No. 6 Badgers face big test at No. 7 Illinois
Not only did the University of Wisconsin volleyball team get knocked upside down by Minnesota last Wednesday, the Badgers also had their practice shirts turned inside out.
In the wake of the lopsided loss to the Gophers, the Badgers were left to do some soul searching as they tried to sort through the wreckage.
“Wednesday night shook us to the core, there’s no easy way around that,” coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We haven’t been a part of too many shellackings like that and our team was certainly down and frustrated. They lost a little bit of confidence from that, or a lot of confidence from that. So we’re trying to put the pieces back together and try to move past that as quick as you can.”
The No. 6 Badgers (10-2, 3-1 Big Ten) took a step in that direction on Saturday with a sweep of then-No. 16 Purdue and will take on an even tougher challenge Wednesday night against No. 7 Illinois (14-1, 3-1) at Champaign.
But while they’ve tried to put the Minnesota massacre behind them, they also have a daily reminder in practice. In response to their disappointing effort, the players decided they would wear their practice jerseys inside out until they proved themselves worthy of wearing them properly.
“We always talk about representing Wisconsin and having that ‘W’ on your shirt,” said redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty, who originated the idea. “Wednesday night we didn’t do that at all, not close.
“I think that hits home with a lot of people, turning this inside out and seeing each other’s shirts really brings back the pain of that match. In practice now just looking at each other and not seeing that W, it really brings you back.”
Junior M.E. Dodge, one of three team captains, feels that pain every day.
“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do here, turning my shirt inside out,” Dodge said. “I’ve loved putting on ‘Wisconsin volleyball’ every single day. It’s one of my favorite things to do because I get to represent this culture, this place. It’s amazing. So to turn it inside out and not show everybody what I get to do every single day, that hurts a lot.”
And while the performance at Purdue was encouraging, it will take more than that to reverse the shirts.
“One game is not going to make us turn them back around,” Dodge said. “We’ve got to consistently be better.”
The Badgers likely will have to be at their best against the Illini, who are coming off their first loss of the season in four sets to No. 3 Nebraska.
Illinois is led by All-American senior setter Jordyn Poulter, who leads the Big Ten with 11.62 assists per set.
“Jordyn is awfully good,” Sheffield said. “She keeps everybody involved. And she’s got a really good arsenal of people to set to. They’re real balanced and they’re led by one of the best competitors and best setters in the country.”
Sheffield juggled his lineup after the Minnesota match, inserting redshirt freshman Danielle Hart in the front row, Dodge and junior Tiffany Clark switching libero/defensive specialist roles and junior Sarah Dodd starting in the back row, with Grace Loberg taking over that spot in the last two sets.
But Sheffield said the team’s mindset was in greater need of adjustment than its lineup.
“We weren’t figuring things out at Minnesota,” he said. “We were stunned and back on our heels. I didn’t think our communication and figure-it-out ability was very good. There was a part of it that was just making sure that you have the right mindset when you get slugged across the chin, just being able to get your wits and pick yourself back up and dust yourself off and go.
“I think we just laid down there and let somebody continue to kick sand in our face, figuratively. There’s a toughness that you have to have.”
Haggerty said she was so troubled by that loss that she had trouble sleeping that night and she barely recognized her team on film. She is convinced the team is determined to not let each other down again.
“Wearing ‘Wisconsin volleyball’ to class and around school means so much to us because we’re representing something way bigger than ourselves,” Haggerty said. “Not being able to wear ‘Wisconsin volleyball’ in our own gym is really hard, but it’s a huge motivator for practice every day.”