Coming off a bruising non-conference season, the Big Ten season got off to a bloody start for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team.
On the third point of the conference opener Friday night against Purdue, a ball ricocheted off libero Tiffany Clark and smacked junior setter Sydney Hilley in the face, sending her to the bench with a bloody nose that didn’t seem to want to stop.
But things picked up from there as Hilley eventually returned and the No. 13 Badgers defeated the No. 15 Boilermakers 25-22, 29-27, 25-15 before an announced sellout crowd of 7,052 at the UW Field House.
It was a big win for the Badgers (5-4, 1-0 Big Ten) on several fronts, as they broke their three-match home losing streak, prevailing in a couple of close sets against a good team in Purdue (8-2, 0-1).
And they also showed they could survive some unexpected adversity, like losing their All-American setter while falling behind 4-0 in the first set.
“I thought that match had a little bit of everything in it,” coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We battled and we hung in there and gave ourselves a chance. There’s a lot of different things that tested us.”
Hilley said her nose never really hurt and at first she didn’t think she’d have to come out of the lineup.
“She looks over at everybody, puts her head back and goes, ‘I’m fine,’” Sheffield said. “Then the faucet opened up.”
While freshman Izzy Ashburn stepped into her spot, Hilley was treated by the UW medical staff.
“It didn’t hurt or anything but we couldn’t get it to stop bleeding,” Hilley said. “They did a lot of stuff. I don’t know if anything helped. We were squeezing it, put some ice on the bridge of my nose, they put some weird stuff in it to make it stop bleeding. Eventually, we got it stopped.”
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In her absence the Badgers had actually pulled even at 15-15, but Purdue quickly opened up an 18-15 lead. But the Badgers, who had struggled in close sets much of the season, charged back, finishing on a 10-4 run to close out the first set.
They found themselves in a similar situation in the second set, trailing 21-18 before going on a 5-0 run behind the serving of redshirt junior Molly Haggerty. The Badgers led 24-22, but struggled to put the Boilermakers away as Purdue fought off five set points before junior Dana Rettke finally settled things with back-to-back kills. It was the first set the Badgers won in extra points this season.
“Out on the court we were just really confident,” Hilley said. “We brought it in and were like, we’re going to do it, this is our time. I was really proud of the way we fought in that.”
The Badgers came into the match last in the Big Ten in opponents’ hitting percentage (.255), but held the Boilermakers to just a .101 percentage, by far their lowest of the season.
“I think everything changed defensively,” said Rettke, who contributed a match-high six blocks. “I think our block was so much better and we were getting a lot more positive touches. That’s a huge accomplishment for us, especially coming off the past couple weeks.”
Sheffield was pleased with the defensive progress, but still was less than satisfied.
“Let’s be clear, I don’t think we’ve got anything figured out,” he said. “It’s a work in progress and it will continue to be a work in progress. Quite frankly, I think we could’ve been better defensively. But I liked our effort.”
Purdue 22 27 15
Wisconsin 25 29 25
PURDUE (kills-digs-blocks) — Bush 0-8-0, Newton 13-6-1, Chinn 2-1-1, Schermerhorn 0-3-0, Cuttino 5-0-2, Hornung 0-12-0, Terwilliger 0-2-0, Koch 2-1-1, Mohler 9-2-3, Johnson 0-0-0, Otec 0-10-0, Cleveland 6-1-2. Totals 37-46-5.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-7-0, Hilley 1-5-2, MacDonald 0-1-0, Ashburn 0-4-1, Duello 9-1-2, Rettke 12-1-6, Clark 0-10-0, Hart 3-0-2, Dodge 0-2-0, Loberg 10-1-0, Haggerty 5-9-2. Totals 40-41-8.
Hitting percentage — P .101, W .262. Aces — P 5 (Newton 2), W 2 (Rettke, Haggerty). Assists — P 34 (Bush 33), W 37 (Hilley 25). Att. — 7,052.