For the third straight season, the Wisconsin volleyball team has advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
After defeating unranked Oregon and Iowa State in the first two rounds last weekend, the No. 6 Badgers will take a significant step up in competition as they travel to Austin, Texas.
Wisconsin (26-6) faces No. 11 Florida (25-8) in what should be a barnburner between two elite teams. Head coach Kelly Sheffield discussed Monday the success of the Florida program and its head coach Mary Wise.
“There are not too many people that have had more success than [Wise] has,” Sheffield said. “She’s been doing it year-in and year-out for more than 20 years. That’s something that you admire as the people that are great consistently. There are so many people that have just kind of been here one, two, three years or something, but there are few coaches in any sport that can keep their teams up toward the top every season. She’s one of them.”
Sheffield also noted the difficulty in playing a team as deep and talented as Florida.
“They they might be as talented of a team [or] the most talented team in the country,” Sheffield said. “They’ve got four returning All-Americans and that doesn’t include the National Freshman of the Year from a few years back. So a lot of talent on the other side of the net. We’re starting to break down film and putting together a game plan. But we’re excited about still playing.”
Despite the daunting task in front of them, Wisconsin knows they are peaking at the perfect time.
The Badgers relied on a sound defensive effort throughout the first weekend of the tournament to position themselves in the Sweet 16.
“I think defensively we were really good,” Sheffield said. “We got great touches against Oregon. We didn’t get a lot of stuff blocks against them, but we got positive touches and ran down the back court. I thought our back court was fantastic against Iowa State. So I would say defensively I’m really impressed with and really proud of the direction that we’re heading.”
Should the Badgers win Friday, their Elite Eight matchup would be another prizefight. In the other Sweet 16 matchup, No. 3 Texas faces No. 14 UCLA in a battle between two traditional powerhouses.
Wisconsin fans should remember their last matchup against Texas, a Final Four thriller, as one that propelled Sheffield’s first team to the national title game in 2012.
Despite their recent history, Sheffield knows his program has matured since that first meeting.
“That was a big match for us two years ago,” Sheffield said. “It was an important match for our program. But we’ve played, whatever, 70 matches since then to now against some really good teams.”