The No. 23-ranked Badger volleyball team entered the Fieldhouse contending for a piece of first place in a Big Ten conference where a half-game lead divided the top four teams. Taking a 3-2 win over conference leader No. 15 Penn State Friday night, the Badgers head into Saturday's match against Ohio State (2-7 Big Ten, 8-9 overall) hoping to emerge from the three-way tie for first with No. 25 Minnesota and Illinois who also marked victories over conference rivals.
Badgers came out strong taking the first two rounds, leading throughout a 30-26 first match and shutting down a 27-28 Nittany Lions lead in the second match, taking the decisive next three points.
Penn State went on to dominate the second pair, maintaining the leads from 13 and four points out, respectively, a change Wisconsin senior outside hitter Lisa Zukowski credited to the Penn State offense.
"They started serving high and deep, and those are hard to return," Zukowski said, explaining that serves were aimed for players' shoulders.
With the fifth match, the Badgers changed up their attack, subbing Zukowski for senior Jill Maier at libero and moving junior Marian Weidner to the front. The result was not immediately apparent, with Penn State going on an 8-1 run for a 10-5 lead. The game's momentum appeared to be on the Nittany Lions' side until a particularly lengthy volley that left Wisconsin and Penn State fans alike agape as dramatic saves fell to the Lions. A comeback, however, was in the works.
"That was a message to Penn State," Zukowski said. "They might have gotten the point, but we're not giving up."
The tide shifted with a solo block by sophomore outside hitter Audrey Meierotto for a 6-10 score and, following a kill by Penn State junior outside hitter Ashley Pederson, Wisconsin went on a 7-1 run, to which Meierotto contributed three kills. Weidner delivered the game point, taking the fifth game 16-14.
Wisconsin coach Pete Waite said the team had noticeably improved its game five performance over past series and praised the shift in lineup for keeping the Badgers in the game.
"We talked in the beginning of this year that the chemistry of this year's team is better and hoped it would start showing up in important situations and it did tonight," Waite said. "We've tried some different lineups and they've been really open about just going with whatever we give them."
The fans and players' excitement for the win was palpable throughout the Fieldhouse.
"Talk about emotions," said senior setter Morgan Shields after the game. "You're up, you're down. You're happy, you're pissed."