Much of the hype surrounding this season’s Wisconsin volleyball roster is understandably who they return. Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Lauren Barnes, Gio Civita and Grace Loberg are all back after taking an extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, in what is likely head coach Kelly Sheffield’s deepest team at UW.
With many familiar faces, it could be tough to add new pieces into the puzzle and find a way to play on the loaded team.
But Sheffield added a couple of players in the back row that are vying for a place in the Badger rotation: Iowa transfer Joslyn Boyer and North Carolina transfer Sydney Reed.
Last year, Boyer was the Hawkeyes’ starting libero and led them with 279 total digs and averaged 3.77 digs per set — good for ninth best in the Big Ten last year. Despite playing for conference rivals last year and not only seeing the campus once when playing at the Field House during her freshman year, the decision to switch to the red and white was an easy one for the Illinois-native.
“I mean how can you not? It’s the best of the best,” Boyer said. “As soon as I got that phone call it was kind of a done deal. I wanted to compete for that national championship.”
Boyer also played on the same club volleyball team as Rettke and Barnes, so she felt very welcomed after she arrived on campus. Rettke showed her around the first day and Barnes — who also transferred in to Wisconsin as a libero at another Big Ten school — helped her get acclimated to everything on the court.
Barnes is a good example — as is former Badger libero Tiffany Clark who started at Michigan before making her way to Madison — of the level Boyer is trying to establish. Boyer said she talked it over with Barnes to discuss that transition and the intricacies of play along the back row.
While she won’t have the unique jersey worn by the libero, Boyer said it won’t change her preparation.
“There’s not really a different mindset. It’s just to go in and run the back court,” Boyer said. “Thankfully I’ve had that experience and played in the Big Ten. That’s what I’m trying to bring here.”
Another transfer coming in to Wisconsin to try and break into the back row rotation is Sydney Reed. The sophomore from Glenelg, Maryland comes into the Badger team from UNC, where she played during the fall of 2020 before joining UW in the spring.
Sitting on the sidelines was tough at first Reed said, but she was able to learn the system and found it was easy to get integrated into the team.
“It was great being on the sidelines cheering on my teammates and learning from them,” Reed said. “They were very welcoming and helped me get through a lot of tough things.”
Reed got to practice with the Badgers, and got a lot of assistance during those early days from Lauren Barnes on the finer details of footwork and passing systems. The UNC transfer also got closer with fellow January enrollees freshmen Anna Smrek and Lauren Jardine, who came to Madison early.
Reed said living in the same apartment complex was helpful for off the court integration especially in the heat of the pandemic, and all three of them did a lot of extra lifts together since they couldn’t play in the matches.
Reed clearly has a lot of talent, as she spent some time this summer wearing the red, white and blue with the US’s U20 National Training Team alongside sophomore Devyn Robinson. Actually, prior experience with the US team also meant Reed knew Robinson — and sophomore outside hitter Jade Demps — before coming to UW.
When the decision came to transfer, Reed had other familiarity with UW. Her father Earl Reed played for the Badgers football team, and was a member of the 1999 Rose Bowl winning team, she made sure it was her decision to go to Wisconsin.
“I tried to not let his passion for the school affect my decision. I wanted to make that decision on my own,” Reed said. “While he had a lot of great input, the school kind of speaks for itself.”
The competition — like Boyer — was also something that spoke out to Reed about the atmosphere at Wisconsin. Reed said it was “quick to figure out” of the highly competitive atmosphere, but behind the intense energy, the team has each other’s back.
“I love how as competitive as it is, we’re still supportive of each other — even as we’re trying to beat whoever is on the other side,” Reed said.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield is happy to add both Boyer and Reed in for the depth and competition on the back court. While the libero position is set with Barnes and Gio Civitia is at 100 percent health this year, Boyer and Reed look set to push for places in the rotation along with juniors Anna McDonald and Izzy Ashburn. Sheffield believes they add well to UW’s depth.
“Both of them are really talented and gym rats. We’re excited both of them are here,” Sheffield said.
And they certainly don’t lack Wisconsin’s shared stated desire for this season: bringing home the national title.
“I want to win the national championship. We want to win the championship,” Boyer said. “And I want to do whatever I can do to get us there.”