Wisconsin started the 2016 season with high expectations after earning a No. 4 ranking in the AVCA Coaches poll. It only took three games for those expectations to rise even higher.
The Badgers kicked off the season by only losing one set in three matches at the Rainbow Wahine Invitational. These wins were impressive enough to move Wisconsin up to number two in the AVCA Coaches poll, raising the hopes for a national championship.
Senior Lauren Carlini has been crucial to the success of the Badgers over the last three years and will once again be important to the success of the team. She is the one who sets everything up for the Badgers’ offense, leading the nation in assists per set with 13.3. But, she needs to have players to get kills after she sets them up. That’s where junior Lauryn Gillis and senior Haleigh Nelson come in. Gillis led the team in kills last year with 3.16 per set and Nelson was third on the team with 2.62 kills per set. A new addition to the team that could have a major impact is freshman Molly Haggerty, who hails from Glen Ellyn, Ill. She has led the team in kills for two of the five games this season. These four players will need to continue performing well if Wisconsin is to get through their tough schedule and make it to a national championship.
The Badgers have key matchups that will affect the national landscape beginning next weekend in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Wisconsin will take on No. 12 North Carolina and No. 21 Louisville. The schedule gets even tougher after that, with matches against No. 14 Texas A&M Sept. 16, No. 3 Texas Sept. 18 and No. 11 Ohio State Sept. 23.
While those matchups are against highly ranked teams, the biggest match of the season will come Oct. 21 in Lincoln, Neb., against currently No. 1 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are the only team ranked ahead of the Badgers and are defending a national championship. If Wisconsin can win that match, it would likely be the No. 1 ranked team, and would have a good shot at a national championship themselves.
In order to have success for the 2016 season, the Badgers will need to win most of their 12 matches against ranked opponents. They will also need their star players to continue performing as well as they have been to start the season, and will need production from their role players.
While a national championship is a possibility for the Badgers this season, they will still need certain things to go right for them if they are to capture the first volleyball national title in school history.