The Big Ten is “the best of the best,” outside hitter Katie Mitchell said.
She’s not the only Ohio State women’s volleyball player to have said that this year and the conference has backed it up on the postseason. Five Big Ten teams remain in the NCAA tournament, which is the most from any conference.
Of the remaining 16 teams, three Big Ten teams will play in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, including No. 18 Ohio State and No. 2 Wisconsin.
Despite the Badgers (30-2) sweeping the Buckeyes (23-11) in each of their two matches this season, the team believes it has a great chance of pulling of the upset, OSU coach Geoff Carlston said.
“We’ve been playing the underdog role all year,” Carlston said. “We like it and we enjoy it. I think we’re a different team than we were a month ago, when we played them. I know we’re a different team.”
While having two AVCA All-Northeast Region players in junior outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell and sophomore middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe and All-Northeast Honorable Mention senior setter Taylor Sherwin on the roster, the Buckeyes could have their hands full with Wisconsin.
The Badgers, who are the Big Ten conference champions, will be led by Big Ten Player of the Year and Setter of the Year sophomore Lauren Carlini and Defensive Player of the Year junior libero Taylor Morey.
In the two matches they’ve played in the tournament, the Badgers swept both Western Michigan and Illinois State. While the Buckeyes swept Lipscomb and defeated No. 13 Kentucky in four sets on the Wildcats’ home court.
Badger coach, and the conference’s Coach of the Year, Kelly Sheffield spoke highly of the Buckeyes in his press conference on Monday.
“Ohio State just gives so much different challenges,” Sheffield said. “They really keep you off balance with their serving game. They serve short maybe more than any team in the country. They change their lineups constantly going into matches. So it’s really difficult preparing your team for. They’ll move players around from left to middle to right. They made a couple of changes in that Kentucky match that I think caught Kentucky off guard a little bit and that’s just one of the challenges they give.”
Carlston spoke highly of the Badgers, as well.
“They’re very clean and they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” he said.
Against the Bisons and Wildcats, OSU combined for 47 total blocks and held both teams to under a .200 hitting percentage in all but six of the seven sets played.
Sandbothe and Sherwin each set career-high’s in blocks, against the Bisons, with 10 and six, respectively. While senior outside hitter Erin Sekinger tied her career-high in blocks with six against the Wildcats.
One of the changes the Buckeyes made against the Wildcats was putting Mitchell into the match, midway through the second set. Her nine kills helped the Buckeyes keep the momentum throughout the rest of the match and away from the home team.
Despite that change, the team came into the weak wanting to create more problems for its conference rival.
“We’ve game planned differently,” Mitchell said. “They always say if you got to do something you’ve never done, do different things in order to prepare. We’ve prepared differently and very focused this week and in the past couple days.
The Badgers will be the first Big Ten team OSU has played in the tournament since the 2011-12 season, when they played Illinois in Gainesville, Fla. OSU has also been successful against Sheffield in the tournament, as they played and defeated Dayton, whom he coached for in the second round of the tournament during the 2010-11 season.
The teams are set to play at the KFC Yum! Center, where neither school plays on a regular basis, with Louisville members of the ACC.
“I think it kind of gives us a little bit of an advantage as we know how to conquer new places,” junior middle blocker Andrea Kacsits said. “We know how to conquer new team in different environments and I definitely think that gives us a leg up. But in the Big Ten, you’re on the road all the time, you have plenty of practice.”
The Buckeyes and Badgers match is scheduled for a 5 p.m. match. The winner of the match will play on Saturday, against the winner of No. 5 Penn State and No. 12 UCLA. Saturday’s match is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.