MINNEAPOLIS — Toughness is not a trait frequently associated with volleyball. But it was the word of the day for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team.
The Badgers’ mental and physical toughness was pushed to the limit Thursday night as they outbattled Minnesota in a marathon four-set match 25-22, 23-25, 30-28, 29-27 to regain sole possession of first place in the Big Ten Conference.
Coach Kelly Sheffield credited his team’s toughness as it handed the No. 5 Gophers (19-4, 13-2 Big Ten) their first home-court loss of the season.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room,” Sheffield said. “This is a hard place to come in and win. It was a real high-level match and they put a lot of pressure on you. We bounced back as we were going. I thought there was a ton of mental toughness from both teams. That’s what you’d expect from two teams tied for first place in the Big Ten.”
Redshirt junior Molly Haggerty had a season-high 24 kills, including the last three of the match, to lead the way for the No. 7 Badgers (18-5, 14-1 Big Ten).
That run helped the Badgers avoid a potentially devastating collapse as they had let a 23-17 lead get away and had to stave off three set points after letting two match points get away.
“It would’ve been easy for us to let down after we gave up that big lead,” Haggerty said. “It’s hard to come back and beat a team when you were up by a lot and I think that says a lot about how tough our team is.”
Haggerty also came up big at the end of the extended third set when she got the last two kills to close out that set after the Badgers had let three set points get away.
With the match on the line in the fourth, Haggerty wanted to ball to come her way and junior setter Sydney Hilley was glad to accommodate her.
“I’m at a point in my career where I’m as confident as I’ve ever been and I think I was in the zone and Syd knew that,” Haggerty said. “Syd had a lot of confidence in setting me. We really connected well. I was in the moment out there and I wanted all the pressure on me.”
For Hilley, who obliterated her career high for assists with 78, topping her previous mark of 61, there was no doubt where she was going.
“She just has so much confidence,” Hilley said. “She started off pretty slow but then all of the sudden I’m feeding the ball to Molly every single chance because I know she’s ready, she’s asking for the ball and going up there taking great swings. When the game was on the line I knew I was going to go to here and she finished for us.”
Hilley’s performance, in her hometown in front of a group of about 50 friends and family, came despite suffering a sprained left wrist in practice on Tuesday.
“We weren’t sure she was going to play tonight,” Sheffield said. “I thought Syd was really good. She has a lot of confidence in all her hitters and she certainly kept everybody involved.”
While Sheffield may not have been sure about Hilley’s availability, she had no doubt about playing.
“I knew I was going to play,” she said. “Even if it hurts I’m going to play through it. I’m going to be there for my teammates.”
Junior Dana Rettke had 21 kills and junior Grace Loberg added 19 to keep the pressure on the Gophers’ defense. The Badgers hit .313 for the match, while the Gophers, who were led by junior Adanna Rollins with 16 kills, hit .284.
Senior Tiffany Clark had a season-high 25 digs, while Minnesota’s sophomore C.C. McGraw had 33.
The victory snapped a four-match losing streak for the Badgers at the Maturi Pavilion and gives them a sweep of the season series, their first since 2014.
“It was really fun,” Hilley said. “They pack this place and it was really loud. It was a super competitive match and it’s nice to finally come in here and get a win.”
Wisconsin 25 2 30 29
Minnesota 22 25 28 27
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-14-0, Hilley 2-6-4, Duello 8-6-4, Rettke 21-1-5, Hart 8-0-5, Haggerty 24-8-1, Ashburn 0-11-0, Clark 0-25-0, Dodge 0-3-0, Loberg 19-7-1. Totals 82-76-10.
MINNESOTA (kills-digs-blocks) — Kilkelly 0-10-0, Samedy 5-4-1, Morgan 8-1-3, McMenimen 0-2-0, Rollins 16-14-4, Pittman 11-3-6, Dolonga 0-5-0, McGraw 0-28-0, Miyabe 12-3-2, Hart 12-3-3. Totals 64-73-10.
Hitting percentage — W .313, M .284. Aces — W 3 (Clark 2), M 4 (McGraw 2). Assists — W 81 (Hilley 78), M 59 (McMenimen 29). Att. — 5,700.