Resiliency was the theme of the night Friday at the UW Field House.
Pepperdine’s volleyball team, the national poster children of resiliency, demonstrated its grit by bouncing back to extend its season after being dominated by the University of Wisconsin in the first two sets.
And the Badgers responded by coming back strong and finishing off their NCAA second-round match in style with a 25-16, 25-12, 15-25, 25-13 victory to advance to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the sixth consecutive season.
“We got knocked down on the mat in the third,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “And I’m really proud of our ability to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off and hit back.”
The Badgers (24-6), the No. 6 seed, will move on to the Sweet 16 next Friday at Illinois, if the Illini defeat Louisville in their second-round match today. If Illinois loses, the regional will be held at UW.
Meanwhile, the Waves (21-9) will return home to Malibu, California, as they move on following a series of life-changing experiences.
First, they awoke to texts asking if they were still alive following the mass shooting on Nov. 7 at a line-dancing bar in Thousand Oaks, California, where many of the players frequented. And two days later they were forced to evacuate their Malibu campus as wild fires swept across the area.
“It just goes to show the power of perspective,” senior Heidi Dyer said. “When you wake up to a text that says, ‘Are you alive?’ — just knowing that was my favorite line dancing bar and I could’ve been there, any of us could’ve been — it just makes volleyball seem so small.
“Which is so cool because they gave us the option. You can do this or you don’t have to, it’s OK. Our team was like, it’s just volleyball but we have each other, we’re going to do it for our school, we’re going to do it for Malibu, we’re going to do it for each other. In the end that’s what we did and I’m really proud of us.”
Pepperdine’s season appeared to be on track for a quick end Friday as the Badgers dominated the first two sets. The Badgers neutralized the Waves’ vaunted serve as they sided out a remarkable 86 percent in those first two sets, helping lead to an efficient .384 hitting percentage.
“Those are some pretty big numbers and you certainly don’t expect to be siding out at that percentage with those servers in there,” Sheffield said.
With their season on the line, the Waves made one last stand as they came back from an early 10-6 deficit in the third set and finished on a 14-3 run.
“We talked about survival, which we’ve done a lot of the past couple weeks,” Pepperdine setter Blossom Sato said. “I think we did a good job. We knew we had to get after it. Wisconsin is a really good team and we just tried to put it all out there.”
Sheffield, who was concerned about the Waves’ powerful serves heading into the match, expected nothing less.
“That team can really do some things to stress you out a lot,” he said. “I think you saw that in the third set. Those serves, with some of those spins that nobody in our league is doing, they’re going to get you sometimes. There’s a lot of wicked movement on those balls and to be able to grind and pass the way that we did, that was a huge reason why we’re still playing.”
The Badgers reasserted their control early in the fourth set as they put together a 14-4 run to open up an 18-9 lead.
“We said they just punched us and it’s time for us to get up and punch back,” sophomore setter Sydney Hilley said. “We knew we were in for a fight. That’s a great team and we expected a battle. I’m really proud of the way we came out in the fourth and responded to it.”
Hilley, who had 48 assists, matched her career high with 19 digs and redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty had a career-high 18 digs as the Badgers outdug the Waves 77-54.
Senior Tionna Williams led a balanced UW attack in what likely was her final home match with 14 kills, while the left-side combination of Haggerty and sophomore Grace Loberg added 12 kills each.
Williams was led back onto the court by Sheffield for one last curtain call.
“It’s incredible the amount of support that I have had over the four years here,” Williams said. “Being able to share this moment, going to the Sweet 16 again with my teammates was incredible.”
PEPPERDINE (kills-digs-blocks) — Frohling 11-1-1, Sato 0-9-1, Dyer 5-2-0, O’Harra 3-0-0, Scully 11-9-0, Wylie 8-4-4, Farr 0-0-0, Shields 0-6-0, Lishman 0-18-0, Dyer 0-1-0, Ahrens 7-4-1. Totals 45-54-4.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 4-19-5, Williams 14-1-2, Duello 7-4-3, Rettke 9-1-6, Loberg 12-15-0, Haggerty 12-18-1, Clark 0-16-0, Dodge 0-3-0. Totals 58-77-9.
Hitting percentage — P .152, W .338. Aces — P 3 (Frohling 2), W 1 (Hilley). Assists — P 41 (Sato 34), W 54 (Hilley 48). Att. — 5,504.