Coming off a season that ended with an NCAA tournament loss to Penn State, Wisconsin's volleyball team will face a fair share of formidable opponents in its 2014 schedule, which was released Monday.
Of Wisconsin's 2014 opponents, 12 of them were NCAA tournament participants and nine were ranked in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association poll that was released in December.
With plentiful experience returning -- save the loss of libero Annmarie Hickey -- senior leadership should be at a premium in the opening weekends of the season, as the team faces Louisville and Colorado State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and Northern Colorado/Colorado State Classic, respectively. The Cardinals were 23-8 in 2013 while the Rams were 28-2.
"Our tournament in Colorado should be very challenging and give us the opportunity to play against a really good team in one of the best home environments in the country," Sheffield said in a release. "The other two road tournaments are against top teams in the ACC and Pac-12, and kick off a four-year schedule with these tournaments rotating every year for four years. Our home tournament is against really solid teams with excellent coaching staffs."
The rest of the non-conference slate is equally as daunting for Wisconsin, which hosts Miami (Fla.) at the Badger Invitational and travels out to Seattle for the Pac 12-Big Ten Challenge, where it will play perennial powerhouses, USC and Washington.
UW's Big Ten schedule is also difficult from the get go. The club will host Penn State in a rematch of the 2013 national championship game for its first conference game at the Field House. Also, the Badgers will welcome new Big Ten attendees Rutgers and Maryland, who struggled mightily last season. Rutgers posted a 5-27 record whereas the Terps posted a 13-19 record.
In all of Big Ten play, Wisconsin will play a conference-record-tying eight conference opponents that made the NCAA tournament last year. Seven of those teams advanced to the Sweet 16.