Wisconsin Badgers volleyball: UW focuses on defense ahead of weekend trip to Michigan
The cliché in any sport is that offense wins glory but defense wins championships.
For the No.3 Wisconsin Badgers (5-1 Big Ten, 13-1 overall) this season, and across many others, this is no exception. Watching fifth year Dana Rettke and second year Devyn Robinson thundering at home is a pleasure to watch. The same goes for fifth year snipers Grace Loberg and first year Julia Orzoł.
But head coach Kelly Sheffield’s goal ahead of a weekend streak in Michigan – where the Badgers face the Spartans (1-5, 8-7) and Wolverines (3-3, 10-5) – is the defensive aspect, especially on the block.
Sheffield believes the loss of senior center blocker Danielle Hart has really affected that part of the UW defense. Sheffield said Hart is a vocal leader in a place where communication is key to getting players in the right position. It also resulted in a lineup shake-up, with Robinson taking responsibility in the middle, which means relearning the proper footwork there rather than his usual role on the right side.
Still, Sheffield noted the team saw a difference after a blocking performance that was just “short of a train wreck” in their previous game against Illinois.
“It’s kind of a work in progress, but I like the direction we’re taking,” Sheffield said. “But against Illinois we got better as it went for sure … Even though we didn’t block in the first set I thought we were preparing a lot better. [than previous matches]. “
Another absence that affected the UW defense was fifth year Gio Civita. The Italian suffered a knee injury, which made junior Anna MacDonald a lot of playing time.
The junior from Alpharetta, Ga. Performed well in the action she saw on the pitch, doing a really good job from the serve line. MacDonald’s sister Amber played in Wisconsin for three years from 2015 to 2017 and said they displayed a similar fieriness and competitiveness, and gave UW a lot over the weekend.
“She has yet to miss a serve this season, putting the ball in the right areas. She did some great digs to extend her service against Illinois. We have a lot of confidence in his ability to defend and place balls outside the system, ”said Sheffield.
Sheffield did not speak about Civita’s status, but the defensive specialist wore a brace on her same knee that she had already torn the ACL three times during the week. I’m not a medical expert, but that’s not a good sign. Still, the team has yet to announce whether they will be out for the season, which means they could return later in the season.
As for this weekend, Michigan State away forward Sarah Franklin will provide a test for the UW defense. Sheffield has called Florida’s sophomore one of the best away youngsters in the conference, and she leads the Spartans with nearly four kills per set. Another weapon for MSU is junior outside forward Cecilee Max-Brown, who has 2.86 kills per set and 11 aces this season.
The Michigan Wolverines will likely be a tougher test for the Badgers. The Wolverines have just wrapped up a weekend where they beat Minnesota in five sets after forcing the Gophers to a five-set home thriller earlier in the season.
The Wolverines have one of the best Big Ten servers in May Petrofsky, who averages 0.5 aces per set to go along with 2.52 kills per set and 0.89 blocks per set. Libero Hannah Grant meanwhile has nearly four digs per set in the back row for Michigan.
That swing to neighboring Mitten State will be a good warm-up before two big home tests against the No.8 Ohio State and No.14 Penn State next weekend.
The Badgers face the Spartans on Friday at 5:00 p.m. CT while their game against the Wolverines is Saturday at 3:30 p.m. CT, with coverage of both competitions on the Big Ten Network.