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Wisconsin volleyball is a national championship contender

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A grueling schedule isn’t stopping the Badgers this year. Sound familiar?

Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison

Top-10 rankings and grueling schedules seem to be a recurring theme for Wisconsin Badgers sports this year.

Last weekend, the UW volleyball team participated in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with match-ups against the North Carolina (No. 8 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25) and Louisville. The Badgers dropped their match to the Tar Heels 3-2 and swept the Cardinals 3-0 as three-time AVCA All-American Lauren Carlini tied a UW career record with her 61st double-double.

The setback against UNC aside, the Badgers are looking to make some noise this year. Under coach Kelly Sheffield, the Badgers have made three straight NCAA tournaments, including a trip to the championship match in 2013. This year, they are tearing up the competition, losing just one game in five matches prior to their match with the Tar Heels. During their last homestand, the Badgers shut down both Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and San Diego 3-0 in the HotelRED Invitational at the Field House.

Badger fans are rightfully taking notice with sell-out crowds:

Individual Badgers are ringing up accolades as well. Haleigh Nelson (seven blocks, one ace, two assists against San Diego; eight kills, one ace, five blocks against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) was named the HotelRED tournament MVP. Tionna Williams (six blocks against the San Diego; five blocks against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 5.

Returning three AVCA All-Americans, six starters and 11 letterwinners from a team that finished 2015 ranked 10th in the nation, the Badgers have all the pieces in place for a tournament run and their schedule ensures they will be battle-tested. The difficult road swing continues this weekend with matchups at Texas A&M (No. 16) and Texas (No. 2).

The Big Ten season opens with the Badgers finally returning home to face Ohio State on Sept. 23 at the Field House, kicking off a run of conference play. Midwest cooking doesn’t make things any easier, though, as the Big Ten is deep this year. As of Sept. 12, the Big Ten had eight teams ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Poll: No 1 Nebraska, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 14 Purdue, No. 19 Ohio State, No. 20 Penn State, No. 22 Michigan State and No. 23 Michigan.

It’s going to be a fun ride, hopefully all the way to the Nationwide Arena in December.