In 2001, the Wisconsin volleyball team was coming off one of the best seasons in school history. After capturing the 2000 Big Ten championship and coming within one game of a national championship, the Badgers entered the season with high hopes.
In 2001, Jill Odenthal was a true freshman from Geneva, Ill., experiencing college life and NCAA volleyball for the first time. Joining a talented and established squad, Odenthal was simply looking to prove she belonged.
“Coming in when they had gone to the finals, my goal my freshman year was to travel with the team, to be one of the players who got to go on the trips,” Odenthal said. “I still remember that, thinking it would be a dream to just see any court time whatsoever.”
The 6-foot rookie did more than just see the court, appearing in 27 matches and averaging 2.60 kills per game in her first season. She made her Badger debut in the NACWAA State Farm Classic against Pacific in Stockton, Calif.
“I played one ball,” Odenthal said. “It was a short serve and it was a perfect pass. What a way to start.”
When starting outside hitter Lisa Zukowski went down with a knee injury against Penn State, Odenthal stepped into the starting lineup and never looked back. In 12 starts, she averaged 3.49 kills per game.
Fast forward three years and that freshman is now a senior, putting the finishing touches on a highly-successful Wisconsin career. One of the steadiest and most consistent performers to come through the program, Odenthal will depart UW ranking amongst the school’s all-time offensive leaders. Her 1,165 kills are the eighth-best total by a Badger and her career hitting percentage of .298 is fourth on the school list.
“‘Odie’ has a knack for scoring that we couldn’t predict at that time,” Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said. “It’s very natural. We could be in a blocking drill and ask her to hit the block and she almost can’t hit the block because she’s so good at avoiding the block constantly. It’s nothing we taught her. It’s something she’s just been given.”
Thanks to that hitting instinct, Odenthal has become a mainstay at UW’s opposite hitter position. After starting 19 of 28 matches as a sophomore, she has been amongst the starting six in every match the past two seasons. She enjoyed her most productive season in a Badger uniform as a junior in 2003. Averaging 3.58 kills per game while hitting .307, Odenthal garnered All-Big Ten, All-Mideast Region and Honorable Mention All-America honors.
This season, her final in the cardinal and white, Odenthal has helped lead a youthful Badger squad to a 16-8 mark by recording 3.05 kills per game, the second-highest average on the team.
“It’s had its ups and downs,” Odenthal said of 2004. “But I’ve really enjoyed the team and really enjoyed being able to play.”
Saturday, Odenthal will play her final Big Ten match at the UW Field House, when Wisconsin plays host to the Michigan State Spartans. The Badgers’ opponent is a fitting one, since it was those very same Spartans that Odenthal faced as a freshman in her first-ever conference match.
“I’d never been in anything like it before,” Odenthal said. “I got four sets and I got kills on all of them because nobody blocked me at all; it was like, ‘Yeah, leave her out there.’ I can even remember how it smelled.”
Seventy-seven Big Ten matches later, Odenthal and fellow senior Marian Weidner will take their final swings against Michigan State on Senior Night.
“I’ve thought about it, but it really hasn’t hit me emotionally,” Odenthal said. “I know it’s coming, I know it’s there, but I really haven’t been excited or sad.”
After four years of milestones and accolades, the volleyball chapter of Odenthal’s life will come to a close, full of accomplishments an 18-year-old freshman might never have dreamed of three years ago.
“It’s been more than I expected it to be,” Odenthal said of her experience at Wisconsin. “To be perfectly honest, when I came here they had already gone to the finals and they won a Big Ten championship, so I didn’t think I was going to play for the first three years. Everything here has been more than what I expected. I couldn’t be happier with what I’ve experienced.”
by Brandon Gullicksrud
Whether starting or coming off the bench as a key reserve, Marian Weidner has been an instrumental force for the UW volleyball team this season.
The senior co-captain has shuffled in and out of the starting lineup with sophomore Maria Carlini throughout the season, but she has accepted her role and helped guide the Badgers to a 16-8 record.
“I think it really gives me a chance to show my leadership,” Weidner, a native of Warrenville, Ill., said. “Because if I’m not starting and I go in, it’s usually when the team really needs me. So, I think it makes me really aware of what I need to do in getting things done. It makes me a lot more focused.”
Weidner, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, will play the final home match of her Badger career this Saturday when Wisconsin faces Michigan State at the UW Field House.
According to her, the experience of “Senior Night” will likely be bittersweet.
“I think it’ll be a little sad because it’s been a great four years, and the Field House is such a fun place to play,” Weidner said. “But I have a lot of family coming, so in another sense it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Weidner will actually be just one of two seniors honored during a ceremony prior to Saturday’s match, as fellow outside hitter Jill Odenthal is the only other Badger playing her final home match. The two have talked about the special nature of this weekend and what it’s going to be like being the only departing seniors.
“We kind of joked and said that we should call it ‘Odie and Marian Night’ instead of ‘Senior Night,'” Weidner said. “We’ve just been kind of thinking about a lot of the memories we’ve had over the past four years.”
Although Weidner and Odenthal will be the only two Badgers featured prior to Saturday night’s match, Weidner feels like fellow Badger and outside hitter Aubrey Meierotto is still part of the UW senior class.
Meierotto, like Weidner and Odenthal, joined the team in 2001. But due to some chronic knee pain, she was forced to red-shirt her freshman year.
“I think it’ll be a little hard because Aubrey was actually in our class,” Weidner said. “So, I think it’ll be a little weird. This is the first time I think we’re actually doing something that she’s not considered a senior.”
Although Weidner has been a part of a number of memorable moments during her four-year Badger career, a few memories in particular stand out in her mind.
Among them are winning a Big Ten title in 2001, beating Penn State on the road in 2002, coming back from a 12-3 deficit to beat PSU in 2003 and beating Minnesota this season.
As for her off-the-court Madison memories, Weidner recalls a “bad memory, turned good” as one of her fondest.
“One of my favorite memories is my freshman year when we were at Irvine, (Calif.) for our pre-season tournament,” Weidner said. “Before that, Aubrey and I hadn’t really ever talked to each other. And I hit my head on the floor; I got a concussion, and I had to get stitches. Later on at the hotel, I guess (head coach) Pete (Waite) said, ‘So Aubrey, it seems like your friend isn’t doing so well.’ So, she came upstairs to my room and said, ‘Are you okay, man?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And then she gave me a hug, and that was the beginning of our friendship.”
This past summer, Weidner, a self-described “book nerd,” spent some time studying and playing volleyball in China — which is another of the Wisconsin senior’s many fond college memories.
“I had a really wonderful time (in China),” Weidner said. “It gave me a lot of confidence — being in another country and being independent and learning stuff. Then, volleyball-wise, I just had a great time playing with other people … It was pretty high-level volleyball, and it was really nice to have that, as well my academic experience.”
In her final Badger campaign, Weidner has posted some pretty solid numbers. She currently ranks second on the team with 2.27 digs per game and third on the team with 2.73 kills per game — despite receiving the starting nod in just 13 of Wisconsin’s 24 matches.
The senior co-captain has accepted her role, however, and is looking to end her Badger career on a high note.
“I feel like as a team we’ve gone pretty far from the first day of practice,” Weidner said. “And for the rest of the season, I hope we just make a great run in the tournament and finish off the Big Ten season really strong.”