Since she was a little girl, junior middle blocker Audra Jeffers knew she wanted to be a Badger. Her father, Bob, played baseball at Wisconsin and made sure Audra grew up wanting to go to Madison.
“He would sing ‘[If] You Want to Be a Badger’ when I was going to bed when I was young, so it’s been a place that I have grown up with,” Jeffers said.
Now that Jeffers is grown up, her dad does not need to sing her the song “by the bright shining light of the moon.” Instead, she can hear it at every home game as the starting middle blocker for the eighth-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team.
This year, Jeffers has become one of the key figures as the Badgers are off to one of their best starts in school history. They are 17-2 and just dropped their first match in conference play Sunday to Penn State. The team sustained a month-long road trip, losing only to BYU in early September.
Personally, Jeffers is also having a great year. She was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in September and is finding a lot of success at the middle blocker position, which she started playing at the beginning of the season.
Jeffers ranks seventh in the Big Ten in blocks — averaging 1.29 per game — and registered a career-best eight blocks against Michigan Sept. 22 and five assists against Northern Iowa Sept. 1.
Before this year, Jeffers played outside hitter. However, after her back surgery this spring, she was moved to the middle, a position requiring less strain on the back. So far, she has embraced her new role on the team.
“She really had a rough spring because of her back,” senior co-captain Jocelyn Wack said. “She started playing — I think it was a week before we went to Europe — and she was just thrown in the middle and has just embraced it.
“She is such a good player that she has grown by leaps and bounds ever since she was thrown in the middle. The middles in this conference have probably been playing middle their entire lives, and she was just thrown into it after playing right side for a couple years.”
Jeffers’ ability to adapt to a new position can be attributed to her learning the game at such an older age. She started playing volleyball her freshman year in high school after going to a Wisconsin volleyball game and deciding it was the game for her.
Jeffers played both middle blocker and outside hitter in high school. Once she got to college, she became an outside hitter, but was still able to make the transition back to the middle.
“She had played middle blocker before in high school, so she understood it some,” head coach Pete Waite said, “but it was just a matter of remembering how to do it and to play it at a higher level because of the speed of the college game. She cares so much about being a good player and for her team that she comes in extra early, stays afterwards and puts in the time to be a great player.”
Jeffers said her goals changed after switching positions. This year, she wanted to become dominant at her position and get up to game speed.
“I just wanted to take our team to the next level,” Jeffers said. “Pete [Waite] said that this is a position that we need to be really strong, and if we can be offensive in this position, then I think the team is going to take the next step.”
Jeffers’ work ethic helped contribute to her success. Her unrelenting quest for perfection at the position stands out to both coaches and players.
“If she’s not getting something, she will work,” Wack said. “She will come in early and work on it. She is willing to make the extra effort to perfect her position, and she’s always willing to learn new things.”
Since Jeffers took a redshirt her freshman year, she is not only an outstanding player today, but will become the core of the team next year, after five seniors graduate.
“We are losing so many good players in this senior class that we are really happy she redshirted, and she’s here to carry us forward once they are gone,” Waite said.
For now, Jeffers can take the back seat on a leadership role and continue to provide more than great play on the court. In high-pressure situations, she is known to provide a little comic relief.
“She will always bust out some dance moves or do something goofy on the court, and you can’t help but laugh. So you need that in tense situations,” Wack said.
As the Badgers get deeper into Big Ten play, they will need both Jeffers play and humor to get them through.
“We are going to the Big Ten Championship this year,” Jeffers said. “We are working hard, and we are going to come out on top.”