon, a 6-0 outside hitter from Middleton, Wis., adds 2.33 kills per set.
“The local people know Molly Toon out of Madison,” Waite said. “She had a great match for Michigan against Nebraska with 25 kills. She clearly is playing some pretty good ball and the Michigan team in general is playing very well.”
The Spartans will pose an equally tough test Saturday night.
“Michigan State really benefited from the transfer in of Lauren Wicinski from Northern Illinois and that, in a year where they graduated four seniors, really gave them veteran experience and balance,” Waite said. “They had a good win against Nebraska and that proves they’re playing some good ball right now.”
Wicinski leads the Big Ten with 4.42 kills and 0.62 service aces per set.
The Badgers fell to the Spartans 3-1 earlier this season, but did not drop a set in the match by more than three points and took the third set by seven points. Wisconsin knows a win against Michigan State is well within its reach.
“There’s no one in the Big Ten we don’t have a shot of beating,” Waite said. “We just have to be clicking on all cylinders and that’s going to be up to the players to step up when it’s match time. At this point in the season, be playing hard for the seniors so they have a great finish to their careers.”