After a disappointing finish to the 2012 season in which the Wisconsin volleyball team finished 17-16 and tied for ninth in the Big Ten, Wisconsin welcomes both a new head coach and highly regarded recruiting class in 2013.
Wisconsin begins a new era in 2013 with new head coach Kelly Sheffield, who previously coached the University of Dayton to four conference season and tournament championships while also earning three Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year awards.
Sheffield returns three starters plus libero and 11 letterwinners from last season.
He is hoping for immediate success with the team this season, but he said building a program with a strong foundation is imperative.
“When you’re talking about long-term success, there are no shortcuts,” Sheffield said. “You embrace the daily grind, and that’s what we’re doing now. And you put all of your energies into that.”
Junior outside hitter Courtney Thomas said Sheffield’s style of coaching took some getting used to.
“He kind of kicked our butt in the beginning of spring and set down his ground of rules,” Thomas said.
However, she said the team is more focused in trying to achieve its goals at practice every day.
The Badgers boast the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the country led by freshman setter Lauren Carlini, the 2012 Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year.
Carlini said the biggest challenge she has faced so far is adjusting to the amplified speed of the game.
“In high school and club, it’s so much slower and people are a lot smaller,” Carlini said. “In the college game, it’s much more about mental toughness … because everyone’s a lot bigger and everyone hits a lot harder here.”
While the Badgers have a strong group of freshmen to add to the team, the lineup consists of only one active senior in libero, Annemarie Hickey. Senior Julie Mikaelsen will miss the entire season and take a medical redshirt after suffering a broken foot in practice on Aug. 23.
Sheffield said Hickey will have to bear most of the leadership responsibility this season as the only four-year starter on the team. Hickey led the Big Ten in digs during both her sophomore and junior seasons with 4.77 and 4.93 digs per set respectively.
Sheffield said he believes the team’s serving and passing ability will be one of its strengths this season. Last year, Thomas ranked seventh in the Big Ten in assists with 10.55 per set, and Hickey was seventh in services aces with 0.29 per set.
Wisconsin will again compete in the toughest volleyball conference in the country. The Big Ten has seven teams ranked in the preseason coach’s poll including Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska ranked in the top 10. The Badgers will play 12 teams this season that are ranked or received votes in the preseason poll.
Sheffield said one of his goals this season is to have his team play at a consistently high level in order to stay competitive with such a challenging schedule.
“We always want to be going harder,” Sheffield said. “But we also want to balance being able to go hard with also being a team that plays with enthusiasm and also a team that has some consistency about what they’re doing.”