Still Dancing! Wisconsin defeats No. 11 Penn State
Block keys Badgers to 3-2 win
MADISON, Wis. – Despite Penn State coming back to force a fifth set, the second-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team is still dancing in the NCAA tournament! The Badgers (27-3) are headed to the Elite Eight, defeating No. 11 Penn State 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 20-25 on Thursday night in the UW Field House. Wisconsin faces No. 6 PIttsburgh in the regional final on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Field House.
Wisconsin’s block was the key to its win. The Badgers out-blocked the Nittany Lions, 23-9, with Caroline Crawford leading all players with a career-high 12 stuffs, including three in the fifth set. Anna Smrek and Danielle Hart were close behind with eight stops apiece while Sarah Franklin added a career-high six stop blocks. Devyn Robinson also had six stuffs.
The Badger block held Penn State (26-8) to a .056 (56-46-179) team hitting percentage, including a negative .064 percentage in the second set. Wisconsin hit .182 (49-22-148) for the match behind a .579 (13-2-19) hitting percentage from Smrek. Franklin and Smrek combined for 26 of UW’s 49 kills in the match as both put away 13 attacks while Robinson added 11 kills. The Lions also had three players in double-digit kills led by Kashuana Williams with a match-high 14 kills. Katie Clark added 13 kills while Zoe Weatherington put away 11 attempts. Williams (-.018) and Weatherington (-.031) both hit negative in the match.
MJ Hammill and Izzy Ashburn were nearly equal in assists, 22-20, respectively.
Penn State finished with a plus-four advantage in digs (63-59) with the Badgers’ Gulce Guctekin leading all players with 18 digs. Julia Orzol closely followed with 16 saves.
The Lions also dominated from the service line, outscoring Wisconsin 10-4 in service aces. Joslyn Boyer scored the match-winning ace while Orzol, Ashburn, and Hammill each earned a perfect serve for UW.
Straight from the court
Head Coach Kelly Sheffield
“I think everyone here was treated to an unbelievable epic, gritty match. We won the first two sets and blocked a lot of balls and it can test your courage. We’ve been on the other side of that too when you’re just getting blocked a lot and the heart and toughness that Penn State had to stay in it and fight and battle to get into the fifth was a real credit to both teams. There’s so much toughness and people that were just finding ways to contribute.
“I thought we found other ways of being good. And that’s what we did tonight. Every player on our team easily could’ve succumbed to frustration and negativity. It was a very mentally tough performance by both teams. I was in the huddle with these guys and you could just see it in their eyes.
“We worked all year for home court and the people that were in the building tonight, they rewarded us back with their energy and how they stayed with us… It’s so cool to have a fan base that’ll do that when you need them and we needed them tonight. It was a team effort.”
“We’ve been in the fifth set with this team before and being in our home gym made it a little bit sweeter and the fact that we have such an amazing crowd behind us. We got in that huddle and we were ready to go. We knew this fifth set was it and we were going to put everything out there no matter what happens”.
“Nothing was really going my way in any aspect. I told MJ [Hammill] on the bench before the fifth set and said ‘I’m going to go out there and work my a** off blocking’ and that’s what I tried to do. I did that by staying disciplined with my feet and just keeping my eyes on the setter to see where I needed to go.”
“I think how we respond, especially on the days when a team is coming with the aggressive serves that [Penn State] has, the prize at the end is high and we all know it. Some days it’s not going to be perfect, but how we respond in this moment is something I really like about this team.”
Notes to Know
- Wisconsin improves to 63-24 in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the Elite Eight for the fifth straight season and for the 13th time in program history.
- The Badgers extended their winning streak to 21 matches, needing just one more win to tie the school record for longest winning streak.
- UW improves to 16-0 in the UW field House this season.
- Wisconsin improves to 12-3 against top-25 ranked teams, the most wins over ranked opponents by any team in the nation this season.
- The Badgers out-blocked Penn State, 23-9, their most blocks in a match this season and the most since recording 24 blocks vs. Nebraska in the 2021 NCAA Championship match. UW has double-figure blocks in 18 matches this season, including the last six matches in a row.
- Junior Caroline Crawford recorded a career-high and match-high 12 blocks while Sarah Franklin had a career-high six stops.
- UW held the Nittany Lions to a .056 team hitting percentage, the 10th opponent to hit less than .100 this season.
- Freshman Gulce Guctekin has recorded double-figure digs in nine straight matches since returning from injury on Nov. 11.
The Badgers look for a spot in their fourth-straight NCAA National Semifinal when they face No. 6 Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight on Saturday in the UW Field House. First serve is at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.