Sunday brought excitement for the Wisconsin volleyball team as it was chosen to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament at the UW Field House this weekend. The 13th-ranked Badgers (23-9) compete in the tournament for the first time since 2007. The Field House will host a tournament game between California (17-2) and North Carolina (27-4) on Friday, with the Badgers taking on Milwaukee (18-10) later on that evening.
Wisconsin is making its 17th appearance in the NCAA tournament, hosting 13 out of those 17 appearances. They have been seeded among the top 16 teams in the NCAA tournament nine times, ranking their highest in 1997 at fourth.
With a strong finish to their regular season, the Badgers tied for fourth in the final Big Ten standings at 12-8, making this their most conference victories since 2007 when they finished 17-3. Additionally, the Badgers finished as the conference leaders in digs per set, averaging 15.8 digs per set in league matches.
Wisconsin has also broken nearly every individual and team season record under 25-point rally scoring in 2013. Junior Ellen Chapman set overall and Big Ten-season records for kills and freshman Haleigh Nelson set overall and Big Ten record for total blocks. Freshman Lauren Carlini was named Big Ten Freshman of the year and also earned All-Big Ten honors this past Tuesday.
First-year head coach Kelly Sheffield has become one of the most successful first-year head coaches for Badger volleyball. When asked about his overall 2013 experience with the team, he described it as a dream come true.
“I am a really lucky coach to be able to work at a place like this university,” Sheffield said. “It’s been a real awesome experience and I feel very fortunate.”
Senior libero Annemarie Hickey gets another chance to play on her home turf this weekend and an opportunity to show how far she has led the team this year.
“This is my first time making it in all my four years. I’m actually just really motivated. We know as a team that we can go far and do big things. And you know, we are getting a lot of things from the media and other teams saying we’re not going to go far, but we have no doubt in our minds that we can do this and we can beat a lot of these teams. We’re just really going out there with a lot of motivation and it’s really awesome.”
Everyone is getting excited for the post-season play, and Sheffield and the players alike are expecting a great turnout this weekend.
“The one thing I keep hearing from everybody is if you get to postseason then everyone shows up, that’s one thing Badger fans do,” Sheffield said. “They support their teams well. I’m stoked about that. You host, this place will be packed. I believe in that. You know our team feeds off good energy. We’re hoping we have unbelievable energy this weekend.”
While this may be the Badgers first appearance in six seasons, this is not Sheffield’s first go-round with the NCAA tournament. Including 2013, Sheffield has led his teams to nine NCAA tournaments, including the last eight years in a row where he led Dayton to five-straight postseason appearances and Albany to three.
With so many dreams coming true for this tight-knit team, the Badgers seem ready to chase further team goals. While making it to the tournament itself was quite the accomplishment, the Badgers don’t seem engendered toward complacency. They want to keep moving forward and focus on one opponent at a time.
Carlini hopes to leave it all on the court.
“We don’t have anything to lose. This is the first time we have been in the tournament since 2007, so let’s prove everyone wrong. No one thinks we can make it far in the tournament, and everyone doubts us. I think we are using that as fuel and we hope to show everyone that we can do this.”
Hickey is proud and excited to have led her team this far and will stop at nothing to battle through and put up a good fight. “Bring it,” is her message to the team as they step on the court this weekend.
“We need to bring it hard to each team and be confident that we are going to win.”