Bates seizes big moment with best performance of season

first_imgIn an electrifying four set match, No. 2 Wisconsin defeated No. 10 Illinois to keep hold of first place in the Big Ten.The Badgers were the comeback kids as they laid it all out on the court of the Field House, defeating the Fighting Illini by 12 points in the first set, and then two points in the final two sets to take the match 3-1 (25-13, 24-26, 27-25, 28-26).A huge factor to Wisconsin’s success was freshman outside hitter Kelli Bates, who played nothing like the stereotype of a true freshman.Bates swung 50 times throughout the four sets and set a career-high of 17 kills in a match, three more than her previous high set back in the middle of September. What makes this even more significant is the fact that 5-foot-11 Bates was going up against Illinois tallest and most effective player Liz McMahon who stands at 6-foot-6 on the weak side of the net — a true challenge for an outside hitter with any level of experience.In addition to playing well offensively against McMahon, Bates was also able to give one of the Illini’s best players some difficulty with her blocking, even though Bates is seven inches shorter than McMahn. Bates worked hard to shut McMahon down on the pin, and was very successful early on in the match.“[Bates] was just absolutely monstrous tonight,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said. “She was matched up against McMahon, and took the most swings. …To come up with some big time kills when the games were on the line, she showed an awful lot of heart and did an awful good job of slowing down McMahon.”After passing 15 out of the Wisconsin’s 24 received serves in the second set, it was clear that Illinois was focusing in on Bates. The Bradley, Illinois, native was singled out even more during the remaining two sets, finishing the match with 59 of the Badgers’ 85 receptions as she ended the night with a 96 percentage for passes off serves.“They were going after her like nobody we’ve seen all year,” Sheffield said. “[The Illini] just pick one person and not only trying to do it, but they’re executing.”Singling Bates out did not cause a problem for her or the rest of the team as they journeyed through each set. According to Bates, this is something she anticipates going into all conference matchups, but it does not bother her as much as some might think it would.“I’m kind of expecting that going into every Big Ten match,” Bates said. “Especially with this conference because it’s so tough, not every freshman can handle it. I think I handled it well. The girls are giving me a lot of confidence back there, so it wasn’t as stressful as people think.”The third set was by far the climax of the evening, as the Badgers put on a show that this Field House crowd has not witnessed yet this season. Wisconsin overcame a seven-point deficit to win 27-25. When then Badgers went on an eight-point run Bates was the shining star that tallied five of those eight points off of four kills and a block assist. She also set up set point at 26-25 after a fifth kill during that winning stretch.“I definitely had confidence in her going into that third game,” sophomore setter Lauren Carlini said. “She was chesting up a little bit, and she was getting more confident, so I just kept feeding her balls. I knew that if she got blocked that she was going to bounce back. I just had confidence in her and she definitely proved it.”In these big moments, Bates also gained support and confidence from her other teammates who knew she had the hot-hand.“In the third game I looked at [Carlini] and I said ‘set her again,’ and I’m normally the one in those situations where I want to be set,” senior right side hitter Courtney Thomas said. “She was just unbelievable. She went up there and she killed it. I thought she did amazing tonight.”Coming off this win, Wisconsin has now tied the UW school volleyball record with 16 consecutive match wins, a statement which may not be true if the Badgers had not pushed through the final two sets of the evening. To the team, this is just another win in the books as the Badgers take extravagant come-back matches such as this one, learn from them, and move forward on to bigger and better things.“There’s a high belief in this team,” Sheffield said. “And when you put high belief and high fight together then those things are possible.”last_img

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