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Wisconsin volleyball: Sheffield pleased with depth heading into series vs. Rutgers

Head coach Kelly Sheffield has been pleased with Wisconsin’s arsenal and rotations, but knows there is still room for improvement

NCAA VOLLEYBALL: DEC 21 Div I Women’s Championship - Wisconsin v Stanford Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers showcased their depth. Four outside left hitters started at different points in the game and had 13 total players touch the court at some point in the match.

While the Badgers (4-0 Big Ten, 4-0 overall) swept the weekend series against Illinois, they did lose their first set of the season in the second game and head coach Kelly Sheffield said both nights UW got “pushed and challenged’’ by the Illini (2-2, 2-2).

“I liked how we responded,” Sheffield said. “The first two weekends, we’ve done a good job of playing clean volleyball at the end of sets.”

Wisconsin will hope to continue that run against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-3 Big Ten, 1-3 overall) while also utilizing all the pieces and weapons that Sheffield thinks might be the best he’s had at UW.

“When they all play at a high level in practices throughout the week, then we’re gonna stretch [the rotation] out a bit more,” Sheffield said.

One of the pieces Sheffield highlighted from this weekend was graduate senior Deanha Kraft. The transfer from Pepperdine played a big part in the first game and added a possible six-rotation player to UW’s arsenal.

Sheffield also has been super happy with the progression of graduate senior Giorgia Civita. The Italian-native was coming off her third ACL injury to the same knee, so health was a question mark heading into the season. But as she’s worked her way back into shape, Sheffield said she has been “huge” for Wisconsin.

“She’s starting to get to a point where she feels pretty comfortable on the court and with her teammates,” Sheffield said. “We’ve gotten on long serving runs with her...she’s added an awful lot to our passing and defensively she’s made some really good reads. We’ve been converting off of her digs pretty well.”

While the No. 1 ranked Badgers are big favorites heading into the weekend against Rutgers, Sheffield said he’s not surprised that the Scarlet Knights have already shown improvement. Sheffield said RU’s new head coach Caitlin Schweihofer was a tough competitor back when she was playing and she’d done a good job at turning around programs before arriving at Rutgers.

In their last game out, Rutgers junior setter Inna Balyko had four aces as the Scarlet Knights had nine total. Wisconsin at times struggled in the service game both offensively and defensively against Illinois — UW had 20 service errors and gave up 16 aces during the weekend — so that might be a spot Rutgers will look to take advantage.

But while Sheffield joked about one practice will focus on how to be better servers, the Badgers’ head coach realizes UW is still looking to improve despite all the accolades and hype.

“There’s still so many areas that we’ve gotta continue to get better at,” Sheffield said.

Wisconsin will play their first match on the road against Rutgers Friday night at 6:00 pm CST. Match two will start Saturday at 4:00 pm CST. Sadly, neither is on TV but both are on BTN+