When the going gets tough, it’s good to look around and see familiar faces who have been there before and know exactly what to do.
When defensive specialist Giorgia Civita went to the serving line with the score tied at 20 in the fourth set, the Italian served until Wisconsin had match point at 24-20, and then UW iced it with a Dana Rettke kill at 26-24 to give the Badgers a 3-1 (25-17, 25-11, 26-28, 26-24) victory over defending national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
During a 4-0 run, Civita had two aces — both landing in the back corner of Kentucky’s court. Fifth year middle blocker Dana Rettke had no doubt how it was going to end.
“I had 100 percent confidence in Gio. You saw it in her eyes when she went back there, there was not a single ounce of doubt in her mind. She brought it in the big moments,” Rettke said.
It was a performance when the Badgers needed everyone to step up in those big moments. Rettke finished the night with 16 kills, to lead UW, and four blocks, fifth year senior outside hitter Grace Loberg had nine kills and three blocks and senior Danielle Hart had eight kills and five blocks as she has taken on a bigger role for Wisconsin this season.
UW started the game humming, as the Wildcats hit .033 percent while Wisconsin had things going offensively. Sophomore Devyn Robinson had five kills in the opening frame and Gio Civita had great passing to go along with seven digs.
In the second, Wisconsin was somehow even better — playing the most complete set of their season since the second set against Baylor. Offensively, UW had 15 kills, including five from sophomore outside hitter Jade Demps.
Defensively, the Badgers did not allow an ace, held Kentucky to the same amount of errors as kills and had a total of 23 digs. UW rolled 25-11 thanks in part too from strong serving from defensive specialist Joslyn Boyer, who had a 7-0 run.
But then Kentucky found life again. Madi Skinner recovered from a slow start to get seven kills in the third frame as she finished with 16. The Wildcats got up, then Wisconsin clawed back before the teams traded blows and match points, in a Field House atmosphere that Dana Rettke said felt like a tournament game.
“That was a heavyweight fight, no doubt about it,” head coach Kelly Sheffield said.
And that fourth set was when the seniors and the team came up big in the crucial moments. The last six points for Wisconsin were scored by the senior class, highlighting the faith the group has in each other when crunch time comes.
“That’s a theme amongst the senior class and whole team in general,” Dana Rettke said. “We trust each other. I think everyone is rising up to those big moments more and more as we go throughout the season.”
Although Wisconsin pulled out the victory, the third set slip has been a theme in most of their games this season. Fifth year senior setter Sydney Hilley, who had a double double with 44 assist and 13 digs against the Wildcats, says it is something the team is looking to stop — even if UK just stepped their game up across the net.
“In all the matches we’ve played so far, the third set is where we’ve come out the weakest,” Hilley said. “They definitely picked up their game. They’re a really good team and it was fun to compete against them tonight.”
While the home court was a factor in UW’s favor tonight, considering the way the UW Field House has been rocking early in the season, they’ll be hoping they can continue to host NCAA Tournament games in an atmosphere that Hilley said brings a lot of energy. Kelly Sheffield went even further.
“If the students aren’t careful, they might turn themselves into the best student section in the country,” Sheffield said.
“They’ve already done it,” Rettke interjected.
And the Badgers are feeding off the energy around the program. Even if they were ranked ahead of Kentucky in the polls, they just knocked off the reigning national champion — without freshman Julia Orzoł taking to the court.
While the Badgers took their punches in this heavyweight bout, they landed a knockout blow with the help of a decorated senior class.
But can they go the distance again this year?