In a thrilling Sweet 16 showdown at the pulsating Field House, the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team showcased resilience and dominance, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite 8 after a hard-fought four-set victory (25-11, 28-30, 25-12, 25-18) over conference rival and 5th seed Penn State. The Badgers will now host second-seeded Oregon on Saturday night, 7 p.m., with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
The Field House buzzed with energy as fans were treated to a high-stakes clash between two volleyball powerhouses. After the Badgers ran away with the first set 25-11, Penn State asserted its strength in the second set, seizing control and putting the Badgers on the defensive. Despite the Badgers’ advantage in blocking, it was a fiercely contested set, with both teams trading points. In a nail-biting finish, Penn State secured the set 30-28.
The Badgers, fueled by determination, stormed back in the third set against the Nittany Lions. A 4-0 run set the tone, and despite Penn State’s efforts to regroup, unforced errors and a low hitting percentage allowed the Badgers to dominate. MJ Hammel’s ace extended the lead to 16-7, prompting another Penn State timeout. The Badgers closed out the set with authority, claiming a convincing 25-12 win.
In the fourth set, the Badgers continued their commanding performance. An early 10-7 lead, courtesy of an ace by Gulce Guctekin and a powerful block by CC Crawford, set the stage. The Field House erupted as Penn State called a timeout, but the Badgers maintained their momentum, securing the set 25-18.
Sarah Franklin emerged again as a critical player for the Badgers, leading the charge with an impressive 15 kills. Temi Thomas-Ailara and Devyn Robinson contributed 11 and 10 kills, respectively. The Badgers’ efficiency on the attack was prominent, boasting a .268 hitting percentage compared to Penn State’s .082.
The cornerstone of the Badgers’ success was their formidable defense, highlighted by a remarkable 17-4 block advantage over Penn State. This surprising disparity underscored the Badgers’ ability to neutralize one of the Big Ten’s better teams.
Coach Sheffield expressed his satisfaction with the team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of effective serving and solid defense. “We work on blocking every day. It’s one of our strong suits and we just went out there and executed. We stood on business.” remarked Devyn Robinson, encapsulating the team’s confidence and commitment to their game plan.
Carter Booth summed up the Badgers’ blocking prowess, stating, “We blocked out the sun,” emphasizing the team’s relentless defensive efforts.
With this impressive victory, the Wisconsin Badgers now prepare to face the #2 Seed Oregon Ducks in the Elite 8. The clash, scheduled for Saturday, carries the weight of a Final Four berth in Tampa on the line. The game can be watched live on ESPNU at 7 p.m.