Badgers volleyball team puts away gritty High Point
Kelly Sheffield and his University of Wisconsin volleyball team knew something that many of the sellout crowd at the UW Field House didn’t know coming into Sunday’s match against High Point.
For starters, he knew the name of the Badgers’ opponent and he also knew the Panthers were a highly competitive team.
So he was not particularly surprised when High Point came out and took a tough first set 25-23 before the No. 8 Badgers bounced back and won the next three 25-20, 25-21, 25-17.
“There’s probably not a lot of people around here who know what High Point is,” Sheffield said. “We knew that was going to be a tough match against a really tough team.”
If they didn’t already grasp that, the Badgers learned that earlier in the day when they watched High Point (1-5) battle hard against No. 2 Texas despite being swept by the Longhorns.
“That wasn’t a fluke, how they played against Texas today, and it wasn’t a fluke of how they were playing against us,” Sheffield said. “It’s a good team, really well coached and an NCAA tournament team a year ago. They came in here battling.”
The Badgers’ task was made more challenging by the absence of sophomore outside hitter Grace Loberg, who was held out as she nursed some minor injury issues. Loberg was coming off a dynamic 19-kill, 18-dig performance against Texas on Saturday.
“We’re trying to keep her healthy,” Sheffield said. “So we decided to give her the day off and test some of these other guys.”
With Loberg sitting out, redshirt freshman Danielle Hart made her first start on the right side, with redshirt junior Madison Duello shifting over to Loberg’s spot on the left side. Junior defensive specialist Sarah Dodd took Hart’s back row rotations.
Sheffield said the changes may have led to some early issues, but that things smoothed out as the match went along.
Hart finished with seven kills, hitting .389 with no hitting errors, and also had six blocks. She became increasingly impactful as the match wore on.
“I felt pretty comfortable going out,” Hart said. “Obviously, a little bit of jitters. Looking back, there’s a lot of things I can get better at. Each point I was saying, ‘you’ve got to get better, you’ve got to get better.’ I felt like I got better throughout the match. The whole team did.”
The Badgers (4-0) were led by sophomore middle Dana Rettke with 14 kills (.407) and nine blocks.
And while there may have been some unrest in the stands after the first set, Rettke was neither surprised by High Point’s toughness nor worried about her own team’s resiliency.
“We knew they were going to come out and be really strong,” Rettke said. “We watched their first one against Texas and Texas really struggled.
“Two points was the difference in that (first) set so we knew we had things to clean up and we definitely knew that was by far not the best we could play. To me, that whole match we were in control, even through that first set. We just made a couple unforced errors.”
One notion that the Badgers totally dismissed was that they experienced any kind of letdown following an impressive victory over Texas the previous night.
Fatigued, maybe. But definitely not overconfident.
“What I sense was a lot of people that probably didn’t get eight hours of sleep last night,” Sheffield said.
“But a letdown to me, is a team that is not ready to go, that is taking somebody for granted or thinking about what happened previously, and I didn’t get one ounce of that being true.”
One player for whom the match was truly a high point was Panthers senior middle Molly Livingston. The former Sun Prairie athlete recorded 12 kills in fulfilling a dream of playing against the team she grew up rooting for.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience,” Livingston said. “It’s just crazy because I grew up always coming to the games here and I’ve always looked up to these players, so actually getting to play them was pretty incredible.”
Livingston was named to the HotelRed Invitational all-tournament team, along with her teammate Abby Bottomley; UW’s Sydney Hilley, Molly Haggerty and Loberg; and Texas’ Micaya White and Brionne Butler. Hilley was named the MVP.
HIGH POINT (kills-digs-blocks) — Broadstreet 9-5-0, M. Smith 12-0-0, Ellis 9-5-0, Thornburg 0-7-0, Livingston 12-2-2, J. Smith 0-4-0, Tylman 13-2-0, Weidner 0-11-0, Bottomley 0-23-0, Hefner 2-1-0, Idlebird 0-0-0, Dickerson 0-1-0, Rhodes 1-1-0. Totals 58-62-2.
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 5-14-6, Williams 8-4-8, Rettke 14-3-9, Hart 7-1-6, Dodge 0-7-0, Haggerty 10-4-1, Dodd 0-3-0, Duello 9-4-3, Clark 0-16-0. Totals 53-56-17.
Hitting percentage — HP .171, W .328. Aces — HP 7 (Livingston 3), W 4 (Clark 2). Assists — HP 55 (Thornburg 25), W 53 (Hilley 45). Att. — 7,052.