Between games at the UW Field House last Friday night, as Wisconsin's volleyball team took on Michigan State, two students were debating the pronunciation of Badger senior hitter Amy Bladow's last name.
'No, no. It's Bladow, like Play-Doh,' said one.
'Maybe, but it should be blah-DOW, like ka-POW!' insisted the other. 'That way, every time she gets a kill or a block or something, we can all go 'blah-DOW!''
With her powerful play at the net, often accompanied by fist-pumping intensity and charisma that fills the Field House, Bladow has become a fan favorite and team leader.
'Amy's one who gives us character right off the bat,' says head coach Pete Waite. 'She's our street fighter and she gets in people's faces in practice and in games and on the bench. She gives them the energy to really get going.'
With the Badger football schedule packed with patsies like Western Illinois and Buffalo, the UW volleyball squad may be the most exciting team competing on Monroe Street this fall. Ranked 13th in the nation with a 12-2 record (4-0 Big Ten), the Badgers have their work cut out this weekend, when they travel to Ohio State and Penn State, ranked 14th and 2nd in the country, respectively.
The Badgers have competed in the NCAA tourney for ten straight years, reaching the Elite 8 in 2004 and 2005. This year, they've been battle tested against tough non-conference opponents.
'We started our preseason with a really tough schedule, playing teams like Texas [ranked 11th] and Ohio [21st],' says Bladow. And while every game is important and every rival interested in taking the Badgers down a notch, 'I always think there is that pick-up of intensity when the Big Ten comes around. This is the big league.'
After thoroughly dominating Michigan State on Friday night, sweeping the Spartans in three efficient games (30-22, 30-25, 30-26), Wisconsin took care of Michigan Saturday night in similar fashion, winning three straight by six, 11 and 14 points.
'We're known as a great blocking team,' says Waite. 'But at the same time, I think we're becoming a scrappy team, a team that battles, a team that flows together as a unit. That's very important in our sport, where three players are making contact with the ball every time.'
That scrappiness will be sorely needed this weekend, especially against the perennially excellent Nittany Lions, who pack Penn State's Rec Hall with enthusiastic fans. Will Wisconsin be prepared?
'We train controlled chaos, so when it gets flying out there, they're very comfortable with it,' says Waite.
The Badgers return to the Field House on Oct. 13 and 14. And ESPN2 will be there for the Penn State rematch on Oct. 27. Perhaps in an effort to generate some controlled chaos, Wisconsin is offering free admission to anyone who shows up for that match wearing a Halloween costume.
Root, root, root for the Twins
Having now spent as much of my life in Wisconsin as I did in my native Minnesota, I've adopted just about every major team here as my favorite. Over the past 18 years, it's been more fun to cheer for the Packers and Badgers than the Vikings and Gophers.
But I draw the line at baseball. I've tried to pull for the Brewers, but the operation's ineptness over the years has kept my allegiance with the Minnesota Twins, now in the playoffs.
Minnesota, which won World Series Championships in 1987 and 1991, is a small-market success story, building winning teams with farm-system talent and shrewd trades. It's also a Cinderella story in the making: At the start of June, the Twins had a 25-33 record and Baseball Prospectus gave the team a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs.
Minnesota jettisoned a few infielders, called up some minor leaguers, and morphed into one of the best teams in baseball, going 71-33 for the rest of the regular season, despite losing key players to injuries. They now have the league's best hitter in Joe Mauer (.347 avg.), top pitcher in Johan Santana (19-6, 2.77 ERA, 245 strikeouts) and potential MVP in Justin Morneau (.321, 130 RBI, 34 HR).
Never heard of any of these guys? I'm not surprised. While the Twins were generating thrills throughout the late summer, Madison's sports anchors were opting for highlights of the dysfunctional Chicago Cubs.