The University of Wisconsin women’s volleyball team recently began their regular season schedule. Hopefully, this season will be one of fully realized potential as the team entered the season ranked No. 5 nationally.

Furthermore, a selection of Big Ten coaches also voted the Badgers to be the preseason favorites to win the conference, ahead of nationally ranked No. 2 Nebraska and No. 3 Minnesota, leaving high expectations for the team.

In a recent interview with Head Coach Kelly Sheffield, Sheffield opened up about expectations for the team this season, including star player Dana Rettke who continues to dominate teams across the country.

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With the high expectations, it is clear that the team refuses to get cocky about their ranking, staying humble and focusing on each game individually in order to compete and prove their value not only individually, but as a team.

“The hope is that our body of work puts ourselves in a position to compete for the Big Ten Championship and also that we improve and progress in a way that allows us to be competitive for a long tournament run,” Sheffield said. “The only way to do that is to take it one match at a time — and that’s what we are going to try and do.”

While the Badgers retained just about all of their key players from last year, their one major loss entering this season is Tionna Williams who graduated this past spring. Replacing her will be sophomore Danielle Hart, who Sheffield sees a lot of potential in. Even with the loss of Williams, things may not change as much as one might normally expect.

But besides Hart, it doesn’t seem Sheffield expects the team to alter their identity much from a season ago, as the rest of the core remains the same. It is likely that we see improvement across the board from most players, but there probably won’t be any breakout players for the Badgers this season, at least according to Sheffield.

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“Tionna was a very talented player and had one heck of a career here,” Sheffield said. “Danielle Hart will move into that position. Danielle has a lot of potential and has worked hard to learn the skills that are necessary to play that position in our league. I would expect her to continue to get better and better as the season progresses. Other than Danielle, I’m not sure who else to expect to see take a major step forward from what they were a year ago. One of our strengths will be our balance — balance across the front court and across the back court, and the ability to set anyone at the net.”

Junior Rettke could not be stopped during her first two years at Madison and it would be wise to expect more of the same this season after she was given the opportunity to train with the U.S. Women’s National Team over the summer. In fact, in just the first two games of the season, Rettke managed to accrue 39 points for the Badgers’ score line. The next-closest team member, Molly Haggerty, procured just 22.

Rettke also led the team in kills for both of their opening two games. Against Florida State in their season opener, she had 17 spikes before one-upping herself against North Carolina with 18 spikes.

Rettke’s opportunity, according to Sheffield, will give her confidence moving forward which will help her improve her speed and power — if that’s even possible considering her skills to this point.

At the end of the interview, we asked Sheffield how tough he believes the Badgers’ competition is in this coming season.

“There are 334 Division I teams in volleyball,” Sheffield said. “In the preseason national rankings, five of the top eight teams and seven of the top 17 are all in the Big Ten. This league will test you up, down, sideways, and every other way.  Year in and year out the Big Ten is crazy good, and our pre-conference schedule is also pretty challenging. As an athlete, if you are a competitive junkie, there’s nothing better.”

It is no doubt that the Badgers will face stiff competition both within and outside of the Big Ten. Yet, this is exactly what the team is looking forward to, according to Sheffield. Without it, there is no way to test your true mettle that will be necessary to execute in the post season when everything is on the line.

The tough schedule that lays ahead of the Badgers only serves to ensure that they will be tested early and often during a season that holds much promise.

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With that in mind, be sure to check out the team this season at the UW Field House. Admission is included with the purchase of a Red Card, which is $25. The team’s next home game will be Sept. 19 against the University of Washington at 8 p.m.