The pre-conference NCAA volleyball season winded down Sunday with an exclamation point.
The scores alone, especially the fifth set, let you know that No. 6 Wisconsin winning at No. 2 Texas was a match for the ages: 21-25, 24-26, 25-23, 25-21, 20-18.
Wisconsin was down 0-2 in sets and 14-11 in the fifth.
“You’ve got to execute when it’s on the line,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We passed well and we served well when the match was on the line.
“We hit what they gave us. We didn’t get ahead of ourselves and we were just playing it, point by point.”
Freshman outside hitter Molly Haggerty announced her presence to the Lone Star State with authority. She had 27 kills Friday in a victory at Texas A&M and led the Badgers with 20 more at Texas.
“Wisconsin definitely stepped up their game. They did a really great job. I think there were just some moments during the third set that we just didn’t execute when we needed to,” Texas setter Chloe Collins said.
“We didn’t take care of the little things when we needed to and it all started to add up at the end.”
That end, of course, is just a beginning. There are still some non-conference matches left, but included in 33 matches on Tuesday’s schedule are Texas at West Virginia to get things going in the Big 12 and Stanford at Cal to kick off the Pac-12 season.
There are 19 more matches nationwide Wednesday, including some serious rivalries.
In the Pac-12, UCLA is at USC, Arizona State goest to Arizona, Utah plays at Colorado and Washington State is at Washington.
In the Big Ten, Illinois goes to red-hot Purdue, Penn State plays at Rutgers, and Northwestern is at Indiana.
In the SEC, South Carolina (12-0) plays at Missouri.
Big 12 matches include Oklahoma at Kansas, Iowa State at Kansas State and Texas Tech is at TCU.
And Thursday, the 28-match slate is includes San Francisco at San Diego Santa Clara at BYU to kick off West Coast Conference play. There’s another rivalry opener in the Pac-12 with Oregon State at Oregon.
If you want to look that far ahead, Friday is when the big kids get going with Nebraska at Michigan, Wisconsin is home for Ohio State, Minnesota plays host to Maryland and Iowa goes to Michigan State.
Back to Austin, where a match in Gregory Gym is something every college volleyball fan should try to take in at some point.
Wisconsin (7-1) narrowly outhit Texas (8-2), posting a .220 hitting percentage (63 kills, 26 errors on168 attempts) while the Longhorns hit .210 (64-29-167).
“We just showed a lot of fight and we grew from a week ago,” Sheffield said. “That’s what we’re wanting to see, us continuing to want to get better — and you want that to catapult you into Ohio State in about five days.”
Haggerty also had 14 digs. Senior Kelli Bates had 15 kills and 15 digs and sophomore Tionna Williams 11 kills and a match-high eight blocks.
Senior Lauren Carlini recorded 54 assists and added 11 digs, setting a Wisconsin record with her 62nd career double-double. And senior Haleigh Nelson had seven blocks to become the seventh Badger to record 500 career blocks.
Texas freshman Micaya White posted a career-high 23 kills, hitting a team-high .302 percent for to go with three solo blocks and a block assist. Junior Ebony Nwanebu had 17 kills and senior Paulina Prieto Cerame had 16.
In the fifth set, a Texas error and a Badgers block sealed the 20-18 victory.
“Well, we didn’t execute,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “14-11 is all we can ask for. We made some big errors. We had some opportunities with transition swings and we kind of just put our heads down and took poor swing after poor swing.”
Florida State bounces back
The Seminoles, 13th in last week’s AVCA poll, who were beaten by Florida on Wednesday, found another SEC team more to their liking as they put the only damper on a special weekend at LSU.
That’s because the Tigers held an all-years volleyball reunion that was highlighted by quite a few members of both the 1986 team that won the SEC and the 1991 team that went to the school’s second straight final four.
On the court Sunday afternoon, Melanie Keil posted a match-high eight blocks and had six kills while teammate Milica Kubura had eight kills and added four digs in a 26-24, 25-20, 25-18 victory.
FSU of the ACC is 7-2 and the only other defeat was to Minnesota in four in Puerto Rico. Against LSU (5-6), the Seminoles had to rally to win the first set, down 24-23, and had to grind through the second set as well.
We caught up with Florida State coach Chris Poole after the match.
There were 70 players from five countries, including All-American setter Dani Reis, the Brazilian whose two daughters are now playing at Eckerd College in Florida.
The gathering began Saturday with a big tailgate before the LSU-Mississippi State football game. All the players and former coaches were introduced on the field at the end of the first quarter.
Former coach Scott Luster was in Baton Rouge for the entire weekend and gave an emotional talk to the group at a brunch Sunday morning before everyone went into the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for the FSU match.
Fran Flory, who was Luster’s assistant on the ’90 and ’91 teams, is now in her 19th year at LSU. She and associate head coach Jill Lytle Wilson, a former LSU player herself through 2000, did a tremendous job of inviting everyone and putting on a great weekend.