UW-Eau Claire volleyball ends regular season by knocking off No. 1 team in the country

The Blugolds defeated UW-Whitewater on Friday and went 2-0 at the Benedictine Tournament on Saturday

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With the regular season over with, the Blugolds shift their focus to the conference tournament and a possible NCAA tournament bid.

The UW-Eau Claire volleyball team had a weekend to remember as they went 3-0 with wins over the No. 1 and No. 9 ranked teams in the country.

On Friday night, the Blugolds upset conference foe UW-Whitewater in five sets, their first win against the Warhawks since 2013. The momentum carried into Saturday at the Benedictine University Eagle Classic, where Eau Claire knocked off Greenville University in the opener and No.1 ranked Wittenburg University in a five-set thriller.

Friday’s match against No. 9 ranked Whitewater had no shortage of excitement as five sets were needed to decide the winner. Eau Claire came out firing and won set one 25-18, but dropped the next two sets, 25-21 and 25-19. Set four demonstrated the comeback effort as the Blugolds won 25-20 to tie the match.

In the fifth set, the Blugolds once again jumped out to a 7-3 lead, but self-inflicted mistakes allowed Whitewater to answer back with seven straight points. After a timeout, Eau Claire was able to knot things back up at 11 before scoring four straight points to close the match and knock off the Warhawks.

Head coach Kim Wudi said her message to the team during the pivotal timeout leading up to the final set was to calm down and remember what got the team there in the first place.

“We tried to remind them what’s worked for us so far and get back to what’s helped us be successful up that point,” Wudi said. “That’s the art of coaching, knowing what to say at those times.”

Jessica Coyne and Madelyn Pashibin, both juniors, led the offensive attack for the Blugolds, each totaling 16 kills. Emily Miller, a senior, and Kendra Baierl, a first-year competitor, cracked double digit kills as well with 13 and 11 kills, respectively.

The Blugolds defense was all over the floor, combining for 81 digs. Five players finished with at least ten digs with Makenzie Bachmann, a first-year competitor, leading the team with 18. Madison Surprise, junior, was one of those with double-digit digs along with a game-high 52 assists.

Riding high off their top-10 win, the Blugolds made the trek south to Lisle, IL for the Benedictine Tournament on Saturday.

In the opener, Eau Claire handed Greenville University only their sixth loss of the season in four sets. Greenville won a close second set by a score of 27-25, but it was all Blugolds from there on out. Eau Claire won the first one 25-19, 25-14 in the third set and put the Panthers away 25-21 in set four.

Coyne and Pashibin continued their hard hitting as they led the Blugolds in kills with 15 and 14 respectively. Surprise amassed 48 assists in the match leading both teams, while Talia Jaskulske, senior, had 20 digs to lead the way defensively.

Eau Claire’s regular season finale provided possibly the toughest test all season as they would face off against Wittenburg, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.

The Blugolds conquered sets one and three, winning 25-15 and 25-16. Wittenberg responded with victories in the second and fourth sets, 25-20 and 26-24. Eau Claire came out on top in the deciding set 15-12 to earn their second win against a top-ten team in as many days.

Pashibin once again led the way offensively, as she totaled 23 kills in the victory while Baierl added 15 of her own. Surprise’s 52 assists was a match-high and Jaskulske was one of four Blugolds to record double-digit digs with 27.

Coyne said she attributes the weekend’s success to a slightly different practice regimen the last couple weeks in preparation of the tough matches ahead.

“Our coach put a lot of pressure on us in practice and in drills knowing that we would be put in those same types of pressure situations in the game,” Coyne said. “We really started to thrive under pressure and now moving forward, we’re going to be able to keep doing that.”

With a first-round bye locked in, the Blugolds will be watching the WIAC quarterfinal match on Tuesday night to see who they will host on Thursday in the semifinals. Riding a four-match win streak, two of those coming against top-ten teams, Eau Claire will be back in the McPhee Center Thursday at 7:00pm.