Rival Wisconsin comes to town for midweek match at Sports Pavilion

Mark Heise

The matches between the Minnesota and Wisconsin volleyball teams have been traditionally close, and this season should be no different.

The 17th-ranked Gophers face the Badgers at 7 p.m. today at the Sports Pavilion.

With five of the last eight matches going a full five games and Wisconsin leading the all-time series 30-28, the rivalry has proved to be a balanced one.

And, with the Badgers moving up in the rankings to No. 11 this week, Coach Mike Hebert said his team was excited for the match.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing these ranked teams and our team seems to be more motivated when we take on a tougher team,” he said. “I know they’re sky-high for it and the coaching staff is looking forward to this as well.”

Like the Gophers (13-5 overall, 7-1 Big Ten), Wisconsin comes into the midweek matchup after a big win over Purdue and is just a game behind Minnesota for second place in the conference standings.

The Badgers (14-4, 6-2) are a well-balanced squad, with seven players averaging at least two kills per game. Freshman outside hitter Brittney Dolgner leads the team with 3.9 kills per game.

Senior captain Maria Carlini averages nearly 3.5 kills per game, but is listed as day-to-day with a foot injury. Her availability could be a factor in the match, although the deep Wisconsin roster has filled in well during her three-game absence.

Senior outside hitter Meghan Cumpston mentioned the Badgers’ talent, but focused on her team’s keys to picking up the win.

“We’ve kept our focus and worked hard in practice this season, and that’s going to be important for our success against a team like Wisconsin,” she said. “We haven’t worried about rankings or winning streaks and as long as we keep our focus like we’ve been doing, we’ll be OK.”

Last year, the teams split their season series, as the fifth-ranked Gophers were upset early in the season at Wisconsin, then came back to upset the 13th-ranked Badgers at home later in the year.

A freshman at the time, outside hitter Kyla Roehrig put together a pair of solid matches, recording 11 kills and five blocks in the loss, while contributing eight kills, seven blocks and a .290 hit percentage in the four-game win.

Roehrig is currently leading Minnesota with an average of 3.52 kills per game, improving on her 2.2 kills per game average a year ago.

Roehrig said she was looking forward to another chance to contribute in the border battle.

“Wisconsin’s probably our top rival and it’s always exciting to play them,” she said. “In rivalry games, you really want to do your part to help your team out and I’m looking forward to the challenge (the Badgers) bring.”