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Wisconsin volleyball: Badgers face Dayton Flyers team on the rise

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Head coach Kelly Sheffield will be seeing a familiar program on the sideline.

Tom Lynn

When the Dayton Flyers (2-1 overall) come to Madison to take on the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) this Thursday and Friday, head coach Kelly Sheffield will be facing a program with which he’s very familiar.

Sheffield coached at Dayton before he joined the Badgers’ program. During his time as head coach, he won four Atlantic 10 titles with the Flyers and led them to five NCAA Tournament appearances.

Sheffield said he’s “looking forward” to facing his old team — who are once again on the rise and might reach the NCAA Tournament again.

That Flyers team is led by a redshirt senior and redshirt freshman in their attack. Senior outside hitter Jamie Peterson earned third team All-American nods last season and has 35 kills for the Flyers. Peterson is tied with freshman outside hitter/libero Lexie Almodovar for the team lead with 35 kills. Almodovar — who is only 5-foot-8 — played a bit last year and was named to the A-10’s First Team. She also does a bit of everything as she is second on the team in digs.

Getting the ball to those two is true freshman setter Brooke Nichols. The Texas-native has 55 sets on the season as she’s split time with sophomore setter Livie Sandt.

The Flyers won two games and also got swept by the defending champion Kentucky Wildcats. But facing UK means they’re no stranger to the tough competition the Badgers will provide.

Still, Wisconsin looked dominant in their weekend wins against TCU and then-No. 10 Baylor. The Badgers have yet to allow an ace against them, a testament to the improvement and cohesion of their back row early in the year.

And of course UW is pretty good up front too. Fifth year senior Dana Rettke was named the Big Ten Player of the Week after averaging 3.33 kills and 1.67 blocks per set while not having a single attacking error. Sydney Hilley was named Big Ten Setter of the Week, while we at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter firmly believe Julia Orzoł was robbed of Big Ten Freshman of the Week after her stunning introduction to the Field House faithful.

Though the Flyers are a team on the rise who could really compete in the A-10 this season, the step up to the Badgers will likely be tough.

The one question for Wisconsin fans may be about the play of Grace Loberg. The fifth year outside hitter played well against TCU, but stumbled a bit against Baylor, getting only one kill. Loberg has said she hopes to step up to fill Molly Haggerty’s role on the outside. If Loberg can bounce back and the asset on the pin UW fans are used to, that attack will be even more deadly with the play from freshman phenom Orzoł.

Also, fans will probably be looking to see newer faces like Sydney Reed and freshman Anna Smrek have a few rotations.

But Wisconsin can’t sleep walk into the match against a pretty tough Dayton team. This will hopefully be a good warm up before the Badgers take on defending champs Kentucky at the Field House next Friday.

The Badgers will face the Flyers Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CT and Friday at 7:00 p.m. CT at the UW Field House. Both matches are streaming on BTN+ ($) and airing on local radio (U100.9 FM) in Madison.