After suffering its first conference loss of the season two weeks ago, the No. 7 Wisconsin volleyball team was able to rebound with a pair of tough victories against Indiana and Purdue and remain one game behind Penn State in the standings.“The Penn State loss was emotional, and a lot of energy went into it,” head coach Pete Waite said. “The players really had to refocus and get back on track because we still had the second half of Big Ten play and a lot of the matches are on the road. It was great that they got right back on their horse and got some wins under their belt.”The Badgers also had to fight adversity last weekend. Facing match point against Indiana, Wisconsin battled back with four straight points to win the match to give the team even more confidence as it moves forward with the rest of its season.“For as long as I’ve been a part of this team we have been the comeback kids,” junior middle blocker Audra Jeffers said. “I have been in so many matches at Wisconsin where we’re down and it’s match point against us and we come back. Just being a veteran on the team and knowing that we’ve done that before and we can come back (gives us confidence).”Now the Badgers are looking to take that momentum gained on the road and turn their longest home stand of the year — four matches — into a successful one.“Our players are really excited, and I know our fans are happy to have us here,” Waite said. “This is an important stretch for us here as we continue in the second half of play here. We have to gain some energy and momentum as we head into the Penn State match again.” Even though the Badgers might be looking forward to the rematch against Penn State, Wisconsin realizes it has to take care of business this weekend, otherwise the Big Ten title will not be on the line the next time UW faces the Nittany Lions.“You have to respect everyone in the Big Ten,” senior middle blocker Taylor Reineke said. “[Michigan State and Northwestern] are good teams. They’re solid. They have some great players. We’re just going to have to come out and play our hardest.”Wisconsin’s first test on the home stand will be much-improved Michigan State Friday night. The last time these two teams faced, the Badgers beat the Spartans 3-1, keeping MSU winless in the Big Ten and in last place. Since then MSU has gone 5-3 to move into a six-way tie for fifth place.“Michigan State has always been a very physical team, but they moved some players around the lineup,” Waite said. “They have found better positions for them and are playing with a lot more confidence.”If the Badgers are going to be successful against the Spartans, they will have to focus on stopping MSU’s senior outside hitters — Ashley Schatzle and Katie Johnson, who both are averaging more than four kills per game at 4.35 and 4.24 respectively.“[Schatzle and Johnson] are both big guns and are heavy hitters,” Waite said. “They have a lot of shots and they play front row and back row. You just don’t see that very much in the Big Ten anymore. They are hard to stop because of how many shots they got, but I think our block is big enough that it can disrupt some things. We are hoping that will happen this weekend.”Following their match against Michigan State, the Badgers will host another team on a roll Saturday night in Northwestern. Coming off a seven-match losing streak, the Wildcats have won four in a row — including two wins against then-ranked opponents in Minnesota and Michigan — to also move into the six-way tie for fifth in the Big Ten at 5-7. “Northwestern had been starting some younger players in front of some veterans,” Waite said. “They decided that the veterans were doing a better job and got back on the court. Especially (Brittney) Aldridge has come in and put up some big numbers for them.”While Aldridge has been coming up big for the Wildcats lately, their senior outside hitter Lindsay Anderson –who is averaging 3.71 kills per game — leads the surging Northwestern squad.“Anderson bangs the ball,” Waite said. “She is especially good at just banging it off the block and hitting a lot of different shots.”If Wisconsin is going to be successful this weekend, it knows that putting up a big block — like UW did last weekend in stuffing 35.5 shots — will be an important factor in deciding the outcome of the matches.“It is so crucial,” Jeffers said about blocking. “Everybody behind the block is working and doing their moves based on what the block is doing. Our defense isn’t on the same page if the blocking is not (working well).”
On a windy Saturday morning in Malibu, Calif., the nation got a glimpse of what the new-look beach volleyball team has in store for the 2017 campaign. The No. 1 Trojans (2-0) edged No. 4 UCLA 3-2 and beat No. 3 Pepperdine 4-1 to pick up a pair of big dual victories at the annual Pepperdine Kick-Off on the sands of Zuma Beach. Four new Trojan pairs made their debuts for head coach Anna Collier and each notched at least one win, showing promise to begin the season.“I thought my pairs were quite solid this first weekend,” Collier said. “They had really good chemistry out on the court, and whenever they got in a little bit of trouble, which almost everybody did, they came together and worked through situations to improve on whatever they needed to improve on.”To start USC’s dual against UCLA, all five courts were engaged in hotly contested first sets, but the Trojans got on the board with wins at courts one and three. Senior All-Americans Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes took down UCLA twins Megan and Nicole McNamara(21-19, 21-12) at the top court, while the new pairing of senior Nicolette Martin and junior Terese Cannon posted a 21-16, 21-18 win over Savvy Simo and Torrey Van Winden at court three. The Bruins were able to snag a win at court four, as Izzy Carey and Elise Zappia defeated USC’s youngest pair of sophomore Abril Bustamante and freshman Joy Dennis, 21-19,21-15. The final two courts went the distance, and a victory by juniors Jenna Belton and Jo Kremer at court five over Chanti Holroyd and Lily Justine (21-18, 17-21, 15-11) sealed USC’s first dual win of the season.Immediately after their battle with the Bruins, the Trojans turned around and faced off against Pepperdine. The Waves’ home court advantage did not mean much, though, as USC scored 3 points in straight sets to secure the dual win. Seniors Sophie Bukovec and Allie Wheeler, another one of Collier’s new pairs, got their first win of the season over Brittany Howard and Corinne Quiggle(21-15, 21-18) at court two, while Claes and Hughes easily downed Delaney Knudsen and Madalyn Roh(21-12, 21-13) to give USC its second point. That victory for Claes and Hughes ran their winning streak to 75 in a row.The four-pair of Bustamante and Dennis bounced back from their early morning loss to notch their first win — a 21-13, 25-23 decision over Deahna Kraft and Anika Wilson — and clinch the dual for the Trojans. Courts three and five played to completion, as the Waves snagged their only point of the day behind Skylar Caputo and Heidi Dyer’s 22-20, 21-14 win over Cannon and Martin. Belton and Kremer once again went the distance on court five and triumphed for the second time with a 20-22, 21-16, 15-11 win over Gigi Hernandez and Katty Workman.With the victory, USC improved its school-record winning streak to 32 matches in a row. Before Saturday, Pepperdine was the only program to hold a winning record against USC, but the Trojan win evened up theall-time series record to 8-8. USC has now won four in a row against the Waves, while also remaining undefeated against UCLA at 6-0 all-time. Knowing that this weekend would serve as a good barometer of where her team stands to begin the season, Collier was pleased with how things turned out.“We were challenged exactly the way I wanted to be challenged,” Collier said. “Pepperdine and UCLA were able to show some of our weaknesses that we haven’t been able to find or see in our practices, and now we know what we need to work on in order to improve.”Hughes was also pleased with her team’s display of confidence and poise against top-ranked competition.“We came out with that No. 1 ranking, and that’s not an easy one to have because that target on our back gets bigger and bigger,” she said. “But we came out and proved ourselves today. We played two of the toughest teams in the nation, and I’m happy we came out with those wins.”The Trojans return to action on Saturday for the East Meets West Invitational in Manhattan Beach, Calif. USC will face off against Florida International at 10:30 a.m. in its first match of the day before taking on LSU at 12:30 p.m.