A 22-game win streak, a Big Ten Championship and a flurry of major awards. On the surface it sounds like a successful season. For the Badgers, however, the 2014 season left much to be desired.
After losing to Penn State in the 2013 championship game, the Badgers had a chance at revenge in the 2014 NCAA Regional Final. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, they couldn’t muster up enough to dethrone the champions and lost to the Nittany Lions in four sets.
Despite falling short in the tournament, the Badgers have plenty to celebrate from their Big Ten season. Then-sophomore setter Lauren Carlini was named Big Ten Player of the Year and earned the Setter of the Year award, and then-junior defensive specialist Taylor Morey won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield was also rewarded for the Badgers’ 19-1 conference record, winning Big Ten Coach of the Year. He is now 58-13 in his first two seasons as head coach at Wisconsin.
UW will have big shoes to fill with the graduation of eight players, including the starting corps of outside hitters Courtney Thomas and Ellen Chapman and middle blocker Dominique Thompson. Besides their starters, Wisconsin also lost defensive specialist Kt Kvas, outside hitter Taylor Fricano, outside hitter Deme Morales, defensive specialist Caroline Workman and outside hitter Julie Mikaelson.
However, with the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, according to PrepVolleyball.com, the Badgers have plenty of young players ready to step in and immediately have a strong impact.
The newcomers are led by outside hitter Madison Duello, setter Hannah Juley, middle blocker Tionna Williams and libero Amber MacDonald. Williams was ranked sixth on PrepVolleyball.com’s list of senior aces, with Duello rank- ing ninth, Juley ranking 21st and MacDonald ranking 91st.
The 2015 class is rounded out by outside hitter Julia Saunders and outside hitter/defensive specialist Maddie Smith.
Infused with new talent, the Badgers will be led by returners Carlini, Morey, junior outside hitter Haleigh Nelson and sophomore outside hitter Kelli Bates.
The Badgers open their season at the HotelRED Invitational at the UW Field House against Western Kentucky Aug. 28. Wisconsin will be looking to mirror their success in last year’s HotelRED Invitational, as they dropped a single set on their way to a tournament victory.
The Badgers have a daunting start to Big Ten play, with an opening date at Penn State September 23. In addition to the Nittany Lions, the Badgers will have plenty of challenges in Big Ten play with many teams poised to have strong seasons.
For those looking to catch the Badgers in person this season, UW will be hosting North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State.
Despite a tough early season schedule and heavy roster turnover, Wisconsin will be in position to win another Big Ten championship and go deep in the NCAA Tournament.