Spikers to carry on Badgers rivalry

Jeff Barthel

When defining rivalry, several matchups come to mind. Green Bay and Minnesota, sure. Twins and White Sox, maybe.

On campus though, Minnesota fans most often think about their sports teams beating the Wisconsin Badgers.

Such is the case for Minnesota’s volleyball team.

“There can’t be one team winning (the series),” coach Mike Hebert said. “The fun has been to lift our level up to compete toe-to-toe.”

Hebert was speaking of his team’s rivalry against Wisconsin, whom the Gophers take on Sunday in Madison, Wis.

The Gophers (10-7, 3-2 Big Ten) are currently unranked but have won three straight Big Ten matches after losing twice to conference opponents earlier this season.

They have yet to face a ranked Big Ten foe, but that will change against the Badgers (11-4, 3-1), who are ranked 20th in the nation.

Minnesota’s all-time record versus its neighboring state is 24-28. This includes two five-game victories last season.

The two teams have a history of close matches. In 2002, Minnesota faced the Badgers in Madison in the third Big Ten match of the season.

The Gophers came in ranked sixth nationally while Wisconsin came in 14th. Led by Cassie Busse’s double-double performance – 13 kills and 10 digs – the Gophers were able to pull out a 30-27, 32-30, 17-30, 20-30 and 15-10 victory.

“Like Green Bay and the Vikings,” Busse said of the Minnesota-Wisconsin volleyball rivalry. “Every game is a big game and it’s an intense atmosphere.”

Later during the season, Minnesota played host to the Badgers. Not much had changed in the rankings – the Gophers were ranked seventh and Wisconsin was 13th – but this time, the Gophers had their foes in the Sports Pavilion.

Minnesota won the first game rather decisively (30-22), but the Badgers took two of the next three games before the teams played a tie-breaking fifth game.

Minnesota dominated the fifth game (15-6), limiting the Badgers to a .188 hitting percentage in the game.

The victory capped off two hard-fought victories over the Badgers last season.

Wisconsin coach Pete Waite said his team is a bit different this season and he hopes a more experienced Badgers roster will have more success against Minnesota.

“We’ve got a much better team chemistry this year,” Waite said. “There’s not just one leader, like last year it was Erin Byrd.”

Byrd’s 517 kills led the Badgers a year ago. She hit .284 on the season.

This year, the Badgers feature a variety of weapons, one of them being sophomore Sheila Shaw, who is no stranger to Hebert.

“We recruited her,” Hebert said. “She’s a fabulous player who broke into their lineup last year.”

As a freshman last season, Shaw was able to record double figures in kills six times and compile a .310 hitting percentage.

She is the Badgers’ middle blocker and one player the Gophers will look to defend mightily.

“She didn’t have as big of a role as she maybe has this year,” Busse said.

The 6-foot-1 inch Shaw – from Muskego, Wis. – currently leads the Badgers with 40 blocks on the season and has the best hitting percentage (.326) on their roster.

The Gophers will face Shaw and the Badgers at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Wisconsin Fieldhouse.