UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The University of Wisconsin made what it hopes is a powerful final case to the NCAA tournament committee on Saturday night.
The No. 8 Badgers finished the regular season with a marathon five-set victory over No. 7 Penn State on the eve of the announcement of the tournament bracket.
The Badgers got a career-high 24 kills from redshirt junior Madison Duello to beat the Nittany Lions 25-20, 22-25, 25-23, 19-25, 21-19. It was just the second victory for the Badgers in 26 matches at Penn State as they snapped a 13-match losing streak at Rec Hall. The only other victory for UW was in 2002.
UW (22-6, 15-5 Big Ten) and Penn State (23-7, 14-6) now can only wait until Sunday night to see where they will be seeded in the NCAA tournament.
“That was a big girl match,” said UW coach Kelly Sheffield. “These are two teams that have a chance of doing something in the tournament and you know you’re going to be tested.
“This place was close to a full house and it was not an easy environment, so I think there’s more confidence in our players being able to go on the road against an opponent that we have felt that when they’re on their game they’re as good as anybody. They’ve been playing some fantastic volleyball the last three weeks or so.”
The victory extended the Badgers’ winning streak to six matches and lifted them into a tie with Nebraska for third place in the Big Ten behind Minnesota (19-1) and Illinois (17-3), fulfilling a goal they set after falling behind with back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Michigan.
The Badgers had to fight off four match points to pull that off, while Penn State, which handed Minnesota its first Big Ten loss in five sets on Friday night, staved off three match points for UW.
The Badgers led by as many as four points early in the fifth set and had match point at 14-13, before the Nittany Lions answered with two kills. The teams traded the advantage back and forth until the Badgers evened things at 19 on a Penn State service error, took the lead on a block by Dana Rettke and Duello and then won on a hitting error by Penn State freshman Jonni Parker.
Sheffield said the Badgers’ serving was a major factor in the fifth set.
“I loved how we were serving, getting their setter on the run,” he said. “At the start of the match I did not think we did a good job of serving into space. I thought we got a little bit better with that as the match went on, and in the fifth I thought we did a really good job of going back there and serving with some confidence and pulling the setter off so she’s having to run a little bit.”
Duello’s 24 kills far surpassed her previous career high of 16 set earlier this season at Michigan.
“I was just trying to read their blocking and read where there defenders were and just go for it and play free,” Duello said. “It’s a big win. I know we haven’t won here in decades and that’s a great team that had a great win against Minnesota and we just wanted to come in here and play our game.”
Rettke had a career-high 11 blocks to go along with her 14 kills and nine digs, coming up one short of a rare triple double. Grace Loberg added 11 kills and Tionna Williams and Molly Haggerty chipped in with 10 apiece.
The Badgers hit .225 for the match, compared to .203 for the Nittany Lions, who were led by redshirt senior Nia Reed with 20 kills.
Sophomore setter Sydney Hilley had 61 assists and contributed a big kill to tie the fifth set at 17.
UW had five players in double figures in digs, led by junior libero Tiffany Clark with 15.
Penn State 20 25 23 25 19
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 2-13-5, Williams 10-0-2, Duello 24-3-3, Rettke 14-9-11, Loberg 11-12-3, Haggerty 10-13-1, Clark 0-15-0, Hart 0-0-1, Dodge 0-11-0. Totals 71-76-13.
PENN STATE (kills-digs-blocks) — Reed 20-2-4, Cathey 13-3-1, Gray 12-1-6, Parker 11-10-3, Hord 6-2-6, Leath 3-5-0, Weiskircher 1-15-3, Sciorra 0-1-0, White 0-26-0, Blossom 0-0-0, Hampton 0-10-0. Totals 66-75-13.
Hitting percentage — W .225, PS .203. Aces — W 5 (Rettke 3), PS 5 (Weiskircher 2). Assists — W 68 (Hilley 61), PS 64 (Weiskircher 60). Att. — 4,036.