The first time the Ohio State women’s volleyball team took on Wisconsin this season, it was looking to get even after falling to the Badgers in the NCAA tournament last year.
This go-around, the No. 16 Buckeyes (22-7, 11-6) are looking to end No. 10 Wisconsin’s (21-6, 13-4) nine-game winning streak — which began nearly a month ago on Oct. 23 — in Madison on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Badgers have been particularly tough on their home floor, boasting an 11-2 record in the Wisconsin Field House this season.
“We’ve got to remind ourselves that we’re pretty good,” OSU coach Geoff Carlston said. “But on the road in the Big Ten, you have to find another level and really circle the wagons together.”
A number of players have helped fuel Wisconsin’s hot streak, but at the center of it all is junior setter Lauren Carlini, a 2014 first-team All-American and a preseason all-Big Ten selection.
Carlini currently ranks first in the conference and seventh in the country in assists per set (11.78). The last two weeks, she’s been named the Big Ten’s setter of the week, an award she’s won six times in her college career.
Sophomore outside hitter Luisa Schirmer said simply hitting the ball at Carlini can be effective in getting the Badgers out of rhythm.
“A lot of times, you think of playing it at her, taking them out of system, taking her out of being able to set the ball and run the offense,” she said.
The Buckeyes also want to “serve tough and get them out of system so we can read her easier,” sophomore defensive specialist Kalisha Goree said.
Getting better at the service line has been a point of emphasis for Carlston’s team in recent weeks, and he’s starting to see some improvement.
“We’re having moments, we’ve just got to do more of them and be a little bit more consistent,” he said.
Carlston’s squad will not only have its hands full in dealing with one of the nation’s top setters but will also have to defend against one of the better blocking teams in the country, led by freshman middle blocker Tionna Williams (1.32 blocks per set) and junior middle blocker Haleigh Nelson (1.27).
Against the third-best blocking team in the conference, Carlston is looking for some better play from his offense, which has gone through cold spells at times during the last month.
“We’re getting a little predictable in terms of where we’re hitting the ball,” he said. “We’ve got to change up our shots and mix up what we’re giving teams.”
Building postseason momentum
In the latest RPI rankings, OSU came in at No. 10, which leaves it in good standing to be one of the 16 teams to host the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.
With only three games left in the regular season, OSU is trying to close the season out strong, not only to get home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the tournament but also to build some momentum going into the postseason.
“Every single team in the country is trying to do that right now and just figure themselves out before going into the tournament,” Goree said.
The Buckeyes have won just four of their last nine matches, but they’re hoping Wednesday’s road win over Iowa is what they needed to get back on track.
“We’ve had a little lull, but I think we’re building it up and we’re getting our team confidence back,” Schirmer said.
OSU is set to play its final regular season game away from St. John Arena when it travels to meet Big Ten-leading Minnesota, which defeated the Buckeyes in five sets in each team’s conference opener on Sept. 23. The Wednesday match is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.