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Dana Rettke, Julia Orzol lead No. 3 Badgers volleyball team past No. 14 Penn State
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Dana Rettke, Julia Orzol lead No. 3 Badgers volleyball team past No. 14 Penn State

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Sometimes a team’s growth comes over the long haul and other times it comes in spurts.

The University of Wisconsin volleyball team had one of those growth spurts Saturday night as it fought back from a shaky start to pull out a marathon five-set victory over Penn State at the UW Field House.

Grad student Dana Rettke had a season-high 24 kills and freshman Julia Orzol a career-best 19 kills to lead the No. 3 Badgers past the No. 14 Nittany Lions 25-27, 32-30, 20-25, 25-23, 15-7.

But those were just two of many extraordinary performances by players from both teams in a match that lasted 2 hours, 52 minutes, three minutes short of the UW record for the longest match set during the sideout scoring era in 1988.

“I thought that was just a gritty match,” Rettke said. “We came out not playing our best volleyball. I think everyone could see that. But we grew together throughout that match.

“I think we found our groove. I think we found some strength and some confidence that we know we have and that we need to be playing with more often. I was really proud of how we all came together and just worked as a team throughout that whole match. A super gritty great team win.”

UW coach Kelly Sheffield said the turning point for his team was when it took on a more aggressive approach in the last two sets.

“I thought there was a period of time that we were playing not to make mistakes,” Sheffield said. “And then there became a time in the latter part of the match when we were in attack mode. That mindset is a very important mindset to be in. You have to tap into that.

“It’s a challenge. The opening set, they had like eight blocks or something. That tests your courage when you’re getting blocked that much. But you’re getting blocked that much and you still lose the set by two points. So you’ve got to have some perspective out there on the court and as coaches. Hey, it’s a slugfest between two teams that are really gritty and there’s going to be some highs and some lows and you’re going to have to hang in there.

“I thought we were riding a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster, many of us. And when many of us are doing that, they take the team with you. Then there became a time when our team collectively dug in. I think you can see with the last two sets, the hitting percentages on the other side of the net.”

The Nittany Lions hit .241 over the first three sets, but just .051 in the final two.

Penn State (14-6, 7-3 Big Ten) was led by its dynamic duo of middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord with 21 kills and opposite Jonni Parker with 20.

UW freshman Julia Orzol had her most productive match with 19 kills, including nine in the pivotal fourth set for the Badgers (17-1, 9-1).

“I think I wanted to stop over-thinking and let the game take me where it can take me,” Orzol said. “I think just staying in the moment really helped me and letting the emotion go.

“I think we were in attack mode. We showed what it means to play Badger volleyball during the second part of the game. I’m waiting for the things that this game will bring us, the effect of this game because I think that we can grow from it and learn a lot, learn that even with a bad start we are still Badgers and we still can play our best.”

That’s certainly what Sheffield is expecting to come out of the victory.

“I thought it was two teams that were just doing the best that they can, just competing and going at each other,” he said. “What you’re going to see is two teams that are going to take from this match and they’re going to learn a lot. This match is going to help both teams be a whole lot better. That’s one of the beauties of being in this conference.”

Sheffield singled out the play down the stretch of Rettke, Orzol and grad student Lauren Barnes, who had a career-high 29 digs and matched her high of three aces.

“I thought Dana started getting some really good big touches on Hord,” he said. “Not stuff blocks but touches where we were able to run them down. I thought that was critical.

“I thought Lauren Barnes just was possessed out there. I love the mentality that she was showing. She’s a fighter and we’re better when she is fighting and bringing other people along with her.

“I thought Jula started playing big. The kid is a tough kid and when she’s not over analyzing and overthinking and when she’s speaking loudly in English out there on the court so everybody else is doing good things with her, that’s when she’s doing her best. I thought in the latter part of the match she was.”

The Badgers appeared to be in command at several junctures of the first set, reaching set point at 24-21. But the Nittany Lions went on a 4-0 run to take a 25-24 lead. The Badgers tied it on a Penn State attack error but the Nittany Lions closed it out with a kill and a block of a Devyn Robinson attack.

The Badgers again seemed to have things well in hand in the second set, leading 13-7 and 19-13. But Penn State again had an answer, starting with a 5-0 run to get within one at 19-18.

UW got to set point at 24-23 and three more times, only to see Penn State survive. The Lions got to set point twice before the Badgers finally put it away with kills by Orzol and Rettke.

In set 3 it was Penn State that jumped out to the advantage, building up to a 21-14 lead. The Badgers mounted a comeback with a 6-0 run that included two service aces by Barnes.

That got UW to within one at 21-20 before a service error triggered a closing 4-0 run for Penn State that included two kills by Parker.

Set 4 followed a familiar pattern as UW opened up a 16-10 lead behind seven kills by Orzol. Penn State whittled away at that lead, twice pulling to within three points, the last time at 21-18.

The Badgers stretched the lead back to 23-18 but the Nittany Lions again refused to quit, responding with a 3-0 run to make it 23-21. UW got to set point at 24-21 but Penn State answered with two points before Orzol finished things off with her ninth kill of the set.

The Badgers jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead in the decisive fifth set on kills by Orzol and Rettke and three Penn State hitting errors. A 3-0 run capped by an ace by Izzy Ashburn made it 9-3 and the Badgers controlled things the rest of the way with the help of two kills by Jade Demps and an ace by Sydney Hilley, who had 65 assists in the match. Freshman Anna Smrek finished off a final 3-0 run with a kill.

“We’ve been in some big moments throughout my career,” Rettke said. “That really helps us in these situations. We just know we can rely on each other and just look to our left, our right, behind us, in front of us and we know that everyone has each other’s back. When we channel that confidence, that swagger, we’re unstoppable.”

Penn State 27 30 25 23 7

Wisconsin 25 32 20 25 15

PENN STATE (kills-digs-blocks) — Rollins 10-5-4, Bilinovic 0-1-0, Pritchard 9-7-3, Parker 20-14-5, Starck 0-5-2, Blossom 2-13-4, Hampton 0-27-0, Kudryashova 0-1-0, Holland 5-3-8, Hord 21-1-7, Menger 0-0-0. Totals 67-77-18.

WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Barnes 0-29-0, Hilley 1-18-4, Boyer 0-9-0, Civita 0-10-0, Robinson 11-3-10, Ashburn 0-4-0, Smrek 5-0-5, Demps 5-2-1, Rettke 24-2-3, Jardine 1-0-0, Loberg 8-4-1, Orzol 19-9-3. Totals 74-90-13.5.

Hitting percentage — PS .185, W .222. Aces — PS 3 (Rollins, Pritchard, Hampton), W 7 (Barnes 3). Assists — PS 59 (Blossom 53), W 71 (Hilley 65). Att. — 7,540.

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