BEN CLASSON/Herald photoAfter losing to No. 1 Penn State Nov. 16 — which secured afifth-straight Big Ten title for the Nittany Lions — the No. 9 Wisconsinvolleyball team (25-4, 17-3 Big Ten) wanted to finish strong over the finalthree games before the NCAA tournament started.”It’s important to have momentum going into the tournament,”senior co-captain Jocelyn Wack said. “That is something we strive for everyyear.”With a pair of sweeps over Iowa (9-21, 1-18) and Minnesota(18-12, 11-9) this past weekend, the Badgers accomplished their goal and willnow enter the tournament on a three-match winning streak.”We definitely stepped our game up and are playing a lotstronger overall as a group,” senior setter Jackie Simpson said. “That isdefinitely something we wanted to do. We kind of hit that midseason brick wallagainst Michigan State. I think we really stepped it up a notch and going intothe tournament it is where we want to be at.”In the seniors’ final home match, Taylor Reineke refused tolet her team lose, as she took over the match early in game one and led herteam to a sweep of rival Minnesota 30-19, 30-17, 30-16. For the night, Reinekeled all players with 14 kills and a .667 hitting percentage. She also chippedin with three blocks.”This is the last Big Ten match and I’m a senior so this isall I have left,” Reineke said. “I just wanted to end on a good note and helpthe team going into the NCAA. … The team played really well today. All thepasses were on the target and the sets were on the money.”After the match, even the Minnesota players were impressedwith Reineke’s performance.”I actually played club with [Reineke],” Minnesota middleblocker Jesse Jones said. “On her senior night I’m happy that she got a win. Itis the best I’ve every seen her play, especially offensively.”Besides the strong play from Reineke, Wisconsin used toughserving to help separate itself from Minnesota throughout the match. TheBadgers had runs of 11-0 in the first game and 6-0 in the second and thirdgames.”That was our goal,” head coach Pete Waite said about theBadgers’ serving game. “We’ve been working on it all year, and I think the teamreally realized it’s time to get it done now. We had pressure on them the wholetime, which kept them out of their offense, kept them out of rhythm, and keptthem on their heels. It gave us momentum throughout the entire match.”Wisconsin finished the match with six service aces and keptthe Golden Gophers to a .000 hitting percentage. Jones and Kyla Roehrig, two ofMinnesota’s top hitters, combined for only five kills against 12 errors for a-.233 hitting percentage.”I thought Wisconsin served the ball about as well as youcan serve it,” Minnesota head coach Mike Hebert said. “When you start servingthat aggressively you can keep a team off balance, and they kept us off balanceall night.”Wisconsin opened up their final home weekend of the regularseason by dispatching last-place Iowa 30-20, 30-22, 30-23 in front of 5,046fans. Before the match, Wisconsin honored five seniors — Reineke, Wack,Simpson, Megan Mills, and Amanda Berkley — for their contributions to the teamover the last four years.”I thought we did a nice job tonight,” Waite said. “When wewere down at Iowa, we went four games with them and it was one of our goals totry and get it down in three tonight.”Iowa senior Stacy Vitali opened the match with a kill togive the Hawkeyes an early lead. However, after both teams traded a couple points,sophomore Caity DuPont put down her first kill of the night to give Wisconsin a3-2 edge that the Badgers would not give up the rest of the game.”[Iowa] had some different people in the lineup,” Waitesaid. “Vitali on the left side was kind of a surprise to us, but I thought theteam adjusted well to that.”Wisconsin then used the momentum gained in the first game tocruise to another sweep and send Iowa to its 15th-straight Big Ten loss.For the night, Wisconsin led Iowa in every statisticalcategory, including kills, where the Badgers had a 51-36 lead. DuPont led allplayers with a career-high 16 kills.”Earlyin the season [DuPont] and Al Wack were really going back and forth with courttime and Caity really stepped it up,” Waite said. “Each week she has been onthe court, she has gotten more confident and stronger out there so she hasreally earned it.”SophomoreBrittany Dolgner was the only other player in double digits with 10 kills.Katherine Dykstra and Taylor Reineke chipped in with nine and eight killsrespectively.
Barrett scored a try but was sent off in the 60th minute for receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking the ball down.The Waratahs travelled to the New Zealand capital with high hopes of reviving their season but blew any chance of springing a boilover with a diabolical first-half display.The Tahs trailed 33-7 at the break, while quickfire tries to stand-in fullback Bryce Hegarty and halfback Jake Gordon early in the second half pulled the Waratahs to within 10 points at Westpac Stadium.But a second five-pointer of the night from Hurricanes centre Ngani Laumape all but secured the hosts’ victory on Friday night.The defeat left Australian sides none from twelve against Kiwi opposition in 2017, with the Waratahs’ poor first-half display brutally exposing the gulf in class in trans-Tasman rivalries.Conceding five tries, the Waratahs trailed by 26 points at the interval after Laumape, brothers Beauden and Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen and Mark Abbott all crossed for tries.The Waratahs were once again their own worst enemies; dreadful in defence as they missed 27 tackles and were punished repeatedly for dashing out of the line trying to contain the competition’s most potent attacking team.Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson must have been pulling his hair out watching his side commit eight handling errors despite barely having any possession in the opening 40 minutes.The only try of the half for the Waratahs came from flanker Ned Hanigan when he charged over while the Hurricanes’ All Black superstar five-eighth Beauden Barrett was in the sin bin for a deliberate knock-down.Barrett was red-carded after committing another professional foul late on but the Waratahs were unable to collect a bonus point, with centre Irae Simone was held up over the line after the fulltime siren.