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Wisconsin volleyball: 2018 recap and 2019 preview

Can Coach Kelly Sheffield and the No. 5 ranked Badgers return to the final weekend with a proven roster?


Our head volleyball writer, Matt Rock, is here with a brief 2018 season recap and a 2019 season preview ahead of Saturday’s Red-White Scrimmage (scrimmage starts at noon, doors open at 11 a.m.) at the Field House.

Key Returners

Start with the two-time All-American and 2020 Olympian Dana Rettke. She was a monster in the front, leading the nation in total kills, total attacks and attacking percentage. She’s the tip of the spear thrown by Sydney Hilley, who gets the luxury of lobbing to the 6’8” wrecking ball. Hillary was also able to defend her position when opposing attacks targeted her by notching the second-most digs on the team.

Leading the digs was the libero, Tiffany Clark. She’ll have plenty of competition in M.E. Dodge and Minnesota transfer Lauren Barnes for the starring defensive role. I very much like the idea of Barnes, who had played with Rettke on the club level, deciding to transfer because she prefers being on the same side of the net instead of defending her attacks. I get it.

Madison Duello, Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty return as your outside hitters. Duello is more of the pure attacker, and Loberg and Haggerty are capable all around the court. Their improvements come from limiting mistakes.

Similar statistically, they’re capable at the block and dig but could stand to reduce their errors to provide more attacking consistency around Rettke.

Emotional Departures

Recent History

Coach Kelly Sheffield came to Wisconsin for the 2013 season after a few seasons of a .500 record and no NCAA tournament appearances. His ‘welcome to Madison’ gift basket included top recruit Lauren Carlini, who immediately propelled the Badgers back to the upper half of the Big 10 standings and a championship game appearance that season. Over the last six years, the Badgers have been 90-30 in an incredibly difficult Big 10 conference, including a 2014 title.

The Two Best Things About the 2018 Badger Volleyball Season

  1. Elite Eight appearance, the fourth in six seasons.
  2. Winning at Penn State on Saturday, November 24th. I remember that Saturday, because no college football happened whatsoever.

2019 Expectations

“I think a goal is a Big Ten title; a goal is to get to the Final Four and you want to put yourself in position where you’re playing that last match and trying to win the first national championship in Wisconsin history.” - Coach Sheffield.

Big 10 Outlook

In the last six years, there’s been more Big 10 teams hanging ‘Final Four’ banners than ‘Big 10 Championship’ banners. That’s with split conference titles, mind you. Nebraska and Penn State are the standard-bearers, and they’re joined in the single-digit preseason ranking section by our favorite Badgers, the Illini and Minnesota.

So... yeah. Each one of those teams will be tested night in, night out, competing for home seeding in the NCAA tournament in addition to the conference title. Wisconsin will see all four of those teams in the first seven conference games, so by mid-October we’ll have a good sense of how the rest of the race might shake out.

How Can I Laugh At Minnesota?

Oh, the top-4 seed that hosted the NCAA Final Four? The one that could have hosted a trophy without leaving the metro?

That weekend, I found my car’s starter died on the exact key-turn that would have taken me to Milwaukee for the first Badger game at Fiserv Forum. I instead stayed home and mixed Bushmills with the pain of car woes, missed free throws and the end of Badger volleyball for the season.

Sunday morning, I did a triple-take at 41-39. Sometimes, you need a Bloody Mary. Other times, you find out your rival missed a layup and instead shattered into a million pieces on the stanchion. There is balm in Gilead.

Has Rutgers won one Big 10 Conference game?

Come on now, there’s laughing at a rival, and then there’s just being mean. Rutgers has been in the Big 10 for five years now. They’ve played 100 matches. Of course they’ve won a game.

Has Rutgers won two Big 10 conference games?