Defense, seniors advance Wisconsin in NCAA tournament

first_imgThe No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers’ NCAA Championship dreams are still alive after sweeping both Western Michigan and Illinois State this past weekend.Although the Badgers hosted the first two rounds of the tournament on their home court in the UW Field House, their opponents gave Wisconsin a run for their money, especially during the second set of both matches.The two well-fought victories for the Badgers are largely due to the persistence and effort of the Wisconsin defense both nights. Wisconsin has improved upon its communication between the front and back row with each match.“I thought we did a really good job of communicating at the net. That’s something we’ve really stressed and we’ve gotten better at as the season has gone on,” Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield said.Sheffield also expressed his thoughts about the Redbirds’ defensive tactics and their fighting spirit that has brought them this far in the tournament after an impressive season.“I thought we executed our game plan. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought that we did a really good job against a really good team that was doing their darndest to keep us off balance,” Sheffield said.During the match against Western Michigan, the Badgers tallied nine team blocks over the Broncos’ three. Wisconsin’s back court also scrambled for 56 digs, eight more than their opponents.The blocking trend continued for the Badgers into the second round of the tournament. After getting off to a slow start defensively at the net, Wisconsin did not receive its first team block until set point when sophomore Lauren Carlini and sophomore Haleigh Nelson put up a wall against the Redbirds senior outside hitter Stacey Niao and put away the first set.The rest of the game, Wisconsin’s defensive net play skyrocketed. In the second and third sets, Wisconsin out-blocked Illinois State five to zero, and were even able to force one blocking error on the Redbirds behalf during the second set.In the third set, the Badgers topped off the match by increasing their total team blocks to 12 while holding the Redbirds to three. Nelson had the most for Wisconsin with six block assists.Although Saturday’s match was notable for the Badgers’ tremendous efforts on defense, it was special for a handful of the Wisconsin teammates, as this was their final match at the UW Field House.Bittersweet feelings overwhelmed some of the seniors as they completed their final match in Madison in front of their fans at home.“It’s a time that you think is never going to happen,” senior Dominique Thompson said. “You never think that your last game is going to happen. You just think that you have forever left. We know that we’re in the Sweet Sixteen, but it’s our last time playing in front of our home crowd.”Thompson finished her last game at the Field House with gusto as she tallied nine kills and a .409 hitting percentage and was responsible for three block assists and one solo block. But it was not just their final performances that caused an emotional response from the seniors.“[Thompson and I] had tears in our eyes, and Deme Morales looked at me, and she had tears in her eyes, but they were tears of joy,” senior right side hitter Courtney Thomas said. “It’s not because we we’re sad. It’s because of what we’ve accomplished this year and last year.”Thomas completed the victory against the Redbirds with four block assists. The 6-0 DeKalb, Illinois native ended her career at the Field House with over 940 kills at a .226 hitting percentage, and was awarded the honor of first team All-Big Ten.“We won a Big Ten [Championship Title] in our own home, and all of those emotions come back when that ends,” Thomas continued. “We couldn’t be more proud or happier to end it here.”As Thomas refers to Wisconsin’s successful run last year in the tournament as runner-up in the 2013 National Championship game against Penn State, others reflected on their thoughts on the road ahead.“We’ve had so many great moments and so many great times,” senior outside hitter Ellen Chapman said. “I was sad about that, but I’m not sad about much else, because I know we’re going to accomplish so much more this season.”The journey of the NCAA Tournament continues for these seniors and the rest of their teammates as the Badgers proceed to round three in Louisville, Kentucky. Wisconsin’s next game will be against Ohio State. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN3 at 4 p.m.last_img read more