As his team was battling deep into the fourth set with No. 4 Nebraska on Wednesday night, University of Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield figured he could read the minds of a good many spectators at the UW Field House and viewers watching on the Big Ten Network.
“I’m sure there were a lot of people watching that on TV that probably had us losing that and losing the fifth,” Sheffield said.
That, after all, had pretty much been the Badgers’ M.O. so far in the Big Ten season, as they lost four tough matches against the conference’s top teams.
But this time they were able to rise to the challenge, coming out after a timeout and scoring the last two points in the fourth set to put away a 25-16, 25-15, 17-25, 25-23 victory and hand the Cornhuskers their first conference loss.
Fittingly, it was redshirt sophomore Madison Duello who put away the kill on match point, giving her a career-high 13 kills for the match. Duello also led the team with a career-high 32 attempts and had six kills with no errors in the fourth set.
“We obviously went to her a lot early and she came up with some big-time kills there at the end,” Sheffield said. “And she really set the tone for the match early on with her blocking. I thought she was great.”
It was about time, said Duello, who came into the match averaging just 1.08 kills per set and hitting .099 in Big Ten play.
“I think the past couple games I’ve been very quiet and cautious,” Duello said. “I didn’t want to make errors and I didn’t want to let my teammates down, so I was very tentative.
“This game it was time I needed to step up. I wasn’t scared of the block, I wasn’t scared of making an error. I just went out there and hit the shots I was given and did my best.”
And with the match on the line, Duello was ready when setter Sydney Hilley came to her for the decisive swing.
“It felt so good,” Duello said. “There wasn’t a point in that set where I thought, ‘oh my gosh, we’re going to lose.’ It was, we’re coming back. They tied it up at 23 and we’re like ‘OK, here we go, serve receive and next ball.’ It felt great.”
The Badgers (12-4, 3-4 Big Ten) dominated the first two sets, hitting .345 while the Cornhuskers hit -.045. Twelve of Nebraska’s 31 points in those sets came on UW service errors.
After going without a block in the last three sets of their loss on Saturday at Michigan State, the Badgers had 10 blocks in the first two sets, six by Rettke.
“I know against Michigan State I was very frantic,” said Rettke, who finished with 12 kills and eight blocks. “I wasn’t being myself. I just knew that to help the back row and help this team win I had to be steady, I just had to perform.”
But the Huskers (13-4, 6-1) made some adjustments during intermission and pulled away to a convincing win in the third set.
The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair, with the Huskers taking a two-point lead at 20-18. A turning point came when a video review revealed a touch by the Nebraska block on a shot by Rettke, reversing the call and making it 20-19 instead of a three-point Huskers lead.
“I heard it clear as day,” Rettke said.
The Badgers took a 23-21 lead with a 3-0 run, including two kills by Duello, with Rettke getting the assist on one of them.
Nebraska tied it on two kills by freshman Jazz Sweet, but the Badgers answered with kills by Rettke and Duello to complete their biggest win of the season.
“That was a big win for us,” Sheffield said. “It was needed (after) some of those close matches and we need to build from that. You just believe that we can get in a really close one here against the top team in the conference and come away with a win just by playing our game.
“This team is good enough.”
Nebraska 16 15 25 23
Wisconsin 25 25 17 25
NEBRASKA (kills-digs-blocks) — Foecke 9-11-2, Hunter 3-10-2, Townsend 0-7-0, Holman 9-0-3, Albrecht 8-9-2, Stivrins 5-1-4, Slaughter 0-1-0, Atherton 0-0-0, Maloney 0-11-0, Sweet 11-0-0, Boender 1-2-0. Totals 46-52-8.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 1-13-3, Gillis 11-8-3, Bates 4-11-1, Dodd 0-4-0, Williams 10-0-4, Rettke 12-2-8, Bell 0-1-0, MacDonald 0-2-0, Duello 13-1-5, Clark 0-16-0. Totals 51-58-13.
Hitting percentage — N .163, W .296. Aces — N 3 (Foecke, Hunter, Albrecht), W 2 (Hilley, Rettke). Assists — N 42 (Hunter 35), W 50 (Hilley 40).
Att. — 6,012.