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Youth delivers as No. 2 Badgers volleyball team sweeps Northern Illinois

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The University of Wisconsin volleyball team is among the most experienced squads in the nation. But the Badgers also might just have one of the best freshman classes, as well.

That youth was on display Saturday night as freshmen Lauren Jardine, Anna Smrek and Julia Orzol led the No. 2 Badgers to a dominating 25-16, 25-11, 25-18 sweep of Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Illinois.

Jardine, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Highland, Utah, led the way with 14 kills with just one error, hitting .565. Smrek, in her second match in place of the injured Danielle Hart, added eight kills and hit .764 for the weekend. And Orzol, returning this weekend after missing two weeks with an injury, chipped in with eight kills, nine digs and three service aces.

“There’s a lot of talk about what an experienced team we are,” coach Kelly Sheffield said in his post-match radio interview. “We had a lot of young kids out there, a lot of them.”

Jardine, who entered the match hitting .077 in limited action, raised that mark to .389 as she filled in for grad student Grace Loberg. She did so by varying her shots as the match went along.

“It really depends on the defense that they’re running against us,” Jardine said. “Moving the ball around is part of the game and being able to put it in different spots and get a kill is what we focus on.”

Sheffield was pleased with Jardine’s offensive performance but noted that she made a number of defensive errors. He was particularly pleased with the adjustments she made in her attacks.

“The first few swings she was just trying to overpower the libero and the libero was having none of that,” he said. “So she started working the line shots, working some tips and into some different depths in the cross court and things started going a lot better for her offensively.

“She’s got an unbelievable amount of potential. This is a different level and she’s learning. This was a good match for her.”

Likewise for the 6-9 Smrek, who got her eight kills on just 11 swings with one error.

Sheffield also made a switch in his back court with Gio Civita getting her first chance at libero and Lauren Barnes taking her spot at defensive specialist.

“Both Gio and Barnesy have a lot of similarities,” he said. “Their numbers are very similar. Lauren gets her team to win a little more in practice and that’s been the edge. Not a little bit. For two years in a row her team wins at a very high level in almost all competitions, like 85% over two years. That says something.

“But Gio is really good. We feel like we can go a few different directions with high level back court players. Tonight was Gio’s opportunity and we’ll see where it goes.”

The Badgers (8-0) will open Big Ten Conference play next weekend at Maryland and Rutgers. Sheffield said he’s generally pleased with his team’s progress through the non-conference season but sees plenty of room for improvement.

“We’re a work in progress, like about anybody else,” he said. “We’ve had some good moments and we have things we certainly have to get better at. Which is a fun place to be.

“I think sometimes when people watch something and they’re like, aw man, they’ve got to get better at this, like it’s a negative thing. It’s September. It’s not a negative thing, it’s an exciting thing. You want to be a team that has the potential to keep getting better. We certainly do.”

Northern Illinois (6-4) was led by junior Katie Jablonski with 12 kills.

Wisconsin 25 25 25

Northern Illinois 16 11 18

WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-2-0, Hilley 1-6-1, Boyer 0-4-0, Civita 0-10-0, Robinson 2-0-2, Ashburn 0-0-0, Smrek 8-0-1, Demps 1-1-1, Rettke 10-2-6, Jardine 14-2-0, Orzol 8-9-3. Totals 44-36-8.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (kills-digs-blocks) — Karlen 0-2-0, Jablonski 12-4-1, Bertucci 1-7-0, Balensiefer 0-9-1, Scuric 0-0-0, Atiemo 5-2-1, Kemp 4-0-1, Bell 4-1-0, Mihacevich 4-2-0, Gromos 0-0-0, Juarez 0-2-0, Nedic 0-0-0. Totals 30-29-2.

Hitting percentage — W .404, NIU .176. Aces — W 7 (Orzol 3), NIU 1 (Balensiefer). Assists — W 39 (Hilley 34), NIU 26 (Balensiefer 22). Att. — 622.


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