The Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team hadnâ€™t lost a set all season to the Ohio State Buckeyes, sweeping their season series. However, in Fridayâ€™s NCAA regional semifinal the Buckeyes gave the Badgers everything they could handle.
UW survived a 5-set thriller and staved off elimination by the skin of its teeth, winningÂ 25-20, 21-25, 22-25, 26-24, 15-12.
â€śThis wasnâ€™t a thing of great beauty when you look at the numbers,â€ť head coach Kelly Sheffield said. â€śIt was a struggle for us all night long, a real, real struggle but we just stayed with it.Â We just battled and we just stayed with it.Â If you do that then you give yourself a chance.â€ť
Sophomore Lauren Carlini continued to impress, racking up the 17th double-double of the season (43 assists, 17 saves). Senior Courtney Thomas was the leader in knocking home Carlinâ€™s assists, leading the team with 13 kills. Joining Thomas with double digit kills were freshman Kelli Bates and senior Ellen Chapman, with 12 each.
Wisconsin took the first set 25-20, using two big runs to take control of the set and appearing to be in early control of the match overall. However, that was not a harbinger of things to come, as the two sides battled to the bitter end in the other four sets of the match.
One look at the offensive numbers tell you exactly how close this match really was.Â UW hit .130 (52 kills, 28 errors, 184 attempts), while OSU hit .128 (64 kills, 40 errors, 188 attempts) in the match.
After winning the first set in pretty convincing fashion, the Buckeyes found ways to win the next two matches and put the Badgers on the back foot.
Set four was the defining set of the game, as Wisconsin took it 26-24 only after scrambling from a 16-16 tie. A series of good play on both the offensive and defensive side of things made all the difference, as the Badgers reeled off four-straight points to run the score to 20-16 Badgers. UW got to that point thanks to a service ace and three errors forced on the Buckeyes.
Overall the most telling stat of the set, and the night, was blocks. Wisconsin got 8.5 of its 18.5 blocks on the night in the fourth set.
After OSU battled back to keep the game within reach of being finished, the Badgers blocked an OSU attack with the score 24-24 and with a chance to serve for set point at 25-24. UW didnâ€™t waste the opportunity as Courtney Thomas got the service ace and set up a 5th and decisive set.
UW earned its second five-set win of the year, and its first five-set win in the NCAA tournament since Dec. 9, 2005 against Notre Dame.
It sets up perhaps the dream and nightmare matchup for the Badgers, as they will take on the only team to beat them in conference play â€” Penn State â€” in the regional final on Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin will face Penn State at 3pm ET on ESPNU, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in Oklahoma City.