Throughout the spring season, many players on the Wisconsin volleyball team have improved dramatically from leadership to skill sets.
After finishing as a runner-up in the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament last year, the Badgers are working on improving their individual games this spring.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield said in a press conference Tuesday he believes the team is the focus in the fall, while becoming a better player is more important in the spring.
The players have been mainly working in their position groups to expand their skill set before coming together as a team again in the fall.
Although he said he sees individual improvement in his players, some are frustrated because they are in the process of learning new things.
Sheffield has taken this time to push the players and make them uncomfortable by learning more about the game during this spring to improve the team for the fall.
The team is allowed four matches in the spring session, with the Badgers finishing their third match last Wednesday. In their final home competition of the season, Wisconsin swept Marquette 25-12, 25-17, 25-22 at the UW Field House.
Sheffield also tried getting players used to doing more things outside their normal positions during the match setting to help prepare them for the fall.
He is seeing the work the girls are putting in and how much they want to improve.
“I’d say the past week or two, we’ve had some good workouts, and leadership is starting to come through to the foreground,” Sheffield said. “This team works hard. They want to be great.”
Not only does he want the team to be working hard, but he also thinks the mindset of the seniors on the team can help.
Sheffield saw a sense of urgency from the only senior, libero Annemarie Hickey, last fall because it was her final season as a college athlete. He hopes the next group of seniors learns from Hickey.
“I’m not sure our senior class came into the spring with that, but we’re starting to see it a little bit more, a sense of urgency of, ‘Hey, this window of opportunity is really shrinking awfully quick. If there’s some things I want to accomplish before I leave, I’d better do it now,’” Sheffield said.
Sheffield has seen the sense of urgency growing this spring in junior Ellen Chapman, he said. He thinks this urgency is good for her game and is hoping it translates into the fall season.
Outside of a renewed sense of competition for her final season, Chapman’s game has also improved this spring, according to Sheffield. Since Sheffield joined the team last year, he has continued to help Chapman believe she can be an All-American player.
He said that she has always had high expectations placed on her, but never saw herself as an elite athlete. Sheffield hopes he has been able to change her mindset to compete at a high level.
“She started having that vision, and I think in her case that was very, very big,” Sheffield said. “She’s working hard. She wants to be good. You’ve got to show her the path. Like most athletes, you’ve got to have fun doing it. We’re just at a place right now where it’s a lot of fun.”
Chapman has really pushed the urgency and stepped into a leadership role the past few weeks, Sheffield said.
But Chapman is not the only player making major improvements this offseason.
Freshman Lauren Carlini will train with the U.S. National Team this summer, which Sheffield hopes will help her lead the team and become an even better player.
Despite her youth, Carlini has already proved herself as one of the key members of the Badgers’ front line, a crucial member both on and off the court.
“She stepped into a leadership role, which is really odd as a freshman, but she’s going to be one of our captains this year, and the team just looks at her that way,” Sheffield said. “She’s going to go there and play with, not the best college players, but the best in this country, in our sport.”
With the U.S. National Team, Sheffield hopes Carlini can learn from the best players and bring some of that knowledge back to her teammates.
By the time fall rolls around, he hopes the individual work for all players will help solidify Wisconsin’s chances at making it back to the top of college volleyball.
The Badgers end their spring season with the Minnesota Spring Invitational this Saturday.