The Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Huskers remain undefeated halfway through the 2023 NCAA Women’s Volleyball season. They have obliterated all opposition using their balanced attacks to post identical 15-0 records.
While the tournament is over a month away, can anyone stop a potential showdown between the two powerhouse teams? Upsets are nothing new in volleyball, but putting both teams in the bracket’s final boxes is a wise bet.
Wisconsin has had some scares during its unblemished run
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Kelly Sheffield’s crew. Number 21 Arkansas and 24th-ranked Tennessee dragged them to five-set matches in four days. The Badgers edged the Volunteers on their home floor the day they unveiled their 2022 Big Ten Championship banner.
They also had a scare against the Florida Gators at Gainesville but pulled off a reverse sweep. While Wisconsin’s resolve has been tested, they have maintained the balanced attack that earned them the top spot in the AVCA Rankings.
Through 15 games, they have four players with at least 100 kills and 134 points: Sarah Franklin, Devyn Robinson, Anna Smrek, and Temi Thomas-Ailara. This unpredictability has helped the Badgers weather the storms along their march to dominance.
Nebraska’s 1-2 punch has knocked out all opposition
While Wisconsin has had three five-setters, the Huskers have been brought to the limit only once through their first 15 games. The Purdue Boilermakers won the fourth set of their September 29 showdown in West Lafayette. However, Nebraska regained composure to win the deciding frame, 15-12.
That’s the closest the five-time national champions have been to a defeat this year. But unlike the Badgers’ balanced onslaught, two Huskers have emerged as leaders. Merritt Beason has 220.5 points and 184 kills, while first-year player Harper Murray has 213 points and 184 kills.
Her fellow first-year player, Bergen Reilly, has been conducting the Nebraska offense in perfect rhythm, earning two straight Big Ten Setter of the Week honors. She’s had 541 assists and only five errors through 15 games, including a season-high 54 against the Boilermakers.
Two games that will settle the debate
As of October 8, Wisconsin remains the nation’s best women’s volleyball team, gaining 60 votes from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Nebraska’s still second, though unscathed, giving them every right to stake a claim at number one.
Barring any upset, their October 21 showdown in Lincoln can settle the debate once and for all. But before getting there, the Huskers must go through nationally-ranked Penn State. Meanwhile, the Badgers will have a date with number 22 Ohio State on the 18th.
If they escape those traps, the battle between two undefeated squads adds intrigue to the Wisconsin-Nebraska pairing. At the pace they are currently at, their November 24 rematch in Madison could be a preview for all the marbles.
Can any team stop the inevitable Wisconsin-Nebraska championship showdown?
While some teams have come close, the Badgers and the Huskers have dug deep to overcome every obstacle they’ve faced. While they both might not end up undefeated because of their two matches, can another team spoil the party once the tournament starts?
If anyone’s up to the challenge, they must play perfect volleyball against these juggernauts. It takes three sets to defeat these teams, and getting that third set is proving difficult. When the chips are down in a deciding fifth set, no one can match against Wisconsin or Nebraska’s composure.
Therefore, enjoy the other upsets while you can. After all, who wouldn’t want more volleyball, even if Wisconsin and Nebraska have given us spoiler alerts that they will be standing tall at the end?
If one of them doesn’t make it on December 17th at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, the team that slayed the beast should get a banner for altering destiny.