Junior Dana Rettke has been one of the most intimidating forces in college volleyball for over two years now. A two-time All-American, Rettke has been a dominant force for Wisconsin since making her debut as a freshman in 2017.
Prior to Dana Rettke’s first game in a Badger uniform, she received some special advice from departing Badger volleyball legend Lauren Carlini.
“I had a conversation with [Carlini] about how you need to set high goals if you want to be on the national team,” Rettke said.
Rettke, now a junior, set those lofty goals, and they led her right where Carlini pointed. This summer, Rettke, a towering, 6-foot-8 middle blocker, joined Carlini on the U.S. Women’s National Team. The team featured only three players with collegiate eligibility, and Rettke was the only non-senior.
The U.S. women went on to win the FIVB Volleyball Nations League title over Brazil in Nanjing, China.
Carlini held national team aspirations since childhood, but Rettke didn’t recognize her own potential until her first season at Wisconsin.
“Not until my freshman year of college, I didn’t really realize what I was capable of,” Rettke said. “My freshman year coming in here I was just kind of like, ‘Oh, let’s see what I can do, we’ll just see where I level up against everybody.’”
The nation has seen what she can do for the past two years, and adversaries are fearing what she might accomplish in her final two seasons.
Rettke has been an AVCA All-America First-Team selection her first two years at Wisconsin. This puts her in position to land first-team selections in each of her four years — a feat that only five Division 1 players have done in AVCA All-America history.
Carlini was the Badger closest to accomplishing this with three first-team selections.
Rettke’s experience with Team USA and legendary former player and Head Coach Karch Kiraly has primed her for another year of All-American volleyball in the treacherous Big Ten. Wisconsin Head Coach Kelly Sheffield spoke with The Badger Herald about Rettke’s improvements from the summer abroad.
“I think it was a great opportunity and experience for her. Playing with and against some of the best players in the world is priceless,” Sheffield said.
Sheffield also added the noticeable improvements in her consistency on serves and block attempts.
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A summer with Team USA has also enlarged the bright red target that already followed the Riverside, Illinois native. Opposing teams stalk Rettke across the net hoping to block the All-American, and a block on Rettke tends to elicit louder-than-usual celebratory screams.
“I use it as motivation. I wish I just never got blocked, but when I see teams get super excited like that’s their energy and their momentum, I just kind of got to cut if off right away,” Rettke said. “Usually I just tell Syd[ney Hilley] to set me right away, and it’s all good.”
Rettke’s fierceness has terrified opponents for the past two years. With that fierceness, opponents have thrown everything at Rettke and the Badgers this year as they currently sit at 4–4 after a brutal non-conference schedule.
Now, Wisconsin faces an even tougher stretch in the cutthroat Big Ten schedule, a challenge that Rettke welcomes each year.
“It’s the best conference in the country … just playing against the best in the country every single night,” Rettke said. “It really kind of trains your mind to come prepared to every single game because you never know what’s going to happen. You’re playing for that Final Four match or that National Championship match every single night.”
Three of the Badgers’ next four games come against ranked opponents, and two of those matches feature Big Ten rivals No. 5 Penn State and No. 3 Nebraska. Rettke is looking to clean up her defense at the net, which she noted has been her focus since the preseason.
Sheffield also pointed to that as her greatest area of needed progression.
“I think the biggest area that she’s got to continue to grow in is to be a stronger presence at the net defensively,” Sheffield said. “Get her hands on more balls. Stuff more balls. Make cleaner reads.”
An improved defensive effort could spell another All-American season for Rettke and some Badger success after a bumpy start to the 2019 campaign.