Deme Morales picked the perfect time to have a career moment. The Wisconsin junior outside hitter recorded a career-high 20 kills in four sets and her 13 digs gave the Amherst graduate her 18th double-double of the season in the Badgers’ 3-1 victory over Purdue in the NCAA Tournament’s regional championship Sunday.
The win sent Wisconsin to the Final Four for the second time in school history. The Badgers finished second in 2000.
“It’s awesome,” Morales said. “It’s way worth all the work that we’ve put into it and everything that we’ve done to get here. It’s hard to explain the feeling. You just want to keep going, you don’t want to stop.”
Wisconsin will face Texas — the No. 1 seed in the tournament — tonight at 7:30 in Seattle. The Badgers are seeded No. 12.
The winner will face either No. 2 Penn State — a team that swept Wisconsin in both regular-season matches — or No. 3 Washington in the national championship Saturday at 9:30 p.m. All three games will be televised on ESPN2.
Morales has been on fire during the NCAA Tournament. She’s recorded at least 10 kills and eight digs in all four matches with a double-double in three. She has a combined 53 kills and 47 digs in 14 sets of tournament play.
She recorded 12 kills and 16 digs in a four-set win against Florida State in the regional semifinal Friday. That, combined with her big match against Purdue, earned her a spot on the all-region tournament team.
“We were ready to get back into the gym,” Morales said. “We were ready to play that night. We’re all really excited. It’s such a different direction than we’ve gone before. It’s awesome to have everyone on the team go in the same direction.”
Wisconsin has experienced a remarkable turnaround after going just 17-16 last season, 5-15 in the Big Ten. The Badgers finished fourth in the Big Ten (12-8) this season and are 27-9 overall.
Morales has also taken big steps forward her junior season and she’s a big reason why Wisconsin is in a position to win a national title.
In 138 sets, she’s second on the team in kills (377) and digs (381). Both totals dwarf her first two seasons in which she combined for 61 kills and 226 digs in 134 sets.
“A lot of it was self discipline, but at the same time a lot of it was direction,” Morales said. “A lot of coaching went into it. When you have guidance and you know what to do, it makes things more easier.”
She was also asked to assume a larger role under the new coaching staff. During the offseason, Pete Waite resigned after leading the Badgers for 14 years.
Taking his place was Kelly Sheffield, who led Dayton to the NCAA Tournament in each of his five seasons there.
Morales went from being a defensive specialist — where she would play just three rotations — to playing all six rotations.
“The coaches allowed me to be in a big-time role and helped me with everything I needed to do and pushed me harder than anybody else,” Morales said.
Morales is a life sciences and communications major and is considering a career in marketing. But she wants to keep playing volleyball as long as she can and is also considering a future in coaching.
Right now, she’s focused on bringing home a national championship.
“It’d be amazing,” Morales said. “All the hard work and everything that we’ve been through as a team, with the transition and all the adversity, it’d be so worth it.”
Contact Chris Sweeney at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.