AMES, Iowa — Several weeks ago, University of Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield predicted freshman Grace Loberg would play some big points this season.
And Loberg picked the perfect time to make good on that prediction, coming off the bench to produce a career-high 11 kills to help lift the Badgers to a 27-25, 25-21, 25-11 sweep of in-state rival Marquette in a first-round NCAA tournament match at Hilton Coliseum on Friday.
Loberg, who has seen only sporadic playing time most of the season, entered in the first set with the Badgers trailing the Golden Eagles 17-16. She quickly contributed three kills to spark a 5-1 run that gave the Badgers a 21-19 lead.
The Badgers held on to win the set after Marquette fought off two set points.
Loberg added three more kills in the second set and five in the third as the Badgers (21-9) advanced to meet host Iowa State (22-6) at 6:30 tonight.
The Cyclones defeated Princeton 3-0 in Friday’s other first-round match.
Marquette coach Ryan Theis said Loberg’s insertion into UW’s lineup was something of a turning point.
“It was huge,” Theis said. “I thought it was really big. I thought we needed to contain their left sides and we were really doing that in the first game. Then Grace came in and played great.
“We tried to adjust the block a little bit but it didn’t slow her down much. That’s a big bench effort from a kid that really changed the complexion of the match.”
And while Loberg has done most of her big hitting in practices, her big match came as no surprise to her coaches or teammates.
“I see that all the time in practice,” senior Kelli Bates said. “That is super-typical of Grace so I’m glad that she got this chance and she showed up and that’s what we needed her to do.
“She did awesome.”
Loberg subbed in for senior Lauryn Gillis late in the season. When Gillis made a couple hitting errors early in the match, Sheffield turned to the freshman.
“She’s continued to develop as the season’s gone on and put herself in position where we feel good being able to go to her in those types of moments,” said Sheffield, noting Gillis continued to contribute in the back court and with her serving. “She certainly came in and gave us a big lift and executed and didn’t force things.
“When it was there to take a big swing she went and did that. When it wasn’t there she was looking to see another day. These moments don’t faze her at all. That’s one of the things I really like about her. Any time we put her in there you could tell she’s ready for the moment.”
Loberg, whose previous high was nine kills early in the season against Kansas State, said she just wanted to be ready if and when her name was called.
“I just try to stay ready each game because you never know what will happen,” said Loberg, who hit .550 with no hitting errors. “So I was mentally preparing and when I go in it makes it easy because my teammates have so much confidence and push me to do my best.”
None of the Badgers appeared quite ready at the start. They made seven hitting errors and got aced twice.
“Some jitters,” Bates said. “I think that’s kind of natural. There are a lot of young people who were getting their first big start in an NCAA game. We knew we weren’t going to play perfect, so our goal was to just get better as the match went on and I think we definitely did that. We got stronger as a unit and at the end everyone was firing on all cylinders.”
Bates and freshman Dana Rettke each had 11 kills.
Junior Anna Haak had 11 kills and sophomore Allie Barber had 10 to lead Marquette (22-10), which is 0-16 all-time against UW.
Marquette 25 21 11
Wisconsin 27 25 25
MARQUETTE (kills-digs-blocks) — Geoffroy 0-5-0, Speckman 0-5-0, Werch 2-6-0, Rosenthal 6-1-2, Haak 11-8-2, Orf 5-0-0, Rose 0-0-0, Konovodoff 0-9-0, Barber 10-0-0, Mosher 0-1-0, Kastrup 0-0-0. Totals 34-35-2.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 4-4-1, Gillis 2-4-0, Bates 11-10-0, Williams 6-1-1, Rettke 11-4-3, Dodge 0-4-0, Bell 0-0-0, MacDonald 0-0-0, Duello 4-1-2, Dodd 0-0-0, Clark 0-19-0, Loberg 11-2-0, Dixon 0-0-0. Totals 49-49-4.
Hitting percentage — M .184, W .337. Aces — M 3 (Speckman, Werch, Konovodoff), W 2 (Hilley 2). Assists — M 33 (Speckman 27), W 45 (Hilley 42).