UW volleyball to take on Western Michigan in NCAA First Round

first_imgIt can be argued that despite its tremendous successes both on individual levels and also as a group, the No. 2 Wisconsin volleyball team’s season actually begins Thursday night.After all, that’s what they’ve been playing for. Long before the season began, this team has had two goals: to win the Big Ten and to win a National Championship.And after locking up it’s first conference championship in 13 years it’s one down, one to go for the Badgers.The first step toward achieving the second goal starts Thursday night at the UW Field House as one-seed (fourth-ranked overall) Wisconsin takes on Western Michigan (22-13, 9-7 MAC) in the opening round of the NCAA Championship.The Badgers (28-2, 19-1 Big Ten) are currently riding a 19-match winning streak and haven’t dropped a match in more than two months. But UW plans on putting the regular season far in the past and treating the NCAA tournament as if they are 0-0.“We’re training hard and we’re looking at it one match at a time,” junior libero Taylor Morey said. “At this point, no matches are guaranteed. You gotta keep winning to keep going. Right now we’re focusing on Western Michigan.”The Broncos have won six of their own in-a-row, storming through the Mid-American Conference tournament in which they were ranked fifth. They took down top-seeded Ohio in the semifinal and defeated Miami (OH) in the championship, with both matches going five sets.Alysia Baznik, a sophomore outside hitter, leads the Broncos with 2.89 kills per set. Senior outside hitter Ali Gossen chips in with 2.49 kills per set.Syndney LeMay is the Broncos’ force in the middle. She was named the 2014 Freshman of the Year in the MAC and the middle blocker averages 2.57 kills per set as well as 0.74 blocks per set.“They’re really confident coming in,” sophomore setter, and Big Ten Player and Setter of the Year Lauren Carlini said. “They won a big match, a few close matches in five sets, so they have a lot of confidence.”Big Ten Coach of the Year and Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield says that he has tried to keep the practice routine as similar as possible to the regular season, but said that time is moving slow and the team is itching for Thursday night.“It’s a really hard thing to do; to stay present during this time of year,” Sheffield said. “You’re doing something that you love and you’re excited about it, you have a tendency to look ahead a little bit, and I think our team is trying to fight that right now. Thursday night can’t get here quick enough.”Sheffield said that while the emphasis appears to be on winning at this point in the season, he believes that the emphasis is on a team’s overall effort.“It’s about leaving it all out there, and that’s where the fun is,” Sheffield said. “People that put it all out there, they can live with the results. What you can’t live with is having ‘What if’s?’… It’s not the wins and losses that the competitors regret, so we talk a lot more about ‘Let’s own the moment.’”The Badgers, as with the other top-16 teams in the field of 64, will play their first two tournament matches at home, which should give the Badgers a competitive edge. It will also be the final opportunity for the senior class to play in front of their fans.“We get to play at home for another weekend, that’s exciting. Playing at home in front of your home crowd is always an advantage,” senior outside hitter Courtney Thomas said. “And we love playing in front of our crowd and our fans are awesome.”“I’m not trying to look too far ahead and think about my last times here, trying to just go out with a win,” Thomas said.Marquette and Illinois State are the other two teams playing their first-round match in Madison Thursday. They’ll faceoff against each other in the first match of the night Thursday. If Wisconsin handles Western Michigan, they will play the winner of this match Friday night.The Redbirds were dominant in conference play this year, going undefeated and winning the Missouri Valley Conference. They’re on quite the hot streak themselves, having won their last 22 matches.Marquette finished third in the Big East, but is led by Conference Player of the Year, Autumn Bailey, who is seventh in the nation in kills (4.73) and fifth in total points (5.48/set).Last season, when the Badgers made a run to the National Title match, UW was ranked 12th overall. From that position, they were able to play the role of underdog en route to the finale, but this year, it will be Wisconsin who has a target on their back.“We’re out to prove people wrong, as usual,” Carlini said. “People look at us and say, ‘They’re not gonna make it,’… I think we’re gonna use that to our advantage and take teams by surprise.”“I think we’re still a little understated and a lot of people don’t think we’re gonna make it to the Final Four,” Carlini said. “So, kinda like last year, we took everyone by surprise, and hey, we’re all right with doing that again this year, as long as we make it there and just continue to win games, survive and advance, we’re all right with that.”last_img