No. 5 Wisconsin hands No. 1 Nebraska first loss of season in women’s volleyball: How Badgers pulled off the upset

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 Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Wisconsin handed No. 1 Nebraska its first loss of the season in women’s college volleyball Friday, winning 25-22, 28-26, 25-16 at UW Field House. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Cornhuskers entered the match with a 27-0 record and hadn’t been down two sets until Friday.
  • Badgers junior Anna Smrek and senior Sarah Franklin were the top playmakers, combining for 34 kills en route to victory.
  • Entering the match, Wisconsin’s aces per set season average was 1.6, but Nebraska held it to five aces total.
  • The Badgers improve to 25-3, while the Cornhuskers fall to 27-1.

How did Wisconsin exact its revenge?

The Badgers were the better team when things got janky and it required converting out-of-system — those situations in which the serve receive or pass isn’t good enough to give the setter all three of her primary attacking options. At minimum, Wisconsin’s confidence shone through in these moments, with coach Kelly Sheffield lauding his group’s “courageous” swings in a postgame interview with the Big Ten Network.

Outside hitter Franklin was more or less indomitable all match, notching 16 kills and hitting .424 on the afternoon. No real shock there for a potential Big Ten Player of the Year winner. But when middle/right side hitter Smrek (team-high 18 kills) and outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara got hot in the later stages — and the third set especially — the Badgers hit another gear. — Brian Hamilton, senior college sports writer

What went wrong for Nebraska?

Probably…not that much, really? This was no comprehensive breakdown nor all that shocking given that Wisconsin, when fully healthy, is as good as anyone in the country. The Huskers had multiple opportunities to take the second set in what surely would’ve quieted a raucous gym in Madison and established a completely different tenor when the teams came out of the locker rooms for the third set.

Nebraska hit .243 on Sunday after connecting at a .130 rate in the first matchup. It averaged 14 digs per set Sunday against 14.8 in the October matchup. Maybe one could argue the Huskers’ youth got a little unsettled in the third set, but it’d be picking a nit.

Nebraska found answers 27 out of 27 times before this. It didn’t come up with No. 28. This happens. — Hamilton

Any postseason implications?

Well it was a good day for the Big Ten, anyway: Nebraska had a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament cinched no matter what happened Sunday and now Wisconsin probably eliminated all doubt about joining the Huskers on the top line. Which means two of the best teams in the country have home-gym advantage through the regionals. — Hamilton

Required reading

  • ‘We’re scientists right now’: Wisconsin volleyball’s unconventional path to success
  • Big Ten champs once again, Nebraska volleyball leans on captains for control

(Photo: Dylan Widger / USA Today)

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