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B5Q Roundtable: NATIONAL CHAMPSSSSSS!

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We relive a glorious weekend of volleyball excitement.

VOLLEYBALL: DEC 18 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No intro! Just roundtable! THE WISCONSIN BADGERS ARE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!

Ok, first of all, holy shit! That was amazing, right?

Jake: Unreal. There is some part of me that loves the fact that the national championship match wasn’t smooth sailing. It made it that much more fulfilling when Rettke put down the final kill, securing the title.

J.J.: Genuinely a storybook ending for this group that had come so close twice before and had one last shot this year and took it. Just a legendary performance in an all-time final between two teams playing their heart out.

Rock: It was so awesome! I went to sleep a national champion and woke up a national champion. I had hotel coffee as a national champion. I’m in a Culver’s writing this as a national champion.

Bremen: Oh my god. It is everything that they deserve. They played so incredibly well, fought so incredibly hard and you can tell in their faces when they won it and the confetti rained down that this was special. There was not a dry eye in my house.

Ryan: Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it. Those seniors have come so close before and for them to come back to complete what they started, it was a picture perfect ending.

Which set during the Final Four was your favorite?

Jake: National championship match, second set. Outside of the fifth set versus Louisville, this was the clearest “must-win” set that UW played all season. I mean, the score speaks for itself…31-29. Reminder, SETS ARE PLAYED TO 25. I think the set took years off of my life, but what a ride it was.

J.J.: Third set of the final. The wild extended second set was crazy, but I always found it harder in my playing days to build off a highly emotional finish and continue with momentum in the next set than the actual finish itself. That third set really set the tone for the final by putting Wisconsin in front, with the Badgers controlling almost the entire flow of scoring. If the second set was the adrenaline rush the team needed to get fully into the action after a sloppy first set, the third was the dominant confidence booster they needed to remember they’re the best team in the country.

Rock: Third set of the final. After winning the second set in extra points, that’s when I really knew the team would pull together and get it done. Nebraska fought, and boy they were loud in Nationwide, but that third set was when the Huskers weren’t quite as confident or boisterous.

Bremen: The second set of the final. The Badgers were possibly down and out four times, having to save four set points. The seniors you’d expect, Grace Loberg, Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley and Lauren Barnes came up huge to will UW to that set win.

Ryan: The second set of the final. After losing the first set, this was a must win set for sure and for them to win it 31-29…such a gritty performance.

Outside of Anna Smrek’s semifinals performance, which was legendary, who had the best Final Four for the Badgers?

Jake: Lauren Barnes. Maybe it’s because she is the libero and isn’t firing home kills, but somehow, Barnes flies under the radar. Throughout the Final Four, she was EVERYWHERE, coming up with clutch dig after clutch dig, time and time again.

J.J.: Lauren Barnes, Smrek, and Rettke are the obvious and fair answers, but to be unique I’ll say Jade Demps. To beat a team like Nebraska, the Badgers needed threats from all over the court. And they got a big boost in the play of the sophomore Demps, who was both prolific (finishing second on the team in total kills with 12) and efficient (finishing with the second highest swing percentage on the team at .436) when she was needed most in the final.

Rock: Gotta go with Lauren Barnes. She was superhuman at times, not just covering but getting the ball in a great position for the offense to operate.

Bremen: Lauren Barnes — bless her heart — somehow gets none of the credit she deserves until you look at the statistics at the end of the match and see “holy s---! she has 31 digs?!” Barnes has just made it look so easy at the libero position and her competitive fire was a drumbeat for the team. It feels hard not to answer “everyone” because I am so happy, but without Barnes doing superhuman things, we might not be in this spot.

Ryan: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Lauren Barnes. She was everywhere during the Final Four. Like Bremen mentioned, 31 digs. Unbelievable.

Seriously though, how happy are you for this team?

Jake: I couldn’t be happier for this team, especially the seniors/super-seniors. Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Lauren Barnes, Grace Loberg, Giorgia Civita and Danielle Hart get to walk away from Madison winning the last match they’ll ever play as a Badger, capturing the program’s first National Championship that they had been chasing together for almost five years. I am so happy for Kelly Sheffield, who after nine seasons, is able to get rid of the notion that Wisconsin can get to the dance, but can’t win when it counts. I’m definitely forgetting someone but am just ecstatic for everyone involved.

J.J.: It’s hard not to be off the wall for everyone on the roster. You really got the sense that everyone on this team, from the bench giving as much energy as they could and onward, was ready to do whatever was humanly possible to get this class of seniors and super-seniors that ring. It’s what this team deserves, after so many close calls and so many heartbreaks, to finally take home that first title.

Rock: I’m happy for so many people! The players and staff finally get the one thing missing from their lengthy list of accomplishments. The former Badgers get the knowledge that they helped build to this moment, that Wisconsin volleyball is now a power because of their past efforts. I’m happy for the athletic department, because it shows their investments in the Field House and program paid off. I’m happy for the fans, because now we know what to get everyone for Christmas: national championship gear.

Bremen: When I started covering the team in 2019, I found myself immersed in a new sport I didn’t always know everything about. Watching the matches, you could obviously see the skill and talent from the jump, but it was always in the press conferences and post games you could see the passion and focus of the team. Yet the team wasn’t just all business. They were out there “just balling with their bros” as Anna Smrek said after a win against Nebraska earlier this season. It is truly a team full of joy and happiness, and that switch isn’t turned off during the match to be solely serious assassins. I think that’s what makes the team special: it’s so clear they are having fun and just happen to be the best team in the God damn country too.

Ryan: I couldn’t be happier for them. They had come so close before twice, dealt with COVID and still came back for an additional year to win a title and they did it. This team and this program deserve this more than anything.

Is Lauren Barnes being left off the All-Tournament team one of the greatest crimes of the century?

Jake: It’s up there with the types of things Drew will do if Chucky Hepburn continues to play lockdown defense all season long (if you know, you know).

J.J.: I get they didn’t want to make it all Badgers and Huskers, but like, lol come on guys.

Rock: WHAT? SHE WAS?

Bremen: ROBBERY. FELONIES TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED ON THE TOURNAMENT TEAM.

Ryan: Barnes being left off is abhorrent. The crime of the century.

How impressed were you with Nebraska, a team that Wisconsin had dominated over the past couple of years?

Jake: There’s nothing more dangerous in sports than a team with confidence. Coming off of wins versus No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Pittsburgh, the Cornhuskers had all the confidence in the world, and rightfully so. They were a much better team than we saw earlier this season in two meetings where they found a way to take one total set from the Badgers. I was very impressed. I didn’t expect them to come out as hot as they did, and they had me very worried halfway through that second set.

J.J.: To be fair, it was probably only a matter of time before the (margin of victory) dominance ended, because Nebraska is, and has been, a very, very impressive program. And I don’t expect them to fade away anytime soon either. I said earlier this week that I thought Nebraska had the juice to take down the Badgers, and fretted plenty more privately that a No. 10 seed was extremely disingenuous to the talent this Nebraska team had. But I’m happy we don’t need to worry about them now for another few months, when we face off with them again as defending champions.

Rock: I think challenging that potential national title-clinching point means I don’t actually have to say anything nice here.

Bremen: They were much, much better than when the Badgers played them earlier in the season. I specifically wish Keonilei Akana was wearing a different shade of red. Their middle Kayla Caffey was unstoppable for large stretches of the night while Lauren Stivrins and Nicklin Hames lived up to the billing — all the more impressive for Stivrins since she was quiet in the other matches after recovering from back surgery. Nebraska was a more than worthy opponent, which makes it more special that Wisconsin hasn’t lost to that program since 2017.

Ryan: Jake hit it right on the head. Nebraska came into the final having beaten No. 2 and No. 3, which is no small feat. They played with a lot of confidence and came out swinging taking the first set. These types of close match ups between Wisconsin and Nebraska are far from over.

How tall should the statue of Dana Rettke be outside of the Field House?

Jake: 10, 12, 15 feet? There is no wrong answer here. Build is as tall as you can, put at the steps of the Field House, and remind every single fan that walks into that building for the rest of time that No. 16 is the best to ever do it.

J.J.: 10 feet, but more importantly, rename the Field House to the Dana Rettke Field House. I am not joking.

Rock: I know they just redid the outside, but she should be painted on the entire side facing the Monroe/Regent intersection. It should be her mid-swing. Absolute intimidation for anyone walking by. Send a message!

Bremen: Honestly I’m starting to think we need that statue at the Capitol Square to really show off her importance. Dana Rettke is a Wisconsin legend (never mind she is from Illinois. She is now actually from Kaukauna). And just make sure you have room for something for Barnes, Hilley, Loberg, Civita right nearby.

Ryan: As big as it can be and still be structurally sound. Something with her jumping and spiking a ball, would be perfect. Hell, name the building, or court after her. SOMETHING. Kelly Sheffield Court also sounds pretty damn good.