It came down to a battle of defenses, and the University of Wisconsin volleyball team just had too much of it for UW-Green Bay.
The Badgers stymied the Phoenix offense much of the night Thursday to record a 25-9, 27-25, 25-15 sweep in their NCAA tournament first-round match at the UW Field House.
The No. 6 seed Badgers (23-6) advanced to play Pepperdine Friday night at the UW Field House, as the Waves pulled out a five-set victory over Northern Iowa in the other match.
The Badgers shut down the Phoenix attack, holding it to a .030 hitting percentage for the match, starting out with a -.073 in the first set.
But Green Bay showed it could play some defense as well, bouncing back from a disastrous start to push UW to the limit in the second set. The Badgers fought off two set points and then ran off three points to finish off the set, with the help of two blocks.
“We came out ready to play and Green Bay really upped their game in the second,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We were behind at the end and I liked how our mentality was, just staying with it. They were digging like crazy and really serving some pills at us and I thought we did a really good job of staying with it and fighting and getting ourselves into the third set.”
After getting blown out in the first set, the comeback in the second set was especially significant for the Phoenix from a respect standpoint.
“I think it’s huge,” UW-Green Bay senior Jessica Wolf said. “It represents what our program is made of. Just because we’re not ranked and they’re ranked doesn’t mean anything less of us. We definitely know how to play volleyball and we kept with them. It showed that our program is capable of more. I’m really proud of what we did tonight.”
Sheffield was particularly impressed by UW-Green Bay’s senior libero Vanessa Buman, who had a match-high 20 digs.
“It was hard to score against those guys,” he said. “Defensively, they just played so hard. That libero is as good of a libero as we’ve seen all year. I thought she was fantastic and we knew that going in. Our game plan as we were going in, whatever side she was on, serve the opposite side, don’t even let her get her hands on it. Defensively, I thought she was really special.”
UW-Green Bay coach Abbey Sutherland felt the same way about UW’s defense, especially at the net. The Badgers had 11 blocks to double the Phoenix’s total.
“Wisconsin’s blocking is by far the best block we’ve seen this year,” Sutherland said. “We played (Big Ten champion) Minnesota and I think Wisconsin’s block is much better than Minnesota’s. It was challenging.”
The Badgers defense was particularly effective in shutting down UW-Green Bay’s leading attacker, sophomore Taylor Wolf. She came into the match averaging 4.62 kills per set, 13th best in the nation, but could only manage five kills on the night and hit -.103 with nine attack errors.
“She gets set a lot and she does a really good job,” Sheffield said of Wolf. “She works the court. They set her front row, they set her back row, they set her from pin to pin. That was a major emphasis for us. Taylor’s a really good player, so to hold her to negative is a really good job by our defense.”
Offensively, the Badgers were led by redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty with 10 kills. She also had 15 digs to match junior Tiffany Clark for the team high.
Haggerty credited the team’s defensive mindset with fueling its current seven-match winning streak.
“When we started playing great defense that’s when we started getting our mojo, our confidence,” she said. “It starts from there. (Setter Sydney Hilley) is putting up great balls right now and we’re really all in system and hitting with range. But it all starts with that pass and defending.”
Sheffield said his team will face another stellar defensive team in Pepperdine for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
“Defensively, they just ball out in the back court,” Sheffield said. “They can put some pressure on you with how they go about things.
“They’re as good a serving team as there is in the country. Your serve receive is under a lot of pressure and then your block is under a lot of pressure if they’re in system. So you have to do some things serving-wise to get them so they’re not able to full-court press you.”
Pepperdine 3, Northern Iowa 2
Shannon Scully had 22 kills as Pepperdine (22-8) hung on for a hard-fought victory over Northern Iowa (24-10) in the first match 25-22, 25-21, 19-25, 20-25, 15-13.
Karlie Taylor had 23 kills to lead the Panthers.
GREEN BAY (kills-digs-blocks) — T. Wolf 5-11-0, Everingham 0-11-0, Sledge 5-2-4, J. Wolf 6-2-3, Eaton 0-1-1, Yoss 1-8-1, Kent 0-0-0, Lautenschlager 0-4-0, Buman 0-20-0, Zakutney 13-1-2. Totals 30-60-5.5.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 4-12-3, Williams 7-0-5, Rettke 9-3-5, Dodge 0-4-0, Loberg 8-10-3, Haggerty 10-15-0, Bell 0-0-0, Dixon 0-0-0, Dodd 0-1-0, Duello 7-2-3, Clark 0-15-0, Hart 0-0-0. Totals 45-62-11.
Hitting percentage — GB .030, W .293. Aces — GB 4 (Everingham , Kent, Lautenschlager, Buman), W 1 (Haggerty). Assists — GB 30 (Yoss 27), W 43 (Hilley 36). Att. — 5,453.