Lauren Carlini and Sindey Hilley have both been bringing a lot of attention to the University of Wisconsin volleyball program with their impressive performances and skills, but which one truly reigns supreme here at UW?
Wisconsin volleyball is back in the national spotlight, but for many years that was not the case. After success in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Wisconsin volleyball team failed to make the NCAA tournament for five years.
Enter a new head coach and the top recruit in the country. Both Head Coach Kelli Sheffield and Lauren Carlini came to Madison in 2013, during a time when Wisconsin really needed them.
By the time Carlini landed in Madison, she had already been the women’s Gatorade player of the year in 2012, her senior year of high school, an Under Amour All-American and had played on the US Junior National Team. Essentially, when Carlini made her collegiate debut, the volleyball community was excited. Despite the badger’s recent struggles and a coaching change, she decided to go to Wisconsin.
With Carlini running the offense as the team’s setter, the badgers began to see success. As the season progressed, the team got better and better, and for the first time in five years the badgers, ranked 12th, made the NCAA tournament.
The badgers were a Cinderella story that season. They knocked off top ranked Texas in the semi-finals before falling to Penn State in the National Championship. Despite the loss, the 2013 season was almost everything a badger fan could want. They were winning games, and had a talented young setter that was named a second team All-American.
Expectations remained high for Carlini after she led her team to the finals. For her four years playing at UW, she was regarded as one of the best in the business. Announcers, coaches, teammates and foes alike sang her praises.
In just four years, she put the badgers back on the map, and helped change the culture of the program. During her time as a Wisconsin college volleyball player, the team had a culture of winning. Each time they stepped on the court, they wanted to come away with a W. Each year the goal was to win a Big Ten and National Championship.
In her sophomore season, they accomplished their goal of winning a Big Ten championship before falling to again to Penn State, but this time in the Elite Eight. During this match, Carlini suffered a severe ankle sprain. Carlini was named a first team All-American.
Before her time ran out, she was named first team All-American two more times and led her team to the Sweet Sixteen in 2015, and the Elite Eight in 2016, where she saw her outstanding college career come to an end in five sets against the eventual National Champions, Stanford.
The silver lining? She ended her time in Cardinal and White in front of a supportive Field House crowd, where her and the other seniors received standing ovations. The fans realized how much of an impact she had made on the program and were grateful.
Since then, she’s received the AAU Sullivan Award, which is awarded to the country’s best amateur athlete. She joined the ranks of Payton Manning and Michael Phelps. She also spent the summer playing for the US Women’s National Team and is currently playing professionally in Italy.
Enter Sydney Hilley. Another highly touted recruit, she was ranked the top setter in her class and No. 3 over all. She was the 2016 Minnesota Gatorade volleyball player of the year and had similarly played with the US Junior National Team.
Hilley enrolled early last January to train with Carlini. When asked why she chose Wisconsin, she told UW Athletics that her favorite thing about Wisconsin Volleyball is the culture. The same culture that Carlini had helped create.
Hilley is just halfway through her freshman season, but she has already made an impact. The badgers are hitting at a clip .308, much to her credit. She is able to put her hitters in positions to score points. She is doing her part to make sure that the program keeps their expectations high, and maintain a winning culture.
Undoubtedly, Hilley is a phenomenal player, but it is too early to determine if she will be as good or better than Carlini. Carlini led her team deep into the post season while earning All-American accolades for herself four times. She’s the only Wisconsin volleyball player to be a four time All-American.
Even if Sydney Hilley surpasses her predecessor in accomplishments and skill, there can only be one Lauren Carlini. Hilley will make her own significant mark on the Wisconsin volleyball program, but she will never receive the credit for creating the culture of the program.
Lauren Carlini had such a large impact on this program, and was the best setter in the country, which are some big shoes to fill. It will be difficult for Hilley to surpass Carlini, but it is still early in her career, and only time will tell.