Versatile defense has UW off to fast start

first_imgWisconsin has been a considerable boost in the blocks by the solid play of senior Mary Ording (13), who currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 1.37 blocks per set.[/media-credit]Although it is often overshadowed by the visually stunning blows of the offensive sluggers on the front line, the defense of the Wisconsin volleyball team has been a substantial reason for the team’s strong start to the season.Defense hasn’t always been the Badgers’ forte (8-1 this season). Last year, the team posted just 2.4 blocks per set, while this year it has accrued 2.98, leading the Big Ten in that category.Head coach Pete Waite has credited the team’s improvement to a renewed sense of focus and effort on defense.“Our blocking is something that in the past we’ve had some deficiencies, and we wanted to shore that up defensively,” Waite said.Senior middle blocker Mary Ording has led the pesky Badger defensive effort as she was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after averaging 1.44 blocks per set this past weekend as the team swept all three opponents to claim the InnTower Invitational. Ording ranks fourth in the conference contributing 1.37 blocks per set, leading Wisconsin with six blocks against Drake and four stuffs against North Dakota State over the weekend.The 6-foot 3-inch Ording admitted that middle blocker is a new position for her, and she relies on the support of her teammates as well as constant communication to boost her play.“When we go up and swing, the back row is going to talk to us, give us shots, give us how many blockers [and] where the seam is,” Ording said. “The more talking, the better.”Junior libero Annemarie Hickey also attributes the team’s defensive prowess to communication. She currently tops the conference in digs per set with 5.17. She led the Big Ten in the same category last season and has recorded double-figure digs in 13 consecutive matches.Hickey said adjusting to the opposing team’s offense combined with talking with the front row can help strengthen the team’s defense as a whole.“If you read the hitter well, you know where to go,” Hickey said. “If you have a good block setup, [that helps]. We had a great block over the past weekend, so that’s been really nice to work with.”The defensive specialist earned all-tournament honors in the InnTower Invitational, amassing a total of 41 digs in nine sets. The Badgers as a team rank second in the conference with 16.87 digs per set.Waite commented Hickey has never shied away from the opportunity to protect her side of the court.“She’s gritty – nothing bothers her,” Waite said. “She’s not afraid to sit there against the toughest attacker on any team. She’s also very athletic. … I think from last year to this year she’s becoming more disciplined, and she’s making more plays to both her right and her left and covering a lot of areas on the court.”The Badgers have been balanced in their duty of digging the ball. Behind Hickey, sophomore defensive specialist Caroline Workman has contributed 2.38 digs per set, while sophomore defensive specialist Deme Morales has added 1.67 blocks per set. According to Waite, versatility on defense has been an area of improvement for Wisconsin.“We’re trying to get everybody really comfortable going to the floor, making moves in seems, in what we call between players on defense, so they’re comfortable and aggressive in all of their playing,” Waite said.Wisconsin have been able to keep its opponents to a lowly .144 hitting percentage this season compared to a .190 percentage last season. The Badgers have a flawless 8-0 record this season when they have a higher hitting percentage than their opponent and haven’t lost a match this season when opponents hit under .200.Hickey explained giving full effort in recovering balls has been crucial for giving opposing teams a difficult time orchestrating its offense.“I don’t think ever that we have one person looking at another person to go for a ball,” Hickey said. “We’re all going for the ball at the same time.”The leadership of upperclassmen has also factored into Wisconsin’s current six-match winning streak. Three of the Badger’s top four blockers are seniors combining for 3.21 blocks per set.Ording said the chemistry of the front line has grown over the past four years, enabling the blockers to become more effective as a unit.“It’s definitely clicking now because we know each other a little bit better, everybody has a little bit more experience with each other,” Ording said.last_img

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