While you were at home sipping a cup of cocoa and prepping for the holidays, the Badgers were making history. For the first time in program history, Wisconsin is the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Champions. Missed the game? No worries; Cardinal sports reporter Taylor Smith will catch you up with her thrilling recount of the final match.
In a fierce five-set match, the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (31-3) took down the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (26-8) for the third time this season. However, this game was not just Big Ten play — it was the National Championship match.
Wisconsin beat Nebraska 22-25, 31-29, 25-23, 23-25, 15-12.
There was certainly no clear winner throughout the first four sets, as each set was neck and neck. Both the Badgers and Cornhuskers would find themselves ahead by a few points at a time, but it would not be uneven for long. After losing the first set, the Badgers found themselves down 5-1 in the second set. After trailing for virtually the whole set, some crucial kills later in the set from graduate student Dana Rettke and sophomore Jade Demps pushed the Badgers ahead, allowing them to win in extra points.
Wisconsin used the motivation from the second set to lead them to another win in set three. It seemed like the National Championship was in the hands of the Badgers, however, a four-point service run from Nebraska libero Lexi Rodriguez put the Cornhuskers ahead 21-17. Nebraska had the lead of 24-20 over the Badgers, but the Badgers were not done putting up a fight. After battling back to 24-23, the Badgers let the fourth set slip and it was time to head to a fifth set.
The Badgers started off the fifth set 7-0. After a few attack errors and service errors from Wisconsin, the lead was shortened to 10-7. A 7-0 lead gave the Badgers enough room for some errors and they soon found themselves 14-9 against the Cornhuskers. Wisconsin had four match points before AVCA Player of the Year and five-time First-Team All American, Dana Rettke, ended the match for good. Rettke of course was assisted by her five-year-long teammate and fellow First-Team All-American, Sydney Hilley.
There was no better feeling in the world than watching the Badger women rush the court after Rettke’s kill. The Badgers have been so close to winning the Championship these past few years and even came as close as runner-up in 2019. Seniors Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Grace Loberg, Lauren Barnes and Giorgia Civita came back this season for yet another chance at winning a ring, and they were successful.
Nebraska outhit Wisconsin 68 kills to 60. This did not overshadow freshman Anna Smrek’s 14 kills. Smrek found herself throughout the tournament, earning her the MVP of the NCAA Championship tournament.
However, Wisconsin surely made up for it defensively. The Badgers out-blocked the Cornhuskers 24-10. Dana Rettke tied her career-high with 13 blocks, while sophomore Devyn Robinson also hit double digits, recording 10 blocks. Graduate student Lauren Barnes ended her career on a high note, recording 31 digs and seven assists. Sydney Hilley followed Barnes in digs, tallying 13 in addition to her 51 assists, gaining her yet another double-double.
The season may be over for the Badgers, along with six of the senior’s collegiate careers, but the celebration has just started. A press conference after the match captured the excitement of the moment perfectly. Coach Kelly Sheffield and his players were at a loss for words.
“I honestly don’t think that it has set in yet,” Dana Rettke confessed. “I mean I kind of imagined like dropping to the floor and crying and I just stood there in shock.”
Kelly Sheffield felt the exact same at Rettke. The Coach was spotted sitting on the bench after the winning point, taking in the long-awaited moment. When asked about what he felt during the moment, the Coach admitted how important the moment was to him.
“I wanted to take it in,” Sheffield stated. “This is about them, it’s about the team. Seeing the joy in their faces and the love for each other.”
The Badgers made their way back to Madison where the celebration was shared with the rest of the city.