Although they transpired under decidedly different circumstances, the story behind each of Wisconsin’s last two trips to the NCAA tournament feature the same exact ending.
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Road warriors: Wisconsin embracing underdog mentality in preparation for NCAA tournament match with Marquette
After advancing to the postseason 13 times over the course of his career, Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield has become quite adept at preparing his team to play in December. In the upcoming 2017 NCAA tournament, however, Sheffield will be tasked with helping the Badgers broach a challenge they have never encountered before: being an underdog.
In what has been a largely up and down 2017 campaign, No. 13 Wisconsin hit perhaps its lowest point of the season this past weekend.
When setter Sydney Hilley and middle blocker Dana Rettke were first brought together for a campus visit in 2014, they didn’t interact much with each other. Sophomores in high school at the time of their trip to Madison, the two prospects were invited to attend the Big Ten Championship match at the Field House, meeting one another while watching the Badgers take on the Purdue Boilermakers from the bleachers. Aside from a brief introduction and a few other idle exchanges, both players mostly kept to themselves, unsure of exactly what to say to each other.
In what has come to encapsulate a troubling yet all too familiar theme of the 2017 volleyball season, a match that No. 8 Wisconsin looked firmly in control of completely unraveled after intermission, as a possible home sweep for the Badgers ended in a disastrous 25-14, 25-16, 21-25, 23-25,13-15 loss to conference rival Ohio State Friday night at the Field House.
Over halfway through the season, it is safe to say that the Big Ten schedule has not done the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers any favors.
Following the loss to top-ranked Penn State on the road this past Wednesday, Wisconsin head coach Kelly Sheffield spoke very candidly about his disappointment with the play of the Badgers’ starting outside hitters, publicly criticizing the lack of production he saw from seniors Kelli Bates and Lauryn Gillis.
Wisconsin senior outside hitter Kelli Bates was unabashedly clear about what a win over rival Minnesota would mean to her.
Successfully closing out opponents has proven to be quite the challenge for the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers as of late.
In Big Ten volleyball, nothing ever comes easy. Each team in the conference must overcome their fair share of obstacles, fighting to survive a brutal schedule which proves immensely challenging for even the nation’s most talented teams.
Letting a lead slip away can be a jarring experience for any athlete, as missed opportunities and improbable collapses may damage the collective confidence or emotional state of the team. But for No. 7 Wisconsin (2-2 Big Ten, 11-2 overall) — after allowing a two-set advantage over Nebraska turn into another painful five-set loss last Saturday — there is no time to lament old wounds.
The Badgers most recent victory over Michigan last Sunday may not have come without the late-set heroics of outside hitter Lauryn Gillis. With Wisconsin trailing 22-24 on a Michigan set point, the senior star sprang into action, striking down three straight kills to even the score, playing in peak form even as the stakes grew higher.
Following a devastating defeat to Michigan State in its Big Ten opener Friday night, No. 5 Wisconsin (1-1 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) got back to business as usual Sunday afternoon, sweeping the twentieth-ranked Michigan Wolverines (0-2, 10-4) by a score of 25-11, 30-28, 25-13, at the Field House.
In a thrilling and hard-fought Big Ten battle, No. 5 Wisconsin (0-1 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) was pushed to the limit in its conference opener at the Field House Friday night, taking on a Michigan State team (1-0 Big Ten, 8-2) that refused to be overwhelmed by an elite school seeking to defend its home floor. Determined to hold their own, the Spartans hung with the Badgers serve for serve and rally after rally, unrelenting in the pursuit of an upset.
If any fans left the Field House worried after watching Wisconsin drop its first set of the season a few days ago against Marquette, those concerns were promptly put to rest Saturday night.
Building a strong defense is a task that generally takes time and practice. Progression on the defensive side of the court typically occurs at a gradual pace, as players slowly develop a rapport with one another and learn how to play together as one cohesive unit. However, teams without much experience may struggle—at least in the beginning—to play consistent defense.
Another magnificent performance in the middle helped propel the Badgers to victory in the final round of the HotelRed Invitational, as No. 6 Wisconsin (7-0) took down Texas A&M (3-3) by a score of 25-19, 25-23, 25-10, clinching the HotelRed Invitational Saturday night at the Field House.
Despite coming dangerously close to losing its first set of the season, No. 6 Wisconsin (6-0) managed to walk away from the UW Field House unscathed yet again, sweeping the Lipscomb Bison (4-3) by a score of 25-19, 25-19, 26-24, in the first round of the annual HotelRed Invitational Thursday night.
For the past several years, the Wisconsin volleyball program has served as a remarkable testament to the value of assembling a roster rich with experience and leadership. Head coach Kelly Sheffield has overseen the team during one of its most remarkable stretches of success in school history, building the Badgers into a perennial contender capable of vying for a national championship each and every season.
Playing three matches over the course of just two days, No. 6 Wisconsin (5-0) turned what easily could have been a tumultuous and tiresome road trip into an impressive display of dominance, picking up sound victories over Syracuse, Arkansas and Kansas State to capture the championship in the K-State Invitational this weekend.