DEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald PhotoYou wouldn’t know by looking at her that she was a key member of the University of Wisconsin volleyball team. After all, she is only 5-foot-6, looking up at a starting lineup stuffed with 6-footers.Even if she can’t smack any kills for the No. 10-ranked Badgers, Megan Mills has been deadly to Wisconsin opponents with her serving and defense.Mills, a sophomore from Portage, Wis., is rapidly becoming a fantastic option off the bench for head coach Pete Waite as Wisconsin (8-1) heads into Big Ten play, beginning this Friday at 7 p.m. at the UW Field House against the No. 5-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-1).”Megan Mills is somebody who’s stepped up for us as a defensive specialist, and really is becoming a serving specialist as well,” Waite said.In 2004, Mills played her freshman year as a tentative defensive replacement for the outside hitters during the Badger matches.”At the end of the year, I started going in for Aubrey (Meierotto) after she served, but I would also come in and serve for [2004 Badger Jill Odenthal, who graduated last year],” Mills said. “This year, it’s been pretty consistent that I come in for Audra Jeffers.”During the InnTowner Invitational last weekend, Mills hit five service aces against two service errors. Her best game came against Valparaiso, setting a career high with three aces without missing a serve.”Against Valparaiso, Megan was just serving well, and that really got them out of their offense. We got a lot of points out of her (serving) rotation,” Waite said.The Badgers’ biggest win of the weekend came in the final round against the No. 13 UCLA Bruins, as Mills came up huge, serving on 22 out of 90 points that fell in Wisconsin’s favor.After that match, Waite praised Mills for her play coming off the bench, speaking of her importance to the team in their success.”Obviously, it’s nice to hear that, to know that I’m contributing in some way,” Mills said. Mills’ success in 2005 has been a large reason why UW’s serving statistics have drastically improved. Last year’s team ranked dead last in the Big Ten in serving, with 1.02 service aces and 2.46 serving errors per game. After three tournaments this season, Wisconsin is now averaging 1.81 aces per game.”We struggled with serving last year, so this year our goals are to get more serves in and make them tougher,” Mills said. “We want to force the other team to pass better in order to run their offense.”While other members of the team, including sophomore libero Jocelyn Wack and sophomore setter Jackie Simpson, rely on more aggressive serving styles, Mills has been working on a conservative serve in order to keep the ball in play and give the Badgers a chance to work into the offense.”I have the same serving ritual as the others, but that’s more to keep me in the game, to keep me focused when I get back there on every serve,” Mills said. “I’ve been working on the floater serve every practice, which just makes good, solid contact and keeps the ball moving after I hit it, instead of following through and putting spin on it.”Perhaps the varied style that Wisconsin takes on when Mills enters the game has added to the team’s success when she serves. With Wack and sophomore defensive specialist Amanda Berkley joining Mills in the backcourt, not to mention the Badgers’ highly-touted blocking team, things can get rather tricky for UW opponents when they attempt to put the ball away.”We do change our defense, not necessarily because I’m serving, but we have put together a different rotation to play a different style of defense when I’m in there,” Mills said. “We have had to adapt our passing; there’s no back-court passing when I’m in there, because Jo (Wack), Berkley and I are the defenders and none of us can hit (offensively). So, if anything, we’re just back there with a defensive state of mind, making sure we’re digging the balls out to our offense.”With the Golden Gophers coming to town, Waite certainly hopes to see Minnesota struggle with Mills’ serve as have other Badger competition this year.”She’s really keeping the other teams out of their offense. And that’s the biggest part. If you serve tough, the other team can’t play offense how they want to,” Waite said.Mills said the team looks to the UCLA victory, as well as past success against the interstate rival, for added confidence.”We beat them at home last year, and so we obviously want to keep it up where we left off.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Wisconsin’s first trip to Ohio Stadium since 2009 was so cruel to the Badgers that you’d have to wonder if some sort of karmic revolt conspired to shatter the hearts of Bret Bielema & co. one more time.In the span of one week, the Badgers have plummeted from a team with national title aspirations, and a quarterback with Heisman Trophy hopes, to one wondering how far it can sputter with the wheels fallen off and the season having taken the worst possible turn.But for all the misery that, for whatever reasons, struck a team and a fan base so gosh-darn happy to finally have a seemingly elite squad that would once again carry Wisconsin to the BCS promised land, there are very clear reasons why it was all a flash in the pan. The Badgers, for all their sheer brilliance through the season’s first six games, are simply not as good as everyone thought.It was absolutely so exciting for Wisconsin to get behind Russell Wilson and drive the RussellManiaXVI Heisman campaign, and the fact that a Rose Bowl berth was suddenly designated as Plan B is a resounding testament to the progress this program has made over the past two years.And while a return trip to Pasadena remains scarcely feasible, the Badgers’ first two true road tests of the season proved that this team just wasn’t ready for actual upper-echelon status. Calling them “fraudulent” is likely a bit excessive – they did fall by a combined 10 points in two of the toughest environments in the country – but the Badgers showed over the past two weeks that all the illusions of grandeur envisaged in Madison really were just illusions.The statement reeks of clich? over-simplification, but to a great extent, it’s true – legitimately great teams win on the road. Squads “destined” for postseason greatness do not allow two blocked punts in back-to-back weekends, on the road in the heart of the Big Ten schedule. Teams that finish atop conference standings and computer rankings follow up on quick starts; they don’t get outscored 26-0 in the second quarters of two games after opening the first quarters with 21 unanswered points.The realizations discovered Saturday night in Columbus are harsh, and the numbers only bolster their sting. Wilson finished 20-of-32 for 253 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, but he missed more throws than he had in any game (as a Badger) to date. Montee Ball, despite finishing with a 5-yards-per-carry average, was held to just 85 yards and one touchdown rushing and receiving respectively. Wisconsin’s rushing attack as a whole mustered only 89 yards, the first time the Badgers have failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark since Nov. 21, 2009, at Northwestern.Wisconsin even exited Ohio Stadium with a plus-one turnover margin, though its greatest miscue – the blocked punt in the third quarter – proved more critical than any negative play from Ohio State. The blunders committed by the Badgers over the past two games have been so monumental that it’s a wonder they were able to mount desperate comebacks not only once, but twice.That speaks to the unmistakable talent on this team, but it also highlights a sizable void that, until it’s filled, will bar Wisconsin from maximizing its potential. The Badgers lost so much following the Rose Bowl – J.J. Watt’s mesmerizing ability to produce in the biggest moments and his sheer willpower, as well as the aggressive leadership on and off the field of Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt – that it’s kind of a wonder national title hopes once seemed so genuine.The abrupt fall from grace normally would provoke questions regarding the leadership on this team, but even the most brief look at Wisconsin’s four captains seems to debunk them. Wilson, though far from perfect against the Buckeyes, put the Badgers firmly in the national title picture and very nearly avoided this midseason collapse with two stellar late, late comebacks on the road. Bradie Ewing, reliable as ever, played one of his finest games in Columbus, providing a tremendous safety blanket for Wilson in the passing game in addition to usual well-rounded contributions. Aaron Henry and Patrick Butrym continue to lead as necessary and produce without much fanfare, though they’ve clearly anchored their respective positions.Perhaps a different picture has unfolded behind the scenes, in the locker room, than the one that’s been painted under the spotlight of the media. Speculating any further is an injustice to a team that nevertheless has put itself in position to have something to play for in November and December. With some help – and/or further chaos in the Big Ten – a trip to the conference title game in Indianapolis is indeed still possible, though the Badgers absolutely must win the remainder of their games.So many questions were born Saturday night, and a few more answers likely would provide a little relief for a fan base that is aching for some. With that said, the most concrete takeaway from this weekend is obvious. For all the promise this season appeared to hold, the Badgers were just not for real.Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. Where does this team go from here? Share your thoughts with him on Twitter @mikefiammetta and be sure to follow @BHeraldSports for all the latest Badgers news.