When the UW volleyball team opens its season, the expectations will be higher than ever before. That’s what happens when a team attains success, as the Badgers did last season.
In only his second year at UW, head coach Pete Waite and his Badger squad made it to the national championship game before losing to Nebraska.
But before the road to NCAA finals was paved, the foundation had to be set.
Going into the season, Wisconsin was ranked 16th in the USA Today/Coaches poll — the worst ranking the team would hold all season.
The Badgers returned four starters and eight letter winners in 2000, including senior all-American Jenny Maastricht and junior all-Big Ten Sherisa Livingston.
UW was off to a good start, defeating Ball State and UNLV to win their first two regular season games — a first for both Waite and the program. Livingston broke a UW record against UNLV when she recorded a 84.2 hitting percentage.
With their two early wins, the Badgers moved up in the polls to No.15, winning the Sugar Bowl Classic tournament in September. The team was once again led by Sherisa Livingston, who took home the tournament’s MVP honors.
Inspired by their early season success, UW went on an unprecedented 11-game winning streak. Within that month-long streak, Wisconsin defeated UW-Green Bay, Dayton, South Florida, Indiana, and Northwestern.
However, the winning streak was broken when the team lost to Ohio State, despite Livingston’s record-setting performance in which she recorded 37 kills. To make up for that loss, the team refocused and took the Inntowner Invitational, beating Rice for the tournament title.
In addition to the team’s success throughout the season, many Badgers accumulated individual honors along the way. With a sweep over Indiana, the Badgers earned Waite his 300th career victory as a head volleyball coach.
As UW continued to succeed, the nation began to take notice. With their 11-game winning streak and Inntower Invitational championship, Wisconsin jumped five slots in the national poll to 10th.
Even more impressive than their ranking was the team’s decisive win over conference powerhouse Minnesota. The Badgers ended the No.5 Gophers’ perfect season by handing them their first loss in straight sets on Oct. 7.
After that victory UW never looked back. The team overcame Michigan State, Iowa, and Michigan to tie Minnesota for first place in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the team was inching their way up the national poll to No.6.
Making a statement to the other Big Ten volleyball teams as to just how powerful the team had become, Wisconsin needed only an hour and 10 minutes to defeat Purdue. With wins against Illinois and Minnesota, Wisconsin needed only a win over Ohio State to retain sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
The Badgers accomplished that feat with heart and extreme dedication, beating Ohio State and winning their third Big Ten Championship. The Badgers earned the third seed in the National Championship tournament. They also recorded the best record (33-4) in program history.
But winning the Big Ten was not enough for the Badgers as they looked ahead to the National Championship tournament with hopeful enthusiasm.
In the opening round, UW defeated Bucknell (3-0), and went on to defeat Kansas State (3-1), UCLA (3-2), and USC (3-1).
However, the team fell just one victory short of a national title, losing to Nebraska in the championship game. The Badgers gave a valiant effort, but in the end could not overcome the physical play of the Huskers.
The team ended the season ranked No. 2, with Lizzy Fitzgerald and Sherisa Livingston earning all-American honors. Ending her spectacular career at UW, Jenny Maastricht was invited to train with the US National Team.
As the regular season ended, Wisconsin players and staff earned many honors and awards. Sherisa Livingston shared the Big Ten Player of the Year honor with Minnesota’s Nicole Branagh. Along with Livingston, Lizzy Fitzgerald and Jenny Maastricht earned all-Big Ten honors. UW player Claudia Rodriguez earned the 2000 Freshman of the Year award. Last but not least, in only his second season with the Badgers, Waite received the Big Ten Coach of the Year award from both the media and coaches polls.