Panthers face Badgers in NCAA volleyball tournament

The Panthers face the Badgers in first round of the NCAA tournament.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee women’s volleyball team will face Wisconsin in a first round NCAA Tournament match at Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the UW Fieldhouse.

The Badgers (23-9) are the 12th-seed nationally. North Carolina (27-4) and California (17-12) are the other two teams at the regional. The winners of Friday’s matches meet at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The Panthers and Badgers met in Madison during the regular season, with Wisconsin claiming a four-set victory. The two teams also met once previously in the NCAA Tournament, a 3-0 Wisconsin win in 2001.

“It’s always excited to see your name called for the NCAA Tournament and we’re very happy to have this opportunity,” Milwaukee head coach Susie Johnson said. “We’re obviously familiar with the Badgers and the tremendous year they’ve had, and familiar with playing in the Fieldhouse and the atmosphere for a postseason match. We have players that got that same kind of postseason experience two years ago in a similar situation at Iowa State, and they all grew because of that. We know we’ll have to be at our best this weekend.”

The Panthers (18-10) are making their 10th NCAA Tournament appearance after winning both the Horizon League regular season and tournament crowns. Milwaukee became the league’s automatic postseason qualifier by avenging its only two regular season league losses in tournament play. Milwaukee beat Cleveland State in four sets in the semifinals before knocking off Valparaiso in four sets in the title match.

Milwaukee is led by Horizon League Player of the Year Rachel Neuberger and all-league honorees Julie Kolinske and Kayla Price. Neuberger has over 1,000 career kills and 400 career blocks while also standing as Milwaukee’s all-time leader in hitting percentage. Kolinske has now led the team in kills for two-straight season while Price returned from missing much of last season to lead the Horizon League in assists.

Milwaukee head coach Susie Johnson

The Panthers have gotten a wide variety of honors this year. Maggie Dunbar was the Horizon League Tournament Most Valuable Player with libero Taylor Golabowski and Kolinske also claiming spots on the all-tournament team. In addition, Myanna Ruiz earned a spot on the league’s all-freshman team. Head coach Susie Johnson claimed league coach of the year honors for the fifth time in her seven seasons in charge.

The Panthers won the Horizon League after facing plenty of challenges during non-league play. In addition to the outing with Wisconsin, Milwaukee also squared off with Marquette, Florida, Oklahoma and Kansas during the first month of the season.

“We saw a lot of familiar names popping up on the bracket from our non-league schedule,” Johnson said. “We familiar with the level of competition and the kind of effort we have to put forth to be successful. We know what to expect, but obviously we also know how good you have to be against the high-level teams.”

A Horizon League team has never won an NCAA Tournament match but the Panthers have come the closest to doing so. In Milwaukee’s 2009 appearance, UWM fell in five sets to Dayton. Milwaukee also has had four-set losses to Michigan State, Illinois and Northern Iowa in its NCAA Tournament history.