Wisconsin (26-6) registered their 12th sweep of the season and it came at the most important time, NCAA tournament time, beating the Iowa State Cyclones 30-20, 30-25, 30-27 to advance to the regional semifinals.
"We love hosting obviously and our crowd is great here," UW head coach Pete Waite said. "It really does give our team extra energy and focus. They just want to do a great job for the fans. We love being here and it gives us confidence going on the road now, because we are playing some solid ball. When you can win in three, it's always great."
After freshman Brittney Dolgner torched Notre Dame in the first round with 21 kills, Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson, a former UW assistant under Pete Waite, knew that the Cyclones had to slow down Dolgner if they were going to escape Madison with a win.
Actually, the Cyclones (21-11) were successful in that venture, holding Dolgner to a .133 hitting percentage, her lowest in 12 matches. The only problem was that Iowa State forgot about the rest of the Badgers, as four Wisconsin women hit over .500 on the night.
"They're very physical [and] serve tough," Johnson said. "We tried to focus on slowing down their outside hitters. Unfortunately, they have a lot of good players that hit well for them. Wisconsin was able to make some adjustments. We lost to a very good team tonight."
Even with Dolgner not getting many solid opportunities on the night, Wisconsin was nearly flawless on the block and on the serve. The Badgers registered 10 team blocks and seven service aces, their highest total since having nine against Penn State on October 7.
"If we served tough and kept them away from the net, they could run their quick offense and we kept them on their heels right away," Waite said. "Just four errors for a three game match are pretty low."
Junior Jackie Simpson had a strong night against her former coach and mentor Johnson, who was a former setter herself. Simpson continued her solid season with another impressive showing, being credited for 42 sets, 10 digs, three blocks and hitting over .500 against the Cyclones.
"I really didn't do a whole lot different [playing against Johnson]," Simpson said. "I just worked on drawing my hands to the same place every time instead of showing where I was going. There was some extra motivation [playing against them tonight]."
Still, the main storyline in addition of the game tonight was the return of Johnson, who was warmly received by Wisconsin crowd. After inheriting a team that went 1-19 in conference three years ago, Johnson has turned the tide in Ames, bringing Iowa State back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.
Even so, the return to Madison this time was bittersweet.
"I love coming back here," Johnson said. "The crowd is awesome and a special place to play. In the back of my mind, I wanted to come back here not just because of my ties, but because this is a great place to play. I'm glad my players got to have this experience here."
For her former boss, the experience was an awkward one, but Waite recognized that Johnson was responsible for a lot of success his team is having now.
"[Coaching against her] was strange," Waite said. "Even when going over to shake hands, it was really different. She's been gone for two years, has her own team and recruited and trained a lot of these players. She had a hand in a lot of what [happened] on the court tonight."
Now the Badgers head to Austin, Texas to take on the No.7 Texas Longhorns (23-6). The Badgers know the Longhorns all to well, as Wisconsin was swept in their season-opener at home by Texas in the AVCA College Volleyball Showcase 30-28, 30-18, 30-22. Even so, the Badgers are an entirely different team than they were back in August and feel that they are playing some of their best volleyball of the season heading into the rematch with Texas.
"We're more well rounded and more balanced [since the last time we played them]," Waite said. "We've watched Texas' results along the way and a little bit of tape. But I know, just like when we lost to Penn State, we can back really strong the next time and much more focused to go after them. We need to be super aggressive on the court to stay alive at their place."