UI-Wisconsin volleyball preview

UI-Wisconsin volleyball preview

Wisconsin (13-1, 1-0) vs. No. 20 Illinois (6-5, 0-1)

1 p.m. today, Huff Hall

Setting the scene

Over the past seven years, this series has been a matter of feast or famine for each team. From 2005-07, Wisconsin went 6-0 against Illinois, Since 2008, the Illini are 8-0 against the Badgers, never losing more than one set in any match during that stretch. ... If Illinois is to extend its hold over the Badgers, they'll need to slow a red-hot opponent. Wisconsin enters with an 11-match winning streak after knocking off previously undefeated Northwestern at Evanston 25-23, 17-25, 26-24, 25-23 on Friday night. The Wildcats had won their first 11 matches, the best season start in program history. Badgers sophomore setter Courtney Thomas recorded a career-high 56 assists to go with 12 digs against NU. ... After being swept in its Big Ten opener Friday by No. 12 Minnesota, Illinois will try to avoid its first 0-2 start in the conference since 2007. ... Following a .375 hitting performance by the Gophers, opponents now have a .235 attack percentage against the Illini. Entering Saturday's Big Ten matches, Illinois ranked last in the conference in opponent hitting percentage. A year ago, an Illini team that finished second in the NCAA tournament limited opponents to .182, including .183 in the Big Ten. ... Although it wasn't nearly enough to slow down Minnesota, Illinois outblocked the Gophers 9-5.5. The Illini have outblocked 10 of their 11 opponents this season, the lone exception coming in the season-opening loss at Dayton. ... With seven kills and one error in 11 swings against Minnesota, Illinois middle blocker Anna Dorn raised her season hitting percentage to .458, fifth-highest in the Big Ten through Friday. The third-year sophomore has seen a dramatic rise in her attack game since last season, when she hit .333 as a first-year starter.

The scoop on Wisconsin

Coach: Pete Waite (14th year, 301-132)

Players to watch: Jr. L Annmarie Hickey; Jr. RS Julie Mikaelsen; Sr. MB Alexis Mitchell

About the Badgers: During the first nine seasons of Waite's coaching tenure in Madison, he had the Badgers firmly in the Big Ten's top tier and, often, in the same realm nationally. Those Wisconsin teams never won fewer than 22 matches, placed first or second in the conference five times while never finishing lower than fourth, and won over 77 percent of all matches. It was a remarkably successful stretch highlighted by an NCAA tournament runner-up finish in 2000. In 2008, however, the Badgers' fortunes took a tumble. In the past four seasons, Wisconsin never finished more than two matches above .500, had losing Big Ten records every year, never finished higher than seventh in the league race, and failed to make an NCAA tournament appearance. This season, the Badgers are off to one of their best starts in program history, although the schedule was favorable for such a run. In the preconference, Wisconsin did not face a Top 25 opponent. Its lone nonconference loss was to a Creighton team that received votes in the most recent national coaches' poll. ... The Badgers expected to have one of the nation's top Class of 2012 recruits on their roster this season. Meghan Haggerty, a 6-3 middle blocker from Lisle Benet Academy, signed a letter of intent with Wisconsin last fall. Prepvolleyball.com ranked Haggerty 14th on its list of Senior Aces. In June, however, reports surfaced that Haggerty was headed to Nebraska after requesting a release from her scholarship. Wisconsin granted the release, allowing Haggerty to become immediately eligible. Her younger sister, Maddie, is a Class of 2014 standout who verbally committed to Nebraska in May. Meghan Haggerty has made an immediate impact with the Cornhuskers, twice earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards. ... Waite recorded his 300th career victory at Wisconsin in the Badgers' final nonconference match on Sept. 15 against South Alabama. The Madison, Wis., area native is the program's all-time leader in coaching wins and winning percentage.

— Jeff Huth

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