'We grew throughout the match': Wisconsin volleyball team rallies for five-set win over Illinois

MADISON - All is not lost Badger fans.

Sure Illinois’ football team came to town over the weekend and left with a stunning victory, but Wisconsin’s volleyball team put its foot down when it came to defending its home court against its neighbors to the south.

And the nation's eighth-ranked team did so in dramatic fashion.

Down 2-1, Wisconsin played its best ball in the fourth and fifth sets and scored its first five-set win of the season Sunday afternoon at the UW Field House to improve to 3-1 in the Big Ten and 9-3 overall.

The 25-27, 25-20, 22-25, 25-19, 15-5 victory lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes and produced four players with double-doubles and a season-high three players with double-digit kills.

“We didn’t start off with our best volleyball, but we grew throughout the match and we’re still growing every single day, every single practice, every game,” senior setter Izzy Ashburn said. “The fact that we were able to come back from that is huge for us, the mentality of keep going, keep going and trust that it’s going to come.”

Wisconsin's Julia Orzol hits a shot over the defense during the Badgers' 3-2 win Sunday at the UW Field House.
Wisconsin's Julia Orzol hits a shot over the defense during the Badgers' 3-2 win Sunday at the UW Field House.

Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Franklin had a team-high 15 kills with her best set coming in the fourth when she hit .400. Junior middle blocker Devyn Robinson added 14 kills and a .423 hitting percentage. Julia Orzol, a sophomore outside hitter, added 12 kills and a career-high 16 digs and freshman libero Gulce Guctekin posted 11 assists and 23 digs, both career highs.

Junior Caroline Crawford (seven blocks) and senior Danielle Hart (six blocks) led the defense at the net as the team tied its third-highest total of the season with 26 blocks.

There were a lot of significant contributors to the win, but coach Kelly Sheffield was especially pleased with the work of his setters, who spread the ball to a host of hitters. Ashburn (27 assists, 12 digs) and junior MJ Hammill (20 assists, 11 digs) recorded their first double-doubles of the season.

“I thought these two did a great job of executing the game plan and really getting our middles involved early in the match and pumping them and then we went to our pins late,” he said. “So I thought that was the best match both these have had just executing.”

This was a match that Wisconsin had to pick itself off the mat. The third set was its worst of the day as it was mired by 12 hitting errors plus two service errors.

UW started the fourth slowly, falling into an 8-3 hole before crawling back into the match. UW outscored Illinois, 9-3, to close out the fourth set.

Wisconsin carried that momentum into the final set. A 5-1 run that included three kills by Robinson gave the Badgers an 8-4 lead when the team’s switched sides of the court.

Junior Liz Gregorski closed the match by serving the final six points.

The team's performance built on an impressive victory over Penn State Friday night. Up next for Wisconsin are three straight matches on the road: Indiana on Wednesday, first-place Purdue on Saturday and Iowa on Oct. 14.

Illinois, meanwhile, dropped to 7-7 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten, though the Badgers know it is a much better team than its record indicates.

“Illinois is a team that is capable of going on long runs and they can really stress a team out…,” Sheffield said. “They test your team’s resolve and maturity and togetherness. I thought we did a good job of with that.”

LAST WEEK'S RECAP: Julia Orzol playing at a higher level highlights our midweek review of Wisconsin volleyball

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin volleyball team rallies for five-set win over Illinois