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Dennis Punzel | The Wisconsin State Journal | November 25, 2017

No. 1 Penn State still too much for Wisconsin

Penn State showed why it is the top team in the country and moves a step closer to another conference title.

If the University of Wisconsin volleyball team gets another shot at Penn State this year, it will come somewhere deep into the NCAA tournament.

But despite losing twice to the No. 1 Nittany Lions, the Badgers are undaunted at the thought of another match.

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Penn State once again showed why it is the top team in the country with an 18-25, 25-16, 25-20, 25-20 victory before a sellout crowd of 6,012 at the UW Field House, moving a step closer to another Big Ten Conference title and a likely top seed in the tournament.

While the Nittany Lions (28-1, 18-1 Big Ten) are among the favorites to win their eighth national title, the No. 11 Badgers (19-9, 10-9) would relish the chance to challenge them once again.

"Penn State is who they are and we're hanging with them," senior Kelli Bates said. "There's not much difference between the two. We are a great team, we have great potential. We are everything that they can be.

"I want a third shot at them right now. Right now."

That will have to wait for at least a couple weeks, but coach Kelly Sheffield likes the mindset. Even as his team came up short again -- the Badgers are 2-8 against Top 25 teams in the NCAA RPI ranking -- he sees his players progressing and learning with each setback.

"This team is getting closer," he said. "When you listen to them, they feel like they're getting closer. You've got to remember, this is a pretty young team. I don't sense a single person losing confidence in themselves. I see feistiness up here. I see hunger and drive.

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"There were positives to take away from that and let that build you up. Everything else is learning. Let's keep learning."

What they learned for the second time this season is that Penn State is a terrific team with powerful serving, dynamic hitters and tough defenders.

After the Badgers dominated the first set behind eight kills by freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke, the Nittany Lions stepped up their serving game and asserted themselves in all phases.

"I think you have to hand it to Penn State," Sheffield said. "I thought after the first set their passers did a really good job of keeping them in system.

"I thought we kind of gave them some issues behind the service line to start out the match and they got a lot cleaner in that area as we went on."

MORE: Oregon State tops No. 10 Washington in five sets

Penn State's serving also kept the Badgers frequently out of system, limiting their ability to feed Rettke, who still finished with a team-high 13 kills and hit .476.

"For a good portion of the match we weren't able to get Dana the ball," Sheffield said. "We probably need to try to get her the ball a little bit more.

"Our ball control kind of disappeared toward the middle of the match. That's going to happen. Those guys are so good serving over there, very aggressive. You've got six or seven seniors in the rotation and they're playing clean right now."

Even though Penn State has won six of the eight sets played this season it only has a 107-105 advantage in kills.

While the ultimate result was the same as the first time around, freshman setter Sydney Hilley sees the gap narrowing between the teams.

"I thought the first time we played them we stuck with them even though we weren't playing very well," Hilley said. "This time we had the fight and I thought we played a lot better than we did last time.

"If we keep making those little steps and that's going to help us toward the tournament, get some momentum because I thought we battled them really hard."

Rettke shares that belief, even as she recognizes Penn State's qualities.

"They're just one heck of a team," Rettke said. "But I honestly think we were right there with them. Penn State is Penn State, but when it comes down to it we can do battle with them."

This article is written by Dennis Punzel from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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