The NCAA Volleyball Committee may have ranked the University of Wisconsin as No. 5 in the nation according to its tournament selection criteria, but the Badgers certainly didn’t look the part Sunday.
The Badgers fell flat Sunday as they fell to No. 14 Michigan 19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-22 at the UW Field House.
It was a loss that virtually eliminated any chance the Badgers would be in position to become one of the four teams to be a host site for the NCAA regionals. But of more immediate concern, it raised questions about their prospects to be contenders to get to the final four.
“We got outplayed today,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We got out-efforted, I thought. We gave too many points away. Forty-one points off our errors is just too many.
“When you have that many against a good team they’re going to make you pay, and they certainly did that. I thought they were the better team when it was late in (sets). Their play was better than ours. Disappointing.”
The Badgers (16-6, 9-5 Big Ten Conference) committed 24 hitting errors, compared to 21 for the Wolverines (19-6, 8-6). They also had 10 service errors, twice as many as Michigan.
And many of those errors came at the least opportune times as the Badgers allowed yet another opponent to go on decisive runs late in sets.
Even in a dominating first set, the Badgers gave up three straight points at set point before finishing things off. In the second set, they pulled even at 15 and trailed just 18-17 before Michigan went on a 5-0 run to take command.
UW looked to be back in charge in the third set, leading by as many as six points and taking a 22-18 lead before the Wolverines ran off seven unanswered points to silence the sellout crowd of 7,052.
And with the match on the line, UW had a 19-18 lead before Michigan went on a 4-0 run and then got the last two points to close out the match.
“We have to be mentally tougher,” Sheffield said.
His players shared that assessment.
“There’s really no explanation for it,” said sophomore Dana Rettke, who led UW with 17 kills and hit .343. “We’ve just got to grow up. This match for me personally is a tough one. I just felt like I didn’t bring as much as I needed to.”
Redshirt junior Madison Duello had a career-high 16 kills, but that did nothing to ease her frustration.
“It cropped up every single time,” Duello said of the negative runs. “It’s just something we know is a reoccurring problem in every game that we’ve played and I think it’s time for us to step up and say enough is enough. It’s up to us on the court. Nobody else can change what happens.”
Senior Carly Skjodt, who had 27 kills in Michigan’s five-set loss to UW on Oct. 26, led the way with 23 kills on Sunday, hitting .321.
“She hits from everywhere and she’s very aggressive,” Duello said. “I think that we did a good job at the beginning of the match but toward the end she played really well and we need to step up defensively.”Sheffield is looking for his team to step up in every facet and find that mental toughness over the remaining six regular-season matches and then in the tournament.
“I think it comes from within,” he said. “It’s not a secret sauce. It’s within. It’s a choice of how we approach everything, how we approach challenges, how we approach competition, how we approach teammates, how we approach practices.
“That’s the great thing. There’s a lot of time and a lot of opportunities in front of us ... well, not a lot of time, but there are opportunities in front of us. It’s something that can go like that. It’s a choice.”
Michigan 19 25 25 25
Wisconsin 25 20 22 22
MICHIGAN (kills-digs-blocks) — Jones 10-9-1, Welsh 3-15-1, Glavinic 3-0-2, Bair 6-0-3, Shannon 4-0-2, Skjodt 23-8-3, DiSanto 0-1-0, Malinowski 0-5-0, Smith 0-2-0, Lerg 0-20-0, Abbott 0-3-0, Crocker 4-1-2. Totals 53-64-7
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 0-7-5, Williams 6-0-1, Duello 16-6-6, Rettke 17-3-10, Loberg 9-15-0, Haggerty 7-8-3, Dodd 0-0-0, Whalen 1-0-0, Clark 0-18-0, Hart 1-0-4, Dodge 0-6-0. Totals 57-63-15.
Hitting percentage — M .222, W .214. Aces — M 5 (Lerg, Abbott 2), W 3 (Hilley 3). Assists — M 49 (Welsh 43), W 55 (Hilley 52). Att. — 7,052.