MADISON, Wisc. — From 1933 to 1960, the University of Wisconsin Field House was home to the Badgers’ decorated boxing program, which won eight NCAA titles before the sport was discontinued.
Wednesday, it was the No. 11 Wisconsin volleyball team that came out swinging and put No. 4 Nebraska on the canvas early. The Huskers eventually counterpunched, but the Badgers finally landed the knockout blow to hand NU its first Big Ten loss of the season 25-16, 25-15, 17-25, 25-23.
Madison Duello, Wisconsin’s sophomore opposite hitter who had only one kill on 22 swings in Nebraska’s five-set win on September 30, led Wisconsin (12-4, 3-4 Big Ten) with 13 kills as UW snapped a three-match losing skid.
As in the first meeting in Lincoln, the Badgers’ middle blockers got going Wednesday. Dana Rettke, Wisconsin’s 6-foot-8 freshman, had 12 kills on .500 hitting, including three pivotal kills late in the fourth set, and added a match-high eight blocks.
Junior middle Tionna Williams had five of her 10 kills in Game 4, and outside hitter Lauren Gillis added 11 kills to put four Badgers in double figures.
Freshman opposite hitter Jazz Sweet led Nebraska (13-4, 6-1) with 11 kills, but the Huskers warmed up too late after a disastrous start.
“We came out really flat, and Wisconsin was on a mission tonight,” NU coach John Cook said in his postmatch radio interview. “It’s a team that’s lost three (straight) matches. This is a huge match for them, and we weren’t mentally prepared to play the level we needed to play at to start those first two games.”
Over the first two sets, Nebraska had 14 kills and 17 errors, getting out-blocked 10-1. Outside hitters Annika Albrecht and Mikaela Foecke both struggled to the point of coming out in Game 2, replaced by junior Olivia Boender and freshman Sami Slaughter, the latter of whom appeared in just her second match of the year.
“Wisconsin came out on fire, and we just looked like we were in quicksand,” Cook said. “We weren’t even close on the block. We weren’t passing. Kelly (Hunter) started off setting kind of tight. The first five plays, we get blocked straight down (two) times. That’s just not being mentally prepared to play and understanding what we’ve got to do.”
But just as it did after getting stunned by dropping the first two sets in Lincoln, Nebraska responded in the third led by senior middle Briana Holman, whose four kills and two blocks spurred a Game 3 win in which the Huskers hit .368. Holman and Foecke each had nine kills in the match.
NU again had the offensive touch in Game 4, hitting .367, but the fourth set turned on the smallest of apparent touches from a Nebraska blocker.
Rettke sent a shot initially ruled long that would have put the Huskers up 21-18, but after a coach’s challenge, officials ruled upon video review that Rettke’s shot caught Foecke’s finger above the net. The point went to the Badgers, who tied it on the next rally when Gillis blocked Holman.
After Foecke put Nebraska back in front 21-20, Duello saved a scattered Wisconsin rally by hitting high off the Husker blockers’ hands. Rettke put the Badgers back in front 22-21, and Duello added another out-of-system kill on the following rally.
NU had one final chance to force a decisive fifth set with Sweet scoring on back-to-back rallies to tie it 23-23, but Rettke threw down a high set to reach match point, and Duello sealed it with her final kill on the next rally.
“We didn’t make a couple plays there,” Cook said. “We didn’t pass the ball like we needed to, and they made the plays to win it.”
Nebraska’s offense was so elusive in the first two sets that despite hitting .368 over Games 3 and 4, the Huskers finished at .163 for the match, their second-lowest attack percentage of the year.
Hunter had her fifth straight double-double with 35 assists and 10 digs, and libero Kenzie Maloney led Nebraska with 11 digs.
The Huskers now have a half-game lead in the Big Ten standings over Penn State and Michigan State heading into Saturday’s match at No. 16 Purdue, which was swept Wednesday night at Minnesota.
“It was nice to see us come back so we wouldn’t go down 3-0,” Cook said. “Hopefully we’re going to be a little more hungry (on Saturday).”
Nebraska (13-4, 6-1 Big Ten)………..16 15 25 23
At Wisconsin (12-4, 3-4)……………..25 25 17 25
NU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Sweet 11-0-0, Foecke 9-1-2, Holman 9-0-3, Albrecht 8-1-2, Stivrins 5-0-4, Hunter 3-1-2, Boender 1-0-0
UW: Duello 13-0-5, Rettke 12-1-8, Gillis 11-0-3, Williams 10-0-4, Bates 4-0-1, Hilley 1-1-3
Set Assists: N 42 (Hunter 35, Maloney 6, Foecke 1), W 50 (Hilley 40, Bates 5, Clark 3, Dodd 1, Rettke 1)