Badgers slip up in hostile home matchup with Illini

first_imgComing off victories against two top-10 ranked teams (Michigan State and Minnesota) earlier in the week, the Wisconsin women’s volleyball team was looking forward to a painless match against a mediocre Illinois Fighting Illini squad.Instead of cruising to an expected victory, the No. l6 Badgers (17-5, 6-4 Big Ten) fell to the unranked Illini (9-11, 5-5 Big Ten) in four sets (22-25, 26-28, 25-10, 22-25) Sunday afternoon at the University of Wisconsin Field House.In the midst of a tough stretch, perhaps the squad let this one slip under the radar.UW struggled to contain Illinois junior outside hitter Liz McMahon, who towers over the net at a height of 6-feet-6n. She led players on both sides of the court with 20 kills and 21.5 points on the afternoon. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks also gave the Badgers defense trouble, adding 15 kills.“As a team we beat ourselves, I don’t think it was so much Illinois who did anything spectacular,” junior outside hitter Ellen Chapman said. “We didn’t execute what we planned on doing.”The sets the Badgers lost were highly contested, only losing the sets by either two or three points. However, the Badgers dominated the third set with a 25-10 statement, and the tide seemed to be turning. Regardless, the Badgers were not able to continue the momentum into the fourth set that resulted in a loss and a disappointing afternoon for the team.“In game three it felt like it was a collective effort,” junior outside hitter Deme Morales, who led the Badgers with 17 kills, said. “Not to say that the other sets weren’t, but you could feel it during the third one.”In his post-game press conference, head coach Kelly Sheffield said he was concerned about a lack of attendance and support by the home fans. UW Field House announced an attendance of 3,657, but almost half of the crowd were those who made the trek to Madison from Champaign sporting orange to support the Fighting Illini.“Hopefully at some point we win enough where we get more students at our home match than what our visiting team does,” a frustrated Sheffield said. “We are looking forward to that day. It is disappointing to see more students cheering for the opposing team than our own.”The ringleaders of this coalition of Illini fans were a group of Illinois students called the “Spike Squad.” They are an official division of the Illinois’ student section organization called “Illini Pride,” and “Spike Squad” is specifically dedicated to the women’s volleyball team. They posed as Badger fans prior to first-serve, wearing red shirts over their orange ones, and then proceeded to go crazy after they revealed their true identities.The rowdy fans occupied the first four rows of the south side bleachers, just feet away from where the Badgers served in the first and third sets. Before each serve, the group would attempt to distract the server through a series of organized chants.The Badgers had four of their nine service errors come in the first set, possibly because of the unexpected distraction the group created. During the impressive third set, UW committed no service errors, an indication that they were able to adapt to a somewhat hostile environment at home court.“What you don’t expect is that in your own building there are more people willing to make that drive than to get out of bed and walk across campus,” Sheffield said. “This is a pretty good team we’ve got here, we just took out two top-ten teams, and we certainly could have used the students today.”The first year coach insists that Wisconsin’s faithful school spirit is one of the things that attracted him to Madison, and wonders why the students are reluctant to embrace his team. He says that the team is trying to make connections on campus by visiting residence halls, as well as bonding with the greater Madison community by visiting State Street and the Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.“Hopefully at some point we get to a point where we travel like that,” Sheffield said. “But that will take time.”The Badgers have not been in the NCAA tournament since 2007, a year in which they set a Big Ten record for attendance. Since then, they have not had a winning record at home. The Badgers have already matched last season’s win total only halfway through this one and are in the process of rectifying an abysmal 5-15 Big Ten showing last year.last_img

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