Badgers displaying balance midway through season

first_imgMATTHEW KUTZ/Herald photoAfter playing out six of its first eight Big Ten matches at home, the Wisconsin volleyball team will have to prove its true worth in the next two weekends as the Badgers play their next four away from the University of Wisconsin Field House.This weekend could serve as a bit of a warm-up to the Badgers (15-2, 7-1 Big Ten), as they visit middling Michigan State (9-9, 2-6) and Michigan (9-8, 3-5). With two ranked teams on the horizon in No. 3 Penn State (17-2, 8-0) and No. 20 Ohio State (12-5, 5-3), Wisconsin will have to work out any kinks in their game before these true tests at the end of the month.League Leaders: Fortunately for head coach Pete Waite and the Badgers, who moved up a notch in the polls to the seventh slot this week, there are not too many kinks.When considering all matches played, Wisconsin, following three-game victories over Northwestern (11-7, 2-6) and Indiana (8-12, 1-7) from last week, ranks in the top three in the Big Ten in six of the seven major statistical categories.This year, UW’s success has started with the blocking game, anchored by senior co-captain Sheila Shaw and sophomore Taylor Reineke. Wisconsin leads the conference with 3.65 blocks per game this season. Shaw and Reineke lead in individual blocking with 1.69 and 1.64 blocks per game, respectively.A potent blocking game typically takes stats away from a team’s defensive unit, but Wisconsin has managed to excel in the digs column as well. With 16.85 digs a game — second-best in the Big Ten — UW has one of the longest active individual streaks in the country with libero Jocelyn Wack’s 48 consecutive double-dig matches. Wack is now just 15 matches off the all-time longest streak, held by Griselle Lopez-Pereira of Virginia Commonwealth. Wack is fifth in most digs per game in the conference this season, with 5.02.Another way to justify Wisconsin’s success this year is hitting percentage. Wisconsin is hitting .275, and its opponents are hitting just .124. Both are good for second in the Big Ten. Reineke is sixth overall in the conference at with a .350 percentage.Led by redshirt freshman Audra Jeffers with 3.53 kills a game, the Badgers have the third-most kills in the league with 16.51. Wisconsin has benefited from five Badgers averaging at least 2.4 kills a game.Setter Jackie Simpson, with just under 12 assists a game, paces the Badger offense, which contributes 15.25 assists as a team, third in the conference.A Packed House: Wisconsin continues to be one of the most watched volleyball teams around the country.The Badgers have accumulated an average of 3,846 spectators per match, the third-highest in the country. Only Hawaii and top-ranked Nebraska have attracted greater attendances in 2005.Even when playing on the road, Wisconsin is likely to be greeted by large crowds. Other Big Ten powers Minnesota, Purdue and Penn State rank in the top ten in attendance this season, all bringing in over 2,200 fans a match.The Field House has played host to two of the 20 most-attended individual matches of the season this far. In a losing effort to Penn State, Wisconsin had the support of 6,774 spectators, the third-highest this year.Just two weeks prior, however, 5,226 Badger fans were treated to Wisconsin’s five-game upset of the Golden Gophers, which put UW higher than Minnesota in the rankings for the first time this season. This match is No. 18 on the 2005 attendance list.Relief Efforts: Aside from Wisconsin’s seven customary starters, several Badgers have seen considerable playing time off the bench.Supporting Wack in the backcourt, sophomores Megan Mills and Amanda Berkley have played major roles in UW’s stingy defense. Berkley has averaged 1.79 digs per game, while Mills has chipped in 1.60 a game, in addition to hitting 14 aces in her last 11 matches.Waite has employed a two-setter system at times this season. Most recently, Simpson got the night off against Indiana, giving way to junior Katie Lorenzen. Lorenzen responded with 50 assists, upping her season average to 8.79 assists per game. She also has 15 kills, is hitting .414, and has contributed 1.74 digs a game.Other Badgers seeing limited court time of late include middle blockers Morgan Salow and Maya Carroll, opposite hitter Amy Bladow and defensive specialist Faye McCormack.last_img

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