Carlini emerging for Wisconsin

Sophomore left-side hitter earned starting spot and has grown into starring role

GREEN BAY—When the 2004 season began, Maria Carlini was a reserve, a solid option off the bench, but a reserve nonetheless. Three months later, with the NCAA tournament in full swing, Carlini is a starter—and a very productive one at that. Since taking over as a starter at left-side hitter against Illinois Oct. 3, the 6-foot-2 sophomore from LaSalle, Ontario is averaging 3.32 kills per game.

"I've learned when you're tentative, that's when you tend to make your mistakes," Carlini said. "Now I just go up and swing. I think that the setters have been doing a great job of giving me great sets."

Carlini has also been doing a good job of putting away those sets. Last weekend, she led Wisconsin to 3-0 wins over Loyola and Notre Dame in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Against the Fighting Irish, Carlini turned in one of her best performances in a Badger uniform. With UW trailing 23-29 in game one, she recorded one of her match-high 15 kills and then served five consecutive points to draw Wisconsin even at 29-29. Carlini completed the comeback win by putting down a Notre Dame overpass, giving UW a 36-34 victory. In addition to her offensive exploits, she also contributed five blocks—three of them of the solo variety—and 13 digs.

"She's been adding to the offense, hitting for a high hitting percentage," UW head coach Pete Waite said. "She's also been blocking a lot of balls. It really disrupts their offense and makes them think twice about where they're going to set the ball. She's added a lot to us defensively and in passing. With her establishing herself in the lineup after about the first month of the season, she's really raised our level of play."

The emergence of Carlini as an offensive threat on the left side has also opened up the opportunities for other Badger hitters like Jill Odenthal, Aubrey Meierotto and Sheila Shaw. In particular, it has made things much easier for Shaw, who earned all-Big Ten and all-region status at middle blocker this season.

"It's awesome because when people start to honor her, then it opens me back up again," Shaw said. "Then when I do something good, it will open her back up again. It's really good to have a balanced attack like that. She's definitely been a solid outside for us this year."

At 6-2, Carlini also adds height to the Wisconsin frontline. After spending the bulk of her career at middle blocker, she was switched to the left-side position on a full-time basis this spring. As her offensive game continues to grow, she is also diligently working to improve her blocking. If last weekend is any indication, the hard work is beginning to pay off. Carlini averaged 2.00 blocks per game against Loyola and Notre Dame.

"I definitely still have a long way to go, but that's what the coaches have really been emphasizing with me is my blocking," Carlini said. "We've been doing a lot of drills in practice and that's really helped out in game situations."

Carlini and Wisconsin continue their NCAA run Friday in Green Bay, when they meet the No. 3 seed Hawaii Rainbow Wahine. Although they enter the match as underdogs, the Badgers do so on the heels of back-to-back three-game sweeps, giving the No. 14 seed plenty of confidence.

"We have nothing to lose," Carlini said. "We'll just go out there and play as hard as we can. I know if we just continue playing like we've been playing throughout this tournament, we're really going to do well, we're going to win."

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