Kelly Sheffield really enjoyed watching the performance of one of the teams Friday night at the UW Field House.
Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t his No. 1 ranked University of Wisconsin volleyball team.
The Badgers failed to live up to their ranking from start to finish but still managed to prevail over scrappy Rutgers 25-18, 25-20, 25-16.
“Pretty uneven match from our side, I thought,” Sheffield said. “Credit Rutgers. I really enjoyed how hard they played. In my mind, it’s a big difference from what they’ve been the past couple years. The defensive intensity from those guys was fun to watch.”
The tenor of the match was set early as Rutgers (1-4 Big Ten) jumped out to a 5-0 lead, scoring twice on overpasses that fell to the floor on the UW side. The Scarlet Knights scored on another overpass a little later in the set.
“Not overly pleased with our effort, especially starting out the match,” Sheffield said. “I didn’t think we played particularly well. I didn’t like the start where they score on three overpasses and two other balls we were celebrating when they were busy digging the ball and fighting to keep the ball up in the air.”
The Badgers (5-0) did respond with a 7-0 run to take the lead and gradually pulled away to win. The other two sets followed a similar pattern, with UW leading most of the way but never dominating the way one would expect against a program that now has a 4-121 record in conference matches since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Redshirt senior Molly Haggerty, who led UW with a modest eight kills, insisted the team did not take Rutgers lightly despite its record of futility.
“Since my freshman year, year after year I think Rutgers has gotten better,” Haggerty said. “I think now with the Big Ten you can’t think of any team less than the top team. Rutgers is a great team, so we should be approaching them the same way we would Nebraska or Penn State.”
Still, there was no disputing Sheffield’s dismal review of the Badgers’ performance and intensity.
“I think Kelly’s right, there’s nothing really to give us great reviews on,” Haggerty said. “I think the whole match we seemed a little tense and tight and didn’t really get into a groove. That team is scrappy and they played till the whistle blew. From the very beginning we didn’t come out with fire and it showed.
“I can’t really think of one thing we were doing well consistently. I think it was just kind of a struggle the whole match. I don’t know why the team was flat.”
Senior libero Lauren Barnes, who led the way with 13 digs, was at a loss to explain that as well. But she couldn’t deny it happened.
“We could definitely see it,” Barnes said. “I just think we came out flat. We were pretty dead on the court and we just need to come together and make our own energy. We don’t have fans to make our energy for us and we didn’t do well with that tonight.”
Sheffield went deep into his bench trying to find someone who could give the team a spark, but that search proved futile.
“The substituting we did tonight had nothing to do with me trying to get people playing time,” Sheffield said. “I was trying to find somebody who was going to perform at a higher level.”
The Badgers were without senior defensive specialist Giorgia Civita, who was sidelined by a concussion suffered in practice. Sophomore Anna MacDonald filled in for the most part in her most extensive play. Senior middle blocker Nicole Shanahan made her first appearance of the season and redshirt sophomore Julia Wohlert made her career debut.
If there was a bright spot it was the Badgers’ serving as they recorded a season-high nine aces, including three each by Haggerty and sophomore Izzy Ashburn. Sheffield singled out the serving of Ashburn and senior Dana Rettke, who had one ace.
“I thought Dana and Izzy served the ball a lot better tonight, more consistent,” he said. “That’s something they’ve been working really hard on. Both of them have really nasty serves when they’re consistent it puts a lot of pressure on people.”
Rutgers 18 20 16
Wisconsin 25 25 25
RUTGERS (kills-digs-blocks) — Kojadinovic 8-5-0, Chitty 1-6-0, DeLo 0-0-0, McNamara 4-1-3, Maksimova 5-4-1, Kamshiina 0-0-0, Balyko 0-3-1, Antypa 0-6-1, Cieslik 10-6-1, Grkovic 6-2-0, Painter 0-2-0. Totals 34-30-4.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-13-0, Hilley 2-3-1, MacDonald 0-1-0, Gregorski 0-2-0, Robinson 5-0-4, Ashburn 0-0-0, Shanahan 1-0-0, Wohlert 0-0-1, Demps 3-0-2, Rettke 6-4-7, Hart 7-2-3, Loberg 4-0-0, Haggerty 8-7-2, Kraft 0-1-0. Totals 36-33-11.5.
Hitting percentage — R .144, W .293. Aces — R 1 (Kojadinovic), W 9 (Ashburn, Haggerty 3). Assists — R 28 (Balyko 23), W 35 (Hilley 30).