Wisconsin (14-0) swept Michigan (4-8) 25-23, 25-12, 25-11 Thursday night to earn the title of Big Ten Conference champions for the second year in a row. This is the seventh time in program history that the Badgers have walked away with the trophy, and only the second time they’ve been back-to-back champions.
Coming out on top of the Big Ten also ensures the Badgers a spot in the NCAA Tournament, which starts Wednesday, April 14. Winning the title was a sweet ending to a chaotic season.
"It's very satisfying to get that trophy in our hands,” said senior middle blocker Dana Rettke. “We have some of the most dedicated athletes on our team. All the pauses and inconsistencies this season really makes it worth it. I'm just really happy that we can bring this back to Wisconsin and have it with our team two years in a row."
After last weekend’s matches being canceled due to COVID-19, the Badgers came out a little rusty in the first set, with a hitting percentage of just .167 (15 kills - 7 errors – 48 attempts). Despite an early seven point lead of 10-3, the Wolverines’ scrappiness on the court led them to a 12-12 tie score.
The remainder of that first set was a battle to the finish line, forcing both teams to use up all of their time outs. A ball handling error by Michigan and a kill by senior outside hitter Molly Haggerty ultimately helped Wisconsin take the set.
In the two sets that followed, the Badgers reminded us why they’ve held onto their No. 1 ranking all season. In the second and third sets they hit .409 (12-2-22) and .577 (17-2-26) respectively.
Rettke was a standout player Thursday night, racking up seventeen kills, five blocks and zero hitting errors. Of course, senior setter Sidney Hilley deserves some of the credit for Rettke’s offensive success.
"Me and Dana have always had that connection and she was telling me to give her the ball,” Hilley commented after the game. “So every time I was pumping her the ball and she was putting it away. You could just see it in her eyes she wanted that Big Ten Championship and she wasn't going to let that first set get away."
Hilley notably earned her first double-double of the season, ending the night with 35 assists and 10 digs. The only Badger with more digs in the match was senior libero Lauren Barnes with 13.
Overall, head coach Kelly Sheffield was happy with the team’s defensive efforts. "I loved our fighting spirit to get off the floor,” Sheffield said. “We were scrambling back there, bodies all over the floor. The defensive efforts were fantastic."
The Badger’s have one final match-up against the Wolverines Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. to round out the regular season. Securing a win in that last match would leave the Badgers undefeated headed into the NCAA tournament.