When head coach Pete Waite first recruited the then-highly touted Annemarie Hickey, he saw a promising defensive talent.
“We saw Anne as a defensive player and eventually our libero,” Waite said. “She was an outside hitter through high school and one of the top players in Illinois as an outside hitter. Despite her size, she was a phenomenal attacker.”
The fact that Hickey was only 5-foot-8 made no difference in high school, as she led Joliet Catholic Academy Angels to Illinois State 3A titles in 2008 and 2009 as an outside hitter. Hickey was also named the 2009 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year after a fantastic senior season, where she led the Angels to a 41-1 record.
During her freshman year at Wisconsin, Hickey was assigned the role of a defensive specialist. It was a change Hickey was expecting due to her lack of height to square off with some of the larger players in the conference.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be tall enough to hit in the Big Ten,” Hickey said. “When I came to Wisconsin, they told me my role was going to be either as a defensive specialist or libero. They said I’d have to make the transition, that it might take some hard time but that’s what my role was going to be.”
Waite said the transition may have had its growing pains, but he saw glimpses early last fall of Hickey’s talent and the promise she offered as a defensive player.
“Last year was a transition for her because she had always been an all-around player in the frontcourt and backcourt,” Waite said. “We had a senior libero at the time so we didn’t put her there right away. Even mid-fall last year we were starting to see signs of her athleticism and ball control that had us excited to put her in that new role this year.”
This season, as a sophomore, Hickey has started in every match for the Badgers at libero, a switch that Waite and Hickey spoke of early in the year.
“Once spring season came we talked about it,” Hickey said. “He told me I was going to have competition for the spot once the fall girls came in and that I needed to step up my game. There were downfalls and some rough times for me when I was getting used to the position.
“I really wanted that spot to be mine so I practiced really hard and offseason. I kept having meetings with coach to ask what he needed from me and what I needed to do to help the team, and from there I just worked as hard as I could.”
That hard work has paid off.
After 48 sets this season, Hickey leads the Big Ten in digs per set at an impressive 5.08. What makes the statistic even more impressive is the fact that the four players in the conference trailing her are almost all upperclassmen and multi-year starters.
To Waite, the early success partially stems from Hickey’s background as an attacker.
“She’s got that attacker’s mentality,” Waite said. “Now that she’s on the other side of that she can read hitters and anticipate some of the things they’re going to do because she’s done that herself.”
Another characteristic that Waite pointed to was Hickey’s desire to succeed.
“She hates to lose,” Waite said. “That’s a big thing for all athletes. Anybody can love to win but if you hate to lose you’ll work your butt off to make changes to make your game better. In our recent matches some of the biggest hitters on the other side of the net have been swinging her way and she’s been controlling those balls well for us so far.”
While the Badger coaching staff may have expected this early success, Hickey did not. For Hickey, the team comes above any individual glory.
“I didn’t see this happening so soon,” Hickey said. “But right now I’m just focusing on helping the team win, not statistics. What I think makes me so successful is the fact that I don’t want to lose, that I give everything I have to try to win every match. I’ll do whatever it takes to get a win for the team.
“I don’t think of publicity or getting recognized, all I think about is what I have to do to help the team win and get on to the next goal.”