As No. 5 Wisconsin volleyball’s lone senior, middle blocker Tionna Williams leads by example.
“She has incredible impact on us.” Coach Kelly Sheffield told B5Q this summer. “Just somebody that is steady in matches and steady in practice, you know what you’re going to get out of her.”
That consistency plays out on the stat sheets. A three-time All-American and two-time All-Big Ten player, Williams has been a force for Wisconsin since her breakout freshman year when she averaged 1.31 blocks per set and 2.21 kills per set en route to a unanimous selection to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and being named AVCA Northeast Region Freshman of the Year.
A six-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and career .343 hitter at Wisconsin, Williams averages 1.17 blocks per set and 2.24 kills per set in 105 career matches for the Badgers. Earlier this season, she broke 1,000 points for Wisconsin.
Badgers fans have always celebrated unassuming excellence from Wisconsin players and coaches, and Williams certainly fits the mold. While she may not be the most vocal player on the team, Sheffield said, Williams “says what needs to be said when it needs to be said. She’s just a really, really consistent performer.”
The three-time All-American has seen her role grow and change over her time at Wisconsin, from anchor in the middle to teacher on the court. Last season, Williams was part of a small group of upperclassmen who helped integrate the Badgers’ young talent into the fabric of the team.
“Last season was definitely rougher than what I had experienced the past two.” Williams said. “Or like my first two seasons, being that we had a lot of new incoming players and [were] just trying to figure out the team chemistry and kind of rebuild our culture back up with the new players and just introducing to the Big Ten. So it was rougher from the start, but I feel like we got a handle on it towards the end and I am just excited to be building on it this year.”
In particular, Williams has relished working with fellow middle blocker, sophomore phenom Dana Rettke.
“Dana, she’s just super happy all of the time, just a big ball of fun. Literally a big ball of fun. It’s so weird because I’m always calling her a ‘Baby Badger.’ She’s my little Baby Badger even though she’s 6’8”. It’s just so inspiring playing with her because she makes me a better middle by helping her at the same time. I’m just grateful for playing with her.”
For Rettke, working with Williams has been formative in her development as a middle blocker.
“Tionna is great. She just loves her teammates. She will do anything for us and she’s a great middle blocker. I’ve learned a lot from her last year especially coming in early and just following in her footsteps.”
Williams is also a community leader off the court. This past summer she interned at a local neighborhood center working with at-risk kids. She used the occasion of her recent birthday to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Williams hopes to follow in the footsteps of recent Wisconsin graduates and play professionally after college.
“I definitely want to keep playing. I’m hoping to keep playing overseas. Italy has always been my dream to go professionally over there, so hopefully that dream can become a reality after the season.”
Sheffield believes that is in the cards. “I have known her a long time, since her freshman year of high school, and so we’re really excited to see her last year before she moves on to the professional leagues.”
But that will come in time. For the moment, Williams is soaking in her last season with the Badgers.
“Oh man, my last season! Well we have a lot of goals set by the team already, as I am sure you know. But I am just excited to be back on the court one last time in front of all of the thousands of fans and being able to have the upper deck open—something I never thought I would actually see during my time here. So I am excited for that, even though that is just part of it, cherishing one last ride with all of my teammates.”