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Wisconsin volleyball: a change in system dominates talk in Marquette exhibition

Kelly Sheffield kept tinkering with the lineup as UW won 3-1 against MU. Also Julia Orzol loves coffee.

@BadgerVB; Wisconsin Athletics

Continuing their barnstorming tour across the state’s high schools, the defending national champion Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team kept their record perfect this spring with a 3-1 (25-22, 25-16, 18-25, 25-23) win over in-state rivals Marquette from Mukwonago High School on Sunday.

Here are some stray notes and observations from this exhibition game, against arguably the best team UW will face this spring season.

Tactics time

I am still learning a lot about volleyball in my time covering it for Bucky’s Fifth Quarter, but at least knew enough basic tactics to know most teams run what is called a 5-1 rotation, where one person is always setting (think Sydney Hilley always staying on the court).

However, head coach Kelly Sheffield brought in a 6-2 rotation during this match, a rotation that uses two setters and adds more attacking options at various times. This video is kind of an explainer of this rotation (something I, tbqh, am stilling having to work out).

What does this mean? It means that clearly Sheffield has trust with both Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill and could use that during the season as a wrinkle or change up if things somehow don’t work. Hamill had 25 assists and Ashburn had 19.

Fire power

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Wisconsin is a good attacking team. (Well, ok, don’t actually stop me because I gotta write this. But it’s true).

Four players — Devyn Robinson, Anna Smrek, Liz Gregorski and Lauren Jardine — were in double digit kills. Robinson led the way with 15, Smrek had 12, Gregorski added 11 and Jardine had 10.

While Robinson and Smrek were known quantities in the attack, Gregorski and Jardine’s play signals UW also has a plethora of outside hitter options. Gregorski has been plagued by injuries in her time at Wisconsin while Jardine showed flashes last season as a freshman. If the two put something together, that’s great news for Kelly Sheffield, and can ease the load on offense.

Crawford emerging as a key piece

When Caroline Crawford transferred to UW in December, I said in a comment (not in the article, what a coward smh) they might try and use her as a pin hitter while also serving as depth for Danielle Hart as she recovers from her knee injury.

But this spring, Crawford has added more than just depth, and has shown she can play all over and contribute all over the court. The Kansas-native looked good on offense with kills, pitched in three blocks and also added two aces from behind the service line.

So I guess I am a little ways off from knowing as much about volleyball and how to use talent as Kelly Sheffield. Which for UW fans, is very much a good thing.

Other notes:

  • Fans were lining up outside in Mukwonago apparently hours beforehand. It’s like fans care about volleyball or something.
  • Speaking of that, very proud of Kelly Sheffield for being such a loud voice of asking other networks to care about putting volleyball on TV. The players were also sharing these posts on Instagram stories (for those of you who don’t use that). Clearly that man is passionate about growing this great sport.
  • All 11 players that suited up for UW played in all four sets. Talk about depth!
  • Anna MacDonald got to wear the libero shirt starting in the third set after Joslyn Boyer again started as the ‘bro. Boyer had 14 digs while MacDonald had 11.
  • The Badgers hit .283 (60 kills - 19 errors - 145 attempts), their lowest of the three spring season matches thus far. If that’s you lowest hitting percentage, that’s a good sign.
  • I know I mentioned it earlier in the article, but it’s awesome that Liz Gregorski is getting some solid playing time and kills. As the only Wisconsin-native and walk-on, it must be extra meaningful for her to start the spring like this
  • Julia Orzoł — in a fantastic feature from Dennis Punzel of the Wisconsin State Journal — said she wanted to own a coffee shop one day after she hangs it up after playing volleyball. Let me just say, I would want to be an investor or partner. So if we at B5Q can dig around our couches and see what loose change we have, that would be great. You know where to find us Julia.