Friday, December 20, 2013

Badgers volleyball: Four-set upset of Texas brings berth in NCAA championship match

DENNIS PUNZEL | Wisconsin State Journal
December 20, 2013

volleyball block 12-20

UW's Courtney Thomas (3) and Haleigh Nelson make the block on Texas' Chiaka Ogbogu.(Elaine Thompson/AP)

SEATTLE — Not many in the sellout crowd for the NCAA volleyball semifinals gave the University of Wisconsin much of a chance against top-seeded and reigning champion Texas.
But among those few true believers were the Badgers, who pulled off a shocking 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23 victory before a crowd of 14,975 at KeyArena.
“We believed we could win this match and I think that’s a big part whenever you go into anything,” said coach Kelly Sheffield, whose team will play Big Ten Conference rival Penn State for the national title on Saturday. “No matter who we’ve played the players have believed there’s a way to win.
“We are who we are. There’s no way we could play their game. Their game is a totally different game than us. We had to serve with confidence and execute fearlessly behind the service line. We felt like if we did that we’d have them out of system a lot. And if they’re out of system a lot we’ve got the best backcourt in the country and we’d be able to dig some balls.”
And when the Badgers (28-9) dug out those smashes from the Longhorns’ massive row of hitters, the ball usually ended up in the hands of freshman setter Lauren Carlini. And when Carlini is in control, the Badgers tend to be in good shape.
Sheffield was reminded of that even before the match started when he talked with Carlini.
“She’s out there setting in warm-ups an hour before the match, and I walked out there, just wanted to check in, see how things were going,” Sheffield said. “I said, ‘How are you doing?’ And she says, ‘I love this. This is why I play.’
“The bigger the lights, the better. That’s her mentality. The kid’s whatever she is, 18 years old, and she was born for this. The bigger the crowd, the more moxie that comes out of her, the more confidence.”
While her performance, which included 50 assists and 12 digs, dazzled the volleyball world, the outcome left her nearly speechless.
“There’s just no words right now,” Carlini said. “Everyone is like daaaa ... We never expected that we were going to get this far, but we got together and we made a goal and fought back. We know that we’re one of the tightest teams out there. We’re just ballers. I don’t think anyone is happier than us right now.”
Going up against the Longhorns’ huge block, Sheffield said the key was having Carlini move the ball around to find the appropriate hitter to attack Texas (27-3).
“That’s a massive block,” he said. “These guys are really physical, but we felt like we’ve got a setter who can get the ball where it needs to go.”
The Badgers succeeded in keeping the Longhorns out of system much of the night. And as they scrambled to get the ball over the net, their powerful attack, led by All-American Haley Eckerman, was muted.
“We feel like we’re a really good serving team,” Sheffield said. “We felt like (passing) wasn’t one of their strengths, but when you’ve got Eckerman outside, you don’t have to be an elite passing team.
“Our servers really executed with a lot of toughness behind the serving line. We did a great job of keeping them off balance early on.”
Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said his team looked off balance all night.
“Tonight felt like it was the first match of the season,” Elliott said. “We just never got comfortable. For whatever reason, we got on our heels right off the bat and really couldn’t find the groove the entire night.”
After controlling most of the first two sets, the Badgers were in position to complete a sweep in the third set, reaching match point at 25-24. Texas survived that point and won the set when Ellen Chapman’s shot went long on set point. Chapman led the Badgers with 17 kills.
“We had 16 hitting errors in Game 3 and that’s an awful lot,” Sheffield said. “They got out to a nice lead in Game 4 but we kept chopping and chopping away. That’s what we’ve seen from this team all year.
“Mental toughness has carried us through and there’s not anything that you’ve got to be mentally tough about than you’re about to sweep the defending champs and they squeak out Game 3 and jump on us in Game 4. To come back and find a way, I can’t be more proud of these guys.”
The Badgers trailed most of the way in Game 4 before rallying to take a 21-19 lead. The lead went back and forth, with Texas taking a 22-21 lead on an attack error by Deme Morales. But Morales quickly atoned for that with a kill to tie it at 22 and then finished off the match with back-to-back kills.
Sheffield credited Carlini with having faith in Morales to bounce back from her error.
“I know she’s a talented person,” Carlini said of the 5-foot-7 Morales. “When she gets blocked, it doesn’t faze her. Everyone in the huddle is like, keep swinging, we’ve got you covered.
“This is just a tremendous group effort and I can’t be more proud of our team.”
Texas 19 18 28 23
Wisconsin 25 25 26 25
TEXAS — (kills-aces-blocks) — Bell 7-1-10, McCage 8-0-7, Neal 0-1-0, Eckerman 17-0-0, Ogbogu 5-0-5, Allison 2-0-7, Victoria 0-0-1, Brooks 0-0-0, Palmer 0-0-0, Collins 0-0-1, Webster 7-0-2. Totals: 46-2-19.
WISCONSIN — (kills-aces-blocks) — Carlini 4-0-2, Thomas 9-1-5, Morales 14-0-0, Nelson 4-0-5, Thompson 12-0-5, Chapman 17-3-2, Hickey 0-2-0, Morey 0-0-0, Kvas 0-1-0. Totals: 60-7-10.
Hitting percentage — T .156, W .131. Digs — T 64 (Palmer 16), W 72 (Hickey 21).
Assists — T 43 (Allison 33), W 57 (Carlini 50).

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