After a COVID-19 related delay to their fall season, there is lots of excitement surrounding the Badgers’ return to the court this year. While there may not be any fans at the Wisconsin Field House this Friday to watch their first match of the season against Purdue, Badger fans are sure to be tuning in, hoping to watch their first-ranked team dominate the court.
This year, Big Ten teams will play a 22 match, conference only schedule. Teams will also be playing each opponent in back-to-back matches in the same location to reduce travel.
This back-to-back matchup style of play will introduce a new psychological challenge for players. To be successful, teams will have to be able to put their best foot forward in their second match, regardless of if they won or lost to the same opponent the night before.
In a virtual media conference earlier this week, Coach Sheffield noted that having an experienced team and staff has been advantageous amidst all of the chaos of putting a season together this year. He described the Badger’s time in the gym as “business as usual” and emphasized the team's enthusiasm about finally getting to play.
With a majority of the Badgers returning this season, including five starters from the 2019-2020 season, it’s no wonder that the Badgers have been ranked as the top team. Among the top returners are senior middle blocker Dana Rettke and senior outside hitter Molly Haggerty.
Rettke and Haggerty were star players in the 2019-20 season and helped lead their team to the national title game, where they were ultimately defeated by Stanford. In 2019, both players also made the NCAA all-tournament team and Rettke secured titles such as Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Female Athlete of the year.
The team’s experience is expected to shine through not only in their play but also in their leadership skills as the Badgers welcome seven new players to their 20-person roster this year. Freshmen Devyn Robinson and Jade Demps should be exciting players to watch this year.
All of this returning talent and leadership will be put to the test in their opening matches against Purdue on Friday and Saturday night. Purdue, ranked No. 13 by the AVCA, is sure to put up a fight.
The Boilermakers are one of the best passing teams in the conference and have two of the best attacking players in the league, senior Caitlyn Newton and junior Grace Cleveland. Newton and Cleveland ranked fourth and fourteenth in the Big Ten for kills per set last season. Wisconsin will have to ruthlessly defend these experienced hitters to come out on top.
Coach Sheffield has described Wisconsin’s number one ranking as something the team does not talk up but also does not talk down. Regardless, Badger fans look forward to the start of this highly anticipated season and hope to make another appearance in the National Title Championship game — although they hope to see a different outcome this year.