"They made some great passes to force a side out and it turned into a side out battle," Simpson said. "Notre Dame is a team that scraps for everything and we had to match that. It was a battle out there."
But thanks to the poise and grit of Simpson and a cast of Badgers, Wisconsin found their own luck thanks to the Irish.
In a match that saw 34 ties, 10 lead changes and a constant swing of momentum from team to team, Wisconsin (25-6) prevailed on their home court, sweeping Notre Dame (18-14) 36-34, 30-26, 30-21 to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament to face Iowa State at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
It was clear from the start that the Irish were going to make Wisconsin work the whole night, with the first game being filled with momentum swings and 19 ties. The Badgers lead for the majority of the game, but never could build a lead on the scrappy Irish. Every time Wisconsin managed to put a string of multiple points in a row, Notre Dame came right back to even the score and put the pressure right back on Wisconsin.
"We knew Notre Dame was a good, different team and that's part of the difficulty scouting them," UW head coach Pete Waite said. "They have a lot of different people on the court and they all play aggressive and scrappy. [Notre Dame's] defense was great in the first game and it forced us to pick up our defense as well."
Even so, the Badgers were in position to win the first game when Brittney Dolgner registered one of her game high 21 kills to the put the Badgers up 29-28. However, the Irish stopped Wisconsin attempts to win the game time after time. Every chance the Badgers had to put away the Irish, Notre Dame was right there to deny Wisconsin.
"When you go into a match, you want to be in a position to be in it all the way," Notre Dame senior libero Danielle Herndon said. "If you had an idea of how a match should be, that's how I would see it develop. As an athlete, you just [have to] go out and fight to the end."
But the Irish finally ran out of steam playing catch up, as a service and attacking error game Wisconsin the game one victory and the momentum they sorely needed.
"That was a huge game," Waite said. "If they would have won that game, it would have been a different outcome probably. [That game] got us charged up and ready."
Games two was nearly identical to the first, with the Irish answering all of Wisconsin's scoring runs, as the lead changed eight times between the two clubs. In a similar fate for the Irish however, attack errors hurt them down the stretch, with Notre Dame making five miscues after they came back to tie the score at 20-20. Wisconsin used those mistakes to their advantage and pulled away late in the second to win 30-26.
In the third game, the Irish began to run out of gas as they constantly tried to get a lead on the Badgers. Notre Dame's undoing was a 14-7 scoring run for the Badgers and six kills in game three from Taylor Reineke that finished off the Irish.
"It's disappointing to come here and struggle in some aspects," Notre Dame head coach Debbie Brown said. "We made some great defensively plays and we served well. We felt we had to block Wisconsin to be effective and we didn't do that as effectively as we would have wanted to."
The three-game sweep saw Dolgner (21 kills), Audra Jeffers (15), Taylor Reineke (11) and Maria Carlini (10) all posted double figure kill totals. In addition, Simpson assisted on 51 of Wisconsin's 59 assists and added five blocks on the night. The balance in scoring and defense pleased Waite the most on the night.
"Any given game during the match, someone will step up," Waite said. "We have four people in double digit kills and that's a great balance in your offense. It becomes very hard to stop and it can wear a team down. That's the great thing about our program."
But the kudos of the night went to Dolgner, who has consistently put up big numbers in a Wisconsin uniform. In addition to her 21 kills, Dolgner had 11 digs and hit .545 on the night. However, her performance in the first game of the night, where Dolgner hit over .900, was what impressed the Irish coaches.
"I was pleased that we slowed [Dolgner] down after hitting .900 after the first game," Brown said. "We were able to slow her down a little bit after the first game, but she played great tonight. She's going to be one of the best players to come through Wisconsin in my estimation."
Iowa State sweeps UWM
Erin Boeve, Jessica Klein and Katie Jessen all finished double figures in kills as Iowa State (21-10) made quick work of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (24-6), sweeping the Panthers 30-21, 30-10, 30-21.
"If we served and passed well, I thought we'd be successful and we did," Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson said. "I thought we got in a good rhythm and kept our composure throughout the night."
The Panthers, who won the regular season Horizon league title, had a horrendous night hitting the ball, finishing the night with a season low .016 hitting percentage. On the other side of the net, UWM let the Cyclones hit over .300 for the three games. It marked the third time all season that the Panthers let an opponent hit over .300 in a match.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm and Iowa State played nearly flawless the entire night," Panther head coach Kathy Litzau said.
The win marked the first win for the Cyclones in the NCAA tournament since beating Idaho in the first round in 1995.