Wisconsin volleyball is one of the most successful and dominant programs in the NCAA Division I. The Badgers have a rich history of excellence, winning six Big Ten titles, making 24 NCAA tournament appearances, reaching nine Final Fours, and playing in three national championship matches. Wisconsin volleyball is also known for its passionate fan base, loyal alumni, and outstanding coaches and players.
The History of Wisconsin Volleyball
Wisconsin volleyball was established in 1974 as a club sport, and became a varsity sport in 1977. The program quickly rose to prominence under the guidance of head coach Steve Lowe, who led the Badgers to their first Big Ten title and NCAA tournament appearance in 1981. Lowe coached Wisconsin for 15 seasons, compiling a record of 304-148-6.
In 1996, John Cook took over as the head coach of Wisconsin volleyball, and ushered in a new era of success. Cook led the Badgers to four Big Ten titles, six Final Fours, and two national championship matches in his seven seasons. He also recruited and developed some of the best players in Wisconsin history, such as Sherisa Livingston, Lizzy Fitzgerald, and Erin Byrd.
In 2003, Pete Waite became the head coach of Wisconsin volleyball, and continued the tradition of excellence. Waite guided the Badgers to five NCAA tournament appearances, including a Final Four run in 2013. He also coached some of the most decorated players in Wisconsin history, such as Aubrey Meierotto, Jackie Simpson, Brittney Dolgner, and Dana Rettke.
In 2014, Kelly Sheffield took over as the head coach of Wisconsin volleyball, and brought the program to new heights. Sheffield has led the Badgers to seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, four Final Fours, and one national championship match. He has also recruited and developed some of the best players in the nation, such as Lauren Carlini, Molly Haggerty, Sydney Hilley, and Grace Loberg.
The Current Season of Wisconsin Volleyball
Wisconsin volleyball is having another stellar season in 2023. The Badgers are ranked No. 1 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, and have a record of 18-0 as of October 8. They have swept 15 of their opponents, and have only dropped four sets all season. They have also won their first eight Big Ten matches, including a thrilling five-set victory over No. 2 Nebraska on September 29.
Wisconsin volleyball is led by a balanced and talented roster that features six All-Americans. Senior setter Sydney Hilley is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and a two-time First Team All-American. She is averaging 11.8 assists per set and orchestrating a potent offense that ranks second in the nation in hitting percentage (.356). Senior middle blocker Dana Rettke is a four-time First Team All-American and a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. She is averaging 3.9 kills per set and hitting .467, while also leading the team in blocks (1.3 per set). Senior outside hitter Grace Loberg is a two-time Second Team All-American and a two-time All-Big Ten selection. She is averaging 3.5 kills per set and hitting .320, while also contributing on defense with 2.4 digs per set. Junior outside hitter Devyn Robinson is a First Team All-American and an All-Big Ten selection. She is averaging 2.9 kills per set and hitting .406, while also adding 0.9 blocks per set. Sophomore libero Lauren Barnes is an Honorable Mention All-American and an All-Big Ten selection. She is averaging 4.2 digs per set and anchoring a solid defense that ranks third in the nation in opponent hitting percentage (.132). Sophomore opposite hitter Jade Demps is an Honorable Mention All-American and an All-Big Ten Freshman selection. She is averaging 2.7 kills per set and hitting .307, while also providing a strong serve with 0.5 aces per set.
Wisconsin volleyball has a tough schedule ahead, as they face some of the best teams in the Big Ten and the nation. The Badgers will play No. 5 Minnesota twice, No. 6 Purdue twice, No. 9 Penn State twice, No. 10 Ohio State twice, No. 14 Michigan once, and No. 15 Illinois once in their remaining regular season matches. The Badgers will also compete in the Big Ten Tournament in November, and hope to secure a top seed for the NCAA Tournament in December.
The Future of Wisconsin Volleyball
Wisconsin volleyball has a bright future ahead, as they have a strong recruiting class coming in next year. The Badgers have signed four players who are ranked in the top 100 of the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces list. They are:
- Anna Smrek, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker from Welland, Ontario, Canada. She is ranked No. 9 in the Senior Aces list, and is the tallest player ever to sign with Wisconsin. She is a member of the Canadian Junior National Team, and has a powerful arm and a high volleyball IQ.
- Madi Kubik, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from West Des Moines, Iowa. She is ranked No. 10 in the Senior Aces list, and is the sister of former Nebraska All-American Lexi Sun. She is a dynamic attacker and a versatile defender, who can play all six rotations.
- Rylee Rader, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Louisville, Kentucky. She is ranked No. 21 in the Senior Aces list, and is the daughter of former Louisville All-American Jennifer Rader. She is a physical and athletic player, who can dominate at the net with her quickness and explosiveness.
- Julia Orzol, a 6-foot-1 setter from Lemont, Illinois. She is ranked No. 76 in the Senior Aces list, and is the niece of former Illinois All-American Michelle Bartsch-Hackley. She is a skilled and smart setter, who can run a fast and efficient offense.
Wisconsin volleyball also has some talented players returning next year, such as Devyn Robinson, Jade Demps, Lauren Barnes, Deahna Kraft, Anna MacDonald, and Danielle Hart. The Badgers will also welcome back Molly Haggerty, who redshirted this season due to injury. Haggerty is a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-American, who can provide a huge boost to the team with her experience and leadership.
Wisconsin volleyball is a powerhouse in the Big Ten and the nation, and has a lot to look forward to in the present and the future. The Badgers have a proud history of excellence, a talented and balanced roster, a tough and challenging schedule, and a strong and loyal fan base. Wisconsin volleyball is aiming for nothing less than a national championship this season, and has the potential to achieve it.