As part of the University of Wisconsin summer volleyball camp program, coach Kelly Sheffield holds an off-court session to talk with the campers about the UW program’s philosophy and culture.
One of the topics during a session in July was the importance of developing confidence and Sheffield started quizzing the young campers about their goals this year.
He asked how many had the goal of making the varsity team this year, and a good number of the campers raised a hand.
How many are aiming to make the starting lineup? A slightly smaller number of hands went up. How many want to be the go-to player on your team? A handful of hands went up.
Then Sheffield asked, how many want to be an all-state or all-American player? About a half-dozen campers put their hands up. Not surprisingly, most of those were UW recruits who were in attendance.
And in the back of the room, one more arm was raised high by one of his current players, redshirt junior right side Madison Duello.
“I see Madison’s hand straight up in the air,” Sheffield said, “and I’m thinking, all right. That’s the first time I’ve seen her, certainly in a room full of people, saying this is what I’m going after, I’m putting it out there. I love that.”
As one of the most experienced players in the program, Duello figures it’s time to step up and take on a leading role with the No. 8 Badgers (2-0), who will open their home season with a highly anticipated match Saturday against No. 2 Texas (2-0) in the HotelRed Invitational at the UW Field House.
“I think that’s a good goal to set for myself,” Duello said. “I think that’s something I can strive for and reach this year. So I just stood up.”
While she has a long ways to go to achieve that ambition, Duello got off to a good start last weekend with strong performances against North Carolina and Florida State. After contributing seven kills and hitting .400 in an easy sweep of the Tar Heels, she put up a career-high 15 kills and hit a match best .379 to help lead a hard-fought four-set victory.
“Getting a career high is awesome and I think that’s something I should try for every game,” said Duello, whose previous high was 13 kills against Nebraska last year. “At the time I had no idea what my career high was, to be honest.”
Even if she doesn’t set a career high every match, Sheffield sees a player more capable of maintaining a high level of productivity every match this season.
“She’s playing a lot more free, with a lot more confidence, a lot more assertiveness,” Sheffield said. “She’s grittier, demanding the ball in a lot more situations. She’s never really done that in the past.
“There’s an inner strength that’s coming out of her and a resiliency that she hasn’t always had that certainly makes you excited for her for this season and going forward.”
Duello, nicknamed “Smooth Jazz” by Sheffield for her easy-going nature — “Mello Duello was just too easy of a nickname,” he said — said she’s made a concerted effort to be more aggressive this season.
“I do think that I need to be more assertive and use my voice more rather than just glide by,” she said. “Our whole summer was about becoming warriors and I think that really helped us and helped me, personally. I’ve realized that it’s time.”
Sheffield said the key for her is to separate her off-court persona from her on-court presence.
“Madison has been a go-with-the-flow type of person off the court,” Sheffield said, “but there’s not an elite athlete that I can think of who would be described as go-with-the-flow in competition. She’s had to tap into this inner drive and urgency and this strength. I see it coming out.”
The Badgers will need to tap into all their best qualities against the Longhorns, who opened their season with wins over No. 18 Oregon and No. 4 Florida.
“Texas is an elite program,” Sheffield said. “They’re a final four, national championship caliber program. They are as physical of a team as there is in the country.”
The HotelRed Invitational continues Sunday when High Point (0-2) plays Texas at 1 p.m. and UW at 6 p.m.