Wisconsin’s Livingston fuels Badgers sweep of Gophers

David La

Shortly before game time Friday night, Wisconsin middle blocker Sherisa Livingston sat alone on the sidelines with a look on her face both unassuming and morose.
Glances toward players warming up on the Minnesota side of the net showed the all-Big Ten selection’s awareness of the approaching game. But Livingston’s eyes kept returning to a vacant stare.
Though she would soon take the court and lead No. 10 Wisconsin to a three-game victory over the previously unbeaten fifth-ranked Gophers volleyball team, Livingston’s pre-game thoughts were with her recently deceased grandmother.
“I only had two things on my mind tonight, my grandma and the game,” Livingston said.
After missing practice Wednesday and Thursday to attend her grandmother’s funeral in South Carolina, Livingston took a flight to Minneapolis on Friday, arriving only five hours before first serve.
Livingston entered the first game with Minnesota ahead 2-0, carrying a heavy heart and matching-up against Gophers middle blocker Stephanie Hagen, the reigning Big Ten and national player of the week.
Livingston responded by blocking out her sadness and terrorizing the Minnesota defense. The 6-foot-2 junior finished with a match-high 26 kills, adding nine digs and two blocks.
“Sherisa Livingston is a load,” Gophers coach Mike Hebert said. “Sometimes you just can’t stop her. She jumps over your block and puts the ball where she wants to.”
Whether she crumpled would-be diggers with tracer bullets from high above the net, or dropping spikes just out of the defenses reach, Livingston’s play broke down Minnesota both physically and mentally.
“This is probably the first time anybody has stung us mentally,” Herbert said. “We lost some of our confidence and we stopped attacking aggressively.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, poured it on. Game two saw the Gophers suffer the indignity of a 15-1 loss, their first such defeat since an Oct. 11, 1997, contest at Penn State.
Though distracted by a tumultuous week, Livingston quickly resumed her role as the team catalyst, a rock in the middle who can dictate the game.
“Once you block somebody, they’re going to have to think about their next shot,” Livingston said. “You have to think about how big the other blocker is, and its really distracting when that’s running through your mind.”

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]