After a loss in the Final Four to Texas in April, the seniors on Wisconsin’s volleyball team had choices to make. Do they leave school or take a fifth year and come back for another shot at the title?
The first two to announce their return were setter Sydney Hilley and libero Lauren Barnes. Former Wichita State transfer and defensive specialist Gio Civita also came back. The most anticipated announcement was saved for All-America middle blocker Dana Rettke, who waited a while longer, but officially announced her return for one more year in June.
One name seemingly lost in the shuffle was outside hitter Grace Loberg. The senior from Geneva, Ill. was a critical attacking piece for the Badgers. Even so, we (ok, maybe in this case me. Sorry Grace!) didn’t write an article specifically about her return to the program.
Loberg did a bit of everything for UW last season as she played as a true six-rotation player. That means, instead of being subbed out once, she would rotate to positions in the back row, which is often the case for a middle blocker like Rettke, Danielle Hart or Devyn Robinson. She would both help out on defense and play from behind the three-meter line as well as being up at the net.
You could see her value ring true on the stat sheet. Last year, along with averaging 2.75 kills per set, Loberg had 2.13 digs per set as well — fourth best on the team behind Barnes, Hilley and Civita. And the work in the back row didn’t mean her defense up front suffered either, as she had .44 blocks per set, fifth best on the team only behind the middle blockers and Hilley.
The senior also came up huge from the service line, finishing with 16 aces and getting an average of .31 aces per set, only trailing Izzy Ashburn and Civita for the most for UW.
Loberg said she expects she’ll be playing all six rotations and thinks that adding another piece to Wisconsin’s attack in her presence will be big going forward.
“Incorporating the back row attack is something our team can really utilize this season just to have four attackers going at the opponent each play,” Loberg said. “That’s something we’ve been working on and I’ve been working on.”
One thing she won’t have to work on is having a relationship with her setter, Sydney Hilley. The pair are both back for their fifth year, and they don’t need to spend time on building their chemistry as setter and attacker, but can work on other things.
“With [our relationship], you don’t need to talk about it because there’s just flow. It’s kind of a dance,” Hilley said. “You know what each other likes, you know what each other needs. It makes it really easy and it makes it really fun to be able to play with my best friends another year.”
Clearly, Loberg filled up the stat sheet, and was named an honorable mention for the All-America team last season, but hasn’t been talked about in the same breath as the other stars on the team.
Maybe some of that goes with her “do-everything role.” Maybe a lot of that has to do with her former fellow outside hitter Molly Haggerty.
Haggerty — who decided to go pro last year and will play in Italy — and Loberg had very similar abilities and occupied similar roles, but Haggerty always seemed to find the right moment to shine. There was a clutch factor for Haggerty that made her the focal point when it came to talking about UW’s outside hitters.
Loberg recognized Haggerty’s killer instinct and said that helped her leave a legacy.
“Molly for sure left her legacy in this gym. [Head coach] Kelly [Sheffield] always talks about when you graduate, you want your presence to still be felt. And that’s definitely Molly,” Loberg said. “She definitely exuded confidence in everything she did, and had the mindset of ‘get on my back, I’m going to take you guys to a win.’”
Wisconsin brings back so much firepower and depth in the team that it can be hard to forget how big a part of the team Haggerty was. During last weekend’s Red and White scrimmage, it was clear when she was honored just how big her role was and what she meant to the program.
Love you Badger nation! ❤️ https://t.co/td15S0XXeH— Molly Haggerty (@haggerty_molly) August 21, 2021
“She brought so much power and confidence to our team,” Hilley said.
Like Loberg, Hilley recognized Haggerty’s leadership. And now Loberg will be hoping to step out of that shadow and fill those leadership shoes. Loberg always has had the talent and ability. She thinks now with Haggerty gone, she can fill that role and carry that same confidence to be a go-to for Wisconsin when the chips are down.
“Now that she’s not here, I’m trying to step up and embody the personality she had,” Loberg said.