How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (2024)

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WISCONSIN VOLLEYBALL

  • Dennis Punzel
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  • Todd D. Milewski | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield, right side Anna Smrek and setter MJ Hammill discuss the fifth-ranked Badgers' sweep of top-ranked Nebraska at the UW Field House on Nov 24.

There’s nothing like 30 kills in a match to get your attention.

So it was for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team as it prepared to face Miami and its freshman sensation Grace Lopez, who had slammed her way to 30 kills Thursday night against Northern Iowa.

The No. 1 seed Badgers knew they would have their hands full trying to contain her on Friday with minimal time to prepare her wide range of attacks. And while they didn’t exactly shut Lopez down, they did limit her impact enough to roll to a 25-23, 25-15, 25-17 sweep of the Hurricanes and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

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The Badgers (28-3) will get a rematch against Big Ten rival No. 5 Penn State (23-8) on Thursday at the UW Field House.

And they advanced in large part to their collective defense, which got better as the match went on against the Hurricanes, who saw their hitting percentage drop in each set from .244 to .189 to .085.

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Coach Kelly Sheffield said Miami is a team that causes a lot of stress, from its fast-tempo offense to its powerful serves to its talented setter who can get the ball to all of her attackers at any point. But he was happy with the way his team figured out how to cope with those challenges as the match went on.

“I thought we did a really good job of learning as we were going through the match of getting stronger,” he said.

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He said much of the preparation for the match was spent on trying to keep Lopez in check as much as possible.

“We spent a lot of time, as much as we could, watching her, watching their team, because our team needed to be prepared to see the talent that was on the other side of the net,” Sheffield said. “You don’t see many players, period, let alone a freshman, going off for 30 kills in the NCAA tournament in their first NCAA tournament match. We had to be prepared for that. I thought we did a really good job. She got better as the match went on, got some nice back row kills.”

Lopez, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Puerto Rico, finished with 15 kills and just four errors, hitting .324. But she wasn’t the difference in the match.

Instead the difference was the powerful attacking of Wisconsin’s Anna Smrek (15 kills, .542) and Sarah Franklin (13 kills, .286), the brilliant defensive play of Gulce Guctekin (16 digs) and the serving of Caroline Crawford, who put together two critical service runs.

“I thought that was probably GG’s finest match as a Badger, all the way around,” Sheffield said. “I thought Caroline’s serve was really instrumental in putting balls where we wanted it and allowing us to stretch out the lead. Anna took some really nice swings for us.”

If it truly was Guctekin’s best match in her two seasons at Wisconsin, she was unaware of it.

“I don’t feel anything right now,” Guctekin said, searching for the right words. “I don’t remember even the game. I just play for the team.”

And the team noticed.

“I think GG did a really good job being disciplined in the backcourt, staying still and reading the game really well,” Crawford said. “Our block evolved throughout the match and with that she was able to read the ball really well.”

The Hurricanes (18-12) clearly had the Badgers stressed in the first set as they led by as many as five points, 14-9. The Badgers chipped away and got to within two points at 21-19 before going on a 5-0 run with Crawford serving for four of those points, repeatedly getting Miami out of system.

Miami did get two quick points to get to 24-23 before Franklin closed things out with her sixth kill of the set.

Crawford would put together another key service run midway through the third set to help the Badgers take a commanding 16-9 lead.

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“We put a big focus before the match on serving into space,” Crawford said. “With a team that runs a super-fast offense, it’s going to be hard to track blocking-wise if you can’t serve them out of system.

For me, I mentally was just trying to stay calm. I like to play kind of a game in my head with it. I like to yo-yo a lot of passers, so it’s what space can I get into, where can I make a move? I think us working together, it worked out well.”

With the victory the Badgers will get a chance to avenge one of their three losses on the season, a four-set decision at Penn State on Nov. 11.

But don’t expect revenge to be a talking point as the Badgers prepare for that match.

“When you get to this point if you’re getting more amped up for one opponent or less amped up for an opponent then your head space is in the wrong place,” Sheffield said. “I love the fact that Big Ten teams are moving forward.

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“It’s a really talented team with a lot of experience. Obviously, they took us to the woodshed the last time we played at their place. We’re excited to still be playing and that excitement would still be high no matter who we’re playing.”

Penn State advanced with a five-set victory over No. 4 Kansas on Thursday. Another Big Ten team, No. 3 Purdue, also earned a trip to Madison by beating No. 6 Marquette in four sets. The Boilermakers will meet the winner of Friday’s late match between No. 2 Oregon and Hawaii.

Miami 23 15 17

Wisconsin 25 25 25

MIAMI (kills-digs-blocks) — Vach 0-10-2, Feliciano 1-6-0, Rosado 0-12-0, Moisio 0-3-0, Heredia Colon 13-8-3, Viera 0-3-0, Grieve 3-4-1, Casiano 2-0-4, Leao 5-0-2, Yardimci 1-0-0, Lopez 15-5-0. Totals 40-51-6.

WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hammill 0-12-0, Crawford 0-2-4, Robinson 3-1-2, Ashburn 0-5-0, Thomas-Ailara 10-4-0, Franklin 13-4-1, Smrek 15-0-4, Guctekin 0-16-0, Orzol 0-14-0, Booth 6-0-3. Totals 47-59-7.

Hitting percentage — M .171, W .316. Aces — M 2 (Vach, Viera), W 3 (Crawford, Ashburn, Franklin). Assists — M 39 (Vach 32), W 42 (Hammill 26). Att. – 7,229.

Photos: Wisconsin volleyball sweeps Miami in NCAA Tournament second round

How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (6)

How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (7)

How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (8)

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How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (11)

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How preparation paid off in Wisconsin volleyball's NCAA second-round sweep of Miami (13)

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