"This is one of the biggest wins in program history," UW head coach Pete Waite said. "This win tells our players to keep working hard. You are going to have some down times, you are going to struggle during the season but if you keep pushing hard, keep improving, great things can happen."
UW outdid PSU in every category on the stat sheet, most notably in the teams' hitting percentages. Wisconsin hit .330 in the match, including a .611 hitting percentage for freshman Brittney Dolgner. Penn State ended the night at .225.
After sitting out the PSU sweep of UW earlier this season, senior Maria Carlini got her chance against the Nittany Lions and led all players with 15 kills. Dolgner contributed 12 kills while Taylor Reineke and sophomore Audra Jeffers pitched in nine a piece. The Badgers outhit Penn State, 54 to 44 in kills. Nicole Fawcett led PSU with 12 kills.
"(We) stepped up big against an extremely talented team," Waite said. "The last chance we had a team that highly ranked was Texas and that was right at the beginning of the season, first match of the season, and we didn't stand up to them. The thing you have to do against great teams, you have to raise your level up. Our team did that."
The Badger block also came out in full force and out-blocked PSU eight to six. Junior Jackie Simpson contributed four block assists while senior Amy Bladow and Reineke both added a solo and three block assists.
Simpson paced the Badger offense with 48 assists, outperforming PSU's Alisha Glass who had 35 assists.
Junior Jocelyn Wack led all players in the dig count with 12, including six in game two. UW had 31 digs on the night compared to PSU's 29.
On the service line, the Badgers aced the Nittany Lions seven times, four of which came from Dolgner. Reineke also added a career-high two service aces while Penn State had just three aces in the match.
"I am just extremely proud of our team for the effort they put in tonight," Waite said. "Penn State is a fantastic program, obviously they have had a great run to this point of the season. But the biggest part of it for our team was serving tough and passing well, the things we did not do well at Penn State. I think our team had that in their minds since then. They improved in those areas and it really paid off tonight."
Wisconsin wasted no time in putting away Penn State. After a 7-7 tie in game one, Dolgner helped UW go up by nine points, serving eight straight points. During the stretch, she recorded two of her service aces. The Nittany Lions pulled within two points three different times down the stretch but UW again rattled off four straight points to put the score at 27-21. After two PSU attack errors, the Badgers put away game one, 30-22.
Game two was a tale of ties as the teams knotted the score 13 times. After being down 28-26, a kill by Bladow and a PSU attack error tied the score for the final time at 28. Two Penn State errors gave Wisconsin a 30-28 win in game two.
Both teams again played close in game three. The Nittany Lions capitalized on a UW attack error to go up 21-20 but that would be the last time they'd see the lead. The Badgers knotted the score at 21 with a kill by Jeffers and went ahead from there. Wisconsin scored the final three points of game three behind a Carlini kill, PSU attack error and finally a Reineke service ace to finalize the score, 30-25.
"We can't give them any runs," Waite said. "They are really good at just getting runs on people, starting with their serve. They just make you struggle there and then they get the block and everything comes together for them. What we did well in the first game and then to come back in the second was run our slide attack against their left-side blocker. We put a lot of pressure on them in a tough situation."
Tonight's win was also the first time since 2001 that the Badgers swept Penn State and it's the highest ranked opponent UW has defeated since facing No. 2 Hawaii on Dec. 10, 2004, in the NCAA regional semifinals.
"I think we worked really hard all week in practice and we worked hard always thinking about Friday night," Bladow said. "I think that we came out tonight giving it everything we had because we had nothing to lose. Everyone favored Penn State, everyone thought they were going to beat us. But we just came out and we left it all on the court and some really good things happened."
"This was huge," Waite said. "Obviously the implication for the Big Ten championship, to keep us in the race was big."
Wisconsin returns to the UW Field House Sunday for a 1 p.m. match-up against No. 24 Ohio State.