The No. 23 Wisconsin volleyball team opened up Big Ten action at the UW Field House on Friday night against Northwestern. It was a rollercoaster ride of a match, but the Badgers were able to bounce the Wildcats in five games (27-30, 27-30, 30-25, 30-15, 15-12).
Sophomore outside hitter Aubrey Meierotto had career highs in kills and blocks as she posted 24, and six respectively. Senior defensive specialist Lisa Zukowski also posted a team high 14 defensive digs. For the Wildcats, senior outside hitter Iowana Lodzik led the way with 22 kills and 23 defensive digs in the defeat.
The first two games were nothing but bad news for the Badgers as they withered away under the Wildcat's roar. In the first game, Wisconsin had a steady lead but two attack errors helped Northwestern to have a four-point run and gain momentum of the game. The second game showed the skills of Lodzik, who was named Big Ten player of the week for the week of Sept. 15, as she led the team with nine kills and nine digs. The Badgers had no answer to her and ended the game on a disappointing net serve by junior middle blocker Shelia Shaw.
The Badgers had 15 service errors in the first two games.
Coach Pete Waite knows that his team did not produce up to its level during the first two games.
"The first two games were some of the worst volleyball I have seen our team play" Waite said. "And it was very surprising because I think we've been practicing well."
As the team came out for what could have been their final game of the night, Waite decided to make a change with senior defensive specialist Jill Maier replacing Zukowski at libero.
"I think this season is going to be a season of different people stepping up and doing different things," Waite said. "Even (Maria) Carlini came in and did some good things for us today. We're going to have some off days but that's what's great about this team also, it's got a good chemistry. It's not always going to be smooth sailing but they really battle."
Whether it was the lineup change or not, the Badgers came out with a higher level of intensity as they knew it was do or die in the third game. Meirerotto and Zukowski picked the team up during this game as they had six kills a piece. Their efforts helped switch the momentum to Wisconsin's side.
"Their game picked up," Wait said. "They made a decision downstairs to come out fresh and make it a five game match."
Still down 2-1 the Badgers went into the fourth game with abundant energy. The team cruised ahead to a 5-0 lead thanks to better serving from sophomore middle blocker Sheila Shaw. Wisconsin went on to score seven straight points and that pretty much swept away the Wildcats in game four. Again, Meirerotto led the way with five kills, and Maier added five digs. The team drastically improved its serving, with no service errors after recording 19 in the three previous games.
The two victories for the Badgers helped them get into the groove that they needed to dispose of the Wildcats.
"I think we started getting into a rhythm," said Zukowski. "We were fighting for every single point. It was really tough to get into a rhythm especially missing a lot of serves (in the first two games) and just trying to connect some points."
Northwestern was not ready to back down so fast. The final game brought about back-and-forth scoring between the two teams and increased intensity on both ends. The Badgers finally pulled ahead 13-11 but an attack error by freshman middle blocker Amy Bladow gave the Wildcats a window of opportunity as they were now down by only one point. A kill by Meierotto and an attack error by Wildcat freshman middle blocker Julie Purcell sealed the deal for Wisconsin, 15-12, in the decisive fifth game.
One might think this scene sounds familiar. Late last season the Wildcats took a quick 2-0 lead over the Badgers but fell in five games. Wildcat head coach Keylor Chan knows that his Wildcats grew weary with the Badgers on the prowl.
"We took advantage of those first two games and then the next three games we started making more errors and they started playing with a lot more confidence," said Chan. "We just need to learn how to finish a game in a match. Our team's still learning how to do that."
The Badgers next take the court against Illinois Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Field House.