Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers advance to Final Four with 3-1 win over Oregon (2024)

For a fourth time in five seasons, the Wisconsin Badgers are Final Four bound after beating the Oregon Ducks 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 25-27, 25-18) in a thrilling battle in the UW Field House.

Outside hitter Sarah Franklin led everyone with 20 kills on the night and added 11 digs for a double double as the Badgers were able to fight from behind at various points to eke out a spot in the Final Four in Tampa next week.

Head coach Kelly Sheffield said the match was a “total team effort” on a night where both teams traded haymakers and extended rallies that

“We had no give up tonight,” Sheffield said. “The amount of fight to keep the ball off the floor was the best I had ever seen.”

Point after point, the Badgers and Ducks were forced into seemingly impossible situations and yet the ball somehow stayed up. Oregon finished with 73 digs as a squad while UW finished with 70 as an indication of how much effort was put out on the floor in the heavyweight battle.

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— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 10, 2023

“Our opponent demanded that was how we played,” Sheffield said. “We would not have won this match if we did not play that hard, that tenacious.”

Sophom*ore defensive specialist Gülce Güçtekin had 17 digs while junior libero Julia Orzoł tallied 16 in a game where the extra effort mattered so much. The Ducks’ fast pace offense at times forced the Badgers to scramble to keep the ball up and UW had to be wary of the Ducks’ setter Hannah Pukis, who had nine kills from dump situations that kept UW’s defense guessing.

Wisconsin got off to a good start in the opening set as Güçtekin had an ace in a 4-0 service run that pushed UW to a 11-7 lead. Oregon fought right back, with Daley McClellan coming up with two aces of her own to cut the lead and Elise Ferreira adding another ace to cut the score to 17-16.

The Ducks’ serving was a menace to Wisconsin all game and put the back row in a lot of pressure. Oregon had seven aces on the night, and Franklin said the Ducks were a fantastic serving team. While she and the other passers knew aces might happen, they had to make sure they did not let those affect them.

“One ace doesn’t determine that. We were just trying to have some ‘ball out’ mentality,” Franklin said.

After the Badgers’ lead was cut to 17-16, Wisconsin posted a 3-0 run to go up 20-16 and force a timeout from Oregon. UW did not let the lead slip in the close of the opening set and pulled it out 25-22 by forcing the Ducks to hit .067 in the opener, in part due to an active block.

Against Penn State in the round before, senior Devyn Robinson said the UW block was “standing on business.” Tonight, the Badgers did that again, out-blocking the Ducks 16 to 4, doing enough to stop Oregon’s fast-paced offense.

“They had a fast offense, so it was important to get our hands over (to the block) fast to keep (our servers) on the service line,” Robinson said.

Four Badgers — Carter Booth, CC Crawford, Robinson and Anna Smrek — finished with six or more blocks. Smrek said she felt the preparation the Badgers had of facing Oregon’s fast-paced offense from other games in the season helped UW in the match, and she felt it was just as important the block wasn’t only going for the big ones.

“A lot of the times we weren’t even going for stuff blocks,” Smrek said. “We were just thinking of what we could do to get the ball good back on our side.”

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— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 10, 2023

The block also helped calm down runs for Oregon when the serving was going well. The Ducks pushed out to an 8-3 lead in the second set before UW went on a run of its own that featured a crucial block from Temi Thomas-Ailara and Crawford to tie the set 8-8. Although Wisconsin only had two of its blocks in the second set, Crawford and Smrek combined on one to put the Badgers up 21-20 before kills from Smrek and Franklin finished off the second set 25-22 and put UW up 2-0 on the night.

After a year of adversity, Franklin is playing some top volleyball to finish with .283 kills on .283 hitting. The Florida-native — Franklin said Tampa is about a four-hour drive from where she grew up — said getting the chance to go to the Final Four is a “dream come true.”

“To be in this opportunity with all these girls is beyond words,” Franklin said.

Oregon fought back strong in the third set to give more life to the Ducks’ season. The Ducks were able to get 19 kills and held UW to just .208 hitting in the third set. Outside hitter Mimi Colyer and Gabby Gonzales — a former OSU player — had some big moments in the third set to cap off a back-and-forth battle that features extra points.

The tight margins were finally changed in the fourth set for Wisconsin as Izzy Ashburn got back to serve. After the teams traded points until it was 9-8, the graduate senior setter got an ace on her opening serve before leading a 6-0 service run to put the Badgers up 15-8 and give them the lead for good.

In that set, Sheffield said that Ashburn changed from the game plan. Instead of attacking Gonzales down the line — Gonzales did a remarkable job of passing despite being the constant target of most of UW’s serve — Ashburn went with her strength of a crosscourt serve to start. Sheffield said shifting away from the game plan to the team’s strength helped make the difference.

“She came in, got that first ace, got a few out of system balls and we started to feel a lot better,” Sheffield said.

BADGERS ARE HEADED TO TAMPA!!!! pic.twitter.com/Xy1CoTyEde

— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 10, 2023

The Field House was rocking on that run when Gonzales had an attack error after a miscommunication with the setter, and Oregon called timeout down 12-8. Then, Franklin had back-to-back kills with a variety of different shots to put UW up 14-8 and forced Oregon into their last timeout of the fourth set. The Badger block and Franklin did the rest the rest of the way as UW booked its spot in the Final Four to cap a memorable season.

In a season where different starters had moments on the sidelines, where UW lost its first Big Ten title in four seasons. and where its star — Sarah Franklin — opened the year with a medical scare that put her career in jeopardy, Sheffield said he was proud of how the team overcame adversity and knew it was a special feeling for the group to see this reward. But, that doesn’t mean the team is done fighting and battling just yet.

“It’s hard to do, but it’s going to be even harder on Thursday,” Sheffield said. “But here’s what I know: they’re looking forward to it and are going to embrace that challenge.”

Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers advance to Final Four with 3-1 win over Oregon (2024)
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