"It was so good to be back home because we've been on the road for three weeks and I could just tell the players' energy was so much higher," UW head coach Pete Waite said.
Wisconsin (11-2, 3-0 Big Ten) had three players in double-digit kills with Brittney Dolgner leading the way with 13 and Maria Carlini and Amy Bladow chipping in with 11. Wisconsin also played well defensively, with Taylor Reineke, Audra Jeffers and Bladow all registering four blocks with Carlini having three. Junior libero Jocelyn Wack increased her NCAA double-digit digs record streak to 77 straight games as she tallied a team high 11 digs on the night. Plus, the Badgers made Michigan State standout Katie Johnson a non-factor, as she only got six kills in the three game match.
"The fact that we held Johnson to 6 kills and a .150 hitting percentage says a lot for our defense," Waite said. "I say defense instead of blocking this time because we didn't have an outstanding blocking night. But we did well around the block. I am also please we out-dug Michigan State tonight, who is a very good defense team. … We've got five of our hitters from 8 to 13 kills. That's a real balanced offense and Michigan State struggled because of that tonight."
Wisconsin started off sluggish in the first game, allowing Michigan State to jump out to an early two-point lead. The Badgers quickly regained their composure, registering four straight points off kills from Amy Bladow, Maria Carlini and Taylor Reinke to force State to take a timeout. Although State came back to tie the score, Wisconsin used their height advantage to punish the Spartans, specifically senior libero Nicole Colaluca.
Colaluca received the brunt of the Wisconsin attack as the Badgers were constantly making her move across the court and without much help from her teammates. The Badgers were able to take advantage of four Michigan State errors and win the first game easily.
While the first match seemed to test the Spartans, they responded much better in the second game, countering the Wisconsin attack with every serve. Neither team could gain much momentum during the second game that saw the score tied 10 times and four different lead changes. However, Wisconsin engineered another rally that did in the Spartans again. Led by Jackie Simpson's 16 assists in the second game and two-no look kills that surprised the Spartan defense, Wisconsin moved ahead 18-13 and never looked back to win the second game.
The third game proved to be all Wisconsin early on, with the Badgers saving their best scoring run of the game for the third, where Wisconsin won 10 of 12 points to build a comfortable lead. However, Michigan State wouldn't quit, storming back to close the gap to one at 26-25. Despite the scare, Wisconsin was able to maintain their lead and win the last three points to complete the sweep.
"I think there plan after game two was to run the middle a lot more; run some quick sets and it worked for them," Waite said. "I was proud of our team for stepping up and held them off. We had the one-point lead the entire time and we did well."
The Badgers was in-sync tonight and a lot of credit goes to setup woman Jackie Simpson. Simpson was all over the court for the Badgers, earning six kills, seven digs and successfully set 41 balls for her teammates. With her 41 assists tonight, Simpson now has 3,077 assists in her career, becoming the sixth UW setter to achieve that milestone. So far this season, Simpson has put together not only a string of solid offensive games, but is becoming known for her defense as well.
"Her game is growing," Waite said. "We talk a lot about how much she knows as a setter and that she can bring it every game. And when she does that, she has a lot of fun. … She's a tall setter, she jump sets and when she starts throwing the ball down, it really freezes the middle blocker and that opens it up for the other hitters on the offense. She has really taken a step up the last couple weeks."
With Wisconsin's win tonight, the Badgers have now won seven straight Big Ten matches and will prepare for No.24 Michigan on Saturday night. With a tough Michigan team next on the schedule and a very difficult road trip to Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule next weekend, Wisconsin feels that they are ready for the challenging Big Ten schedule ahead.
"We started our pre-season with a really tough schedule, playing Texas and Ohio, and played a tough in-state rival with Milwaukee," Bladow said. "I also think there is a pick up of intensity when the Big Ten comes around because this is for all of it. This is the big race. We know that every game is important every night and every team that comes here wants to take a win off of us."
"The Big Ten not only tough because of how physical everybody is, everybody knows each other so well," Waite said. "They have scouting reports from the year before [and] they know your tendencies. So, if you can come out and take care of a team, especially in three like we did tonight, it says a lot about the progress of our team from last year to this year."