For a team with dreams of a national title, Wisconsin volleyball has started the season with a bang.
Fresh off of an upset of then-No. 2 Texas, the Badgers (4–0) took the penultimate slot in the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) coaches poll, jumping all the way to No. 2 from No. 8, behind only Big Ten rival Minnesota.
Key to Wisconsin’s title aspiration is the continued growth of sophomore middle blocker Dana Rettke. If early returns are any indication, the 2017 AVCA National Freshman of the Year is picking up right where she left off.
A preseason All-Big Ten selection, Rettke has a high bar for accolades this season. The Riverside, Ill., native finished 2017 as a first-team All-American, national Freshman of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and was a nine-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
Through four matches, Rettke is second on the team with 2.87 kills per set and the sophomore leads the team with 1.60 blocks per set. She led the Badgers in both categories in wins over North Carolina and High Point.
Speaking to B5Q this summer, Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield reflected on Rettke’s first season with the Badgers.
“Unbelievable. She came here, she started here, she played the sport for three years, which is unheard of for that little experience, and one of those years was for a little local club. So she had very little experience coming in; she started here and we initially thought that there was a good chance she was going to redshirt. That’s kind of what she thought she’d be doing, redshirt. She comes out, has some success. Has a lot of success right off of the bat. And continues to maintain it. And you know, at the end of the year, she’s a First Team All-American and National Freshman of the Year.”
It was a summer of hard work for Rettke.
“I am working on a whole bunch of stuff,” she said. “I am working to get my serve a lot more consistent. I looked at my numbers from last year. I just couldn’t believe it. I just was so mad. It’s just something I need to work on and focus on because that’s going to help our team out tremendously. I really need to work on closing blocks, getting my hand position right. Staying strong up at net. Moving better in general. Just getting faster and hitting different shots. Hitting deeper shots. Improving my range all over the court. Those are a couple of things that I am working on. I have gotten a lot better since last season. We’ll see what this season brings.”
Sheffield credited the impact of strength training on Rettke’s development.
“Life has to be really cool to be her right now in her skin. And now you couple that with a summer of strength training and the impact that is having in her movement and her explosiveness on somebody that’s 6’8, and she picks up on that stuff real well.
“Sometimes people are doing strength training and it does not really move the dial a whole lot and there are others [where] it really, really has an impact. And it’s really having an impact on her. So I am excited. You know it’s clear that not only do you have size, have athleticism, and her skill is catching up, but it’s a player that is as hungry as I have ever seen and now has a lot of confidence, more than she’s ever had in this sport.”
“Personally, I’ve seen my numbers skyrocket. Before I came to Wisconsin, I never lifted before, I was just growing so much and it just never really worked out in my favor. So just seeing how much stronger and faster I am getting is really awesome. From a team standpoint, I think it’s kind of the same thing—we’re getting a lot stronger and a lot faster. Just really honing in on our sport. It’s really fun.”
Sheffield noted Rettke’s summer tour in China with the USA Collegiate National Team as formative. Rettke blogged about the experience over the summer.
With the continued growth of Rettke and the Badgers’ super sophomore class, 2018 may be a special year for Wisconsin volleyball.
“Always, the goal is to win a national championships and that’s super possible with the roster we have right now. Last year we were really young and I think now that all of us have a year of experience under our belt, now we know what to expect.
“I think a lot of people really think that it can happen this year, especially being at the Final Four last year and watching the national championship against Florida and Nebraska, it’s just the shortest of margins that separates the people who achieve a national championship versus the people that lost in any round of the tournament, honestly. It’s such a slim margin. So I think if we really focus in and worked towards that, anything is possible. I think we’ll definitely be in Minneapolis [site of the 2018 Final Four].”