The number one volleyball team resides in Madison. What to make of the start so far? (WSUM Sports Roundtable)

  • Post Author
    by Sports director
  • Post Date
    Tue Sep 26 2023

By: WSUM Sports Team

Ever since grabbing the top spot in the AVCA poll in the season's second week, the University of Wisconsin volleyball team has yet to relinquish it. When the new rankings came out Monday, there were the Badgers (11-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at the top. On top of that, the committee who will be determining seeding in the NCAA Tournament dropped their first rankings of the year and they seeded Wisconsin first too.

However, despite their unblemished record, the season hasn't been without flaws for the Badgers. They've been taken to five sets multiple times, including in a true home match against Tennessee. There's been a sloppiness in their game at points this season. And they have an extremely young, but talented, undefeated Nebraska team nipping at their heels as well.

So, with a team that's bulldozed everybody so far right behind them in Nebraska, did it surprise you to see UW in the top spot? What's been concerning about this team so far? Who could stand in their way on the road to Tampa? Find out in this week's WSUM Sports Roundtable below.

Women's Volleyball remains at the top of the AVCA Rankings, what's your reaction?

Well deserved. Undefeated Nebraska has a serious chance to unseat Wisconsin this year, but the Badgers have not shown anything that indicates they don't deserve the top spot right now. The only knock against this team is it took five sets for them to beat both a fourth-ranked Florida team and a Tennessee squad that looks like a sleeper contender. Until Wisconsin struggles against a subpar opponent, the spot is theirs to lose. –Vincent Hesprich

Considering they've taken down what was a #3 Florida among several other ranked opponents, Wisconsin has very much earned their ranking atop the country. There have been some close-ish calls, such as that Florida game and against Tennessee, but it will take more than that to jostle them from #1. -Max Kappel

Deservedly so, and they should be there until they lose a match. Nebraska has been a great squad this year, but Wisconsin's tougher schedule and ability to still go without a loss has been impressive. Many point at the close, long matches they've had and frustrating dropped sets, but they will be battle-tested in Big Ten play. -Joey Bonadonna

Wisconsin has continued to defy expectations and has definitely earned that No. 1 ranking. They have been able to win matches in a variety of different ways, and beat really good teams in the non-conference schedule such as Florida and Tennessee. Nebraska is the only other team who could make a challenging argument for that No. 1 spot, but as of right now Wisconsin has been more deserving of their ranking due to strength of schedule. -Krissy Birdsall

Not surprising. Wisconsin will likely remain on the top of the AVCA poll until they lose a match and the schedule lines up favorably. They may not have taken the pretty road to get there, mixing in some four and five-setters against teams you could argue they should've swept, but they don't ask how, just how many when the year ends. And so far, Wisconsin remains unblemished. -Anthony Winker

Do you have any concerns about this team?

Up front, Wisconsin is firing on all cylinders with the lone exception of star outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara. The Northwestern transfer has provided a plethora of highlight plays yet there have been some defects in her game. Thomas-Ailara already has twice as many service errors this year (24) than all of last season in Evanston (11). Furthermore, her hitting percentage has dropped more than 50 points from last year and currently sits at .197. The graduate student is too talented to maintain that pace, but Wisconsin could need her peak self to navigate this loaded field of teams. –Vincent Hesprich

Wisconsin has lost eight sets, while Nebraska has lost just three. Much of that stems from quality of competition, but it's the largest concern nonetheless. Their normally dominant .300 hitting percentage fell to .199 in their game against Florida. I'd still trust their offense and chalk that up once again to competition, but it's worth monitoring their performances against the top teams. -Max Kappel

The back row play has definitely been a concern to start the season. The absolutely dominant offense has masked that quite a bit but their tougher opponents have exposed that by going on big runs. Wisconsin has also struggled to put teams away in sets when they get out to large leads. If you're looking for the Achilles' heel for this Badgers team, you can't look much further than these two points. -Joey Bonadonna

I would love to see the Badger Block Party return to greatness by the end of the season. Wisconsin's block was really the bread-and-butter of their teams over the last few years, especially during their 2021 championship run. Currently Wisconsin ranks T-92nd in total blocks (111 blocks) but 19th in blocks per set (2.71 B/S), which is good but still a ways from their 3.08 B/S mark from last year. -Krissy Birdsall

I have a couple of concerns with this team. Remember what doomed Wisconsin last year against Pitt in the regional final? Passing. That is still a glaring concern this year. Julia Orzol, UW's best six-rotation outside, is now suiting up as libero and Sarah Franklin and Temi Thomas-Ailara are both not great passers. It also doesn't help that Gulce Guctekin, last year's libero, has been more the GG against Florida, Pitt, and Penn State last year than the GG she was for most of the year. Additionally, along with Krissy, I am also a little concerned with the Badger block. It could be just because UW has been so dominant in the past, but it feels like there has been a really stark dropoff in the middle defensively with the departure of Danielle Hart. Minnesota transfer Carter Booth has been a revelation on offense, but the block discipline could use some maturing. That being said, I think the block will right itself with more time. The passing? Not so much. -Anthony Winker

Are there any teams that you think could give Wisconsin a scare in the regular season/postseason?

Tennessee proved they can compete against Wisconsin when they went into the Field House and took Bucky to five sets on Big Ten banner drop night. Wisconsin still struggles with serve-receive and that weakness could be effectively exploited against a Volunteer squad that ranks top ten in aces per set. –Vincent Hesprich

It's truly just Nebraska in the regular season. I'm looking forward to those games. There's a clear distinction between the top two teams and the rest of the Big Ten. -Max Kappel

The only team that will touch them in regular season play will be Nebraska. Those games will be absolutely crucial in terms of claiming the Big Ten Championship this year. Every other program in the Big Ten is solid and may take a set or two away from Wisconsin, but the Badgers should be able to pull those matches out. -Joey Bonadonna

As the guys above noted, the biggest opponent standing in the way of Wisconsin's 5th-straight conference title is Nebraska. I would also keep an eye out for Minnesota; despite being swept by Nebraska earlier this week, the Golden Gophers could be a pesky team that could cause disruption late in the season. Outside of the Big Ten, Pittsburgh could be another team that could give a scare to the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin will have to hope the Panthers aren't on their side of the bracket this year if they want to make it to Tampa. -Krissy Birdsall

Just to be different, I'll say Stanford: A great team with some great players. Oh, who am I kidding, Nebraska is the only team that really scares me. Wisconsin is much more experienced than a Huskers squad starting four freshmen, but boy are they phenomenal ones. Bergen Reilly is quarterbacking the best Nebraska offense in years, and the defense is still sharp as ever with junior libero Lexi Rodriguez back there. With a Big Ten that seems to have lost some of its top-heaviness with Ohio State and Minnesota struggling this year, it'll likely be Wisconsin and Nebraska going toe-to-toe at every level this season — for the Big Ten and eventually the natty. -Anthony Winker

Bonus: Give your predictions of how far Wisconsin volleyball goes in the postseason?

If you have any doubts on who I'm picking just remember what the W in WSUM stands for. –Vincent Hesprich

Final Four lock, likely Championship game. I wouldn't hesitate to pick them to win regardless of how the rest of the season goes. -Max Kappel

I like this team to go to Tampa a lot. As long as nothing fishy happens with the seeding where Wisconsin sees Nebraska before the Final Four, no one else is all that scary. If I had to pick today, I see the loser of the Big Ten title going on to beat the victor in the tournament en route to a national championship. Which one of the two? I couldn't tell you that right now. -Joey Bonadonna

Wisconsin is in great position to win their 5th-straight Big Ten title, and I believe they will be able to clinch it barring any conference craziness in November. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, Wisconsin should be able to make it to Tampa, but it'll be a battle to win their second national championship in three years. -Krissy Birdsall

Wisconsin makes it to Tampa. It's going to come down to the Badgers and Nebraska at some point in the tournament – likely the final as it seems the two are on their way to the number one and number two overall seeds. It feels inevitable. But I think experience wins out and it's Wisconsin raising their second trophy in three seasons. -Anthony Winker

Contributors: Vincent Hesprich, Max Kappel, Joey Bonadonna, Krissy Birdsall, Anthony Winker