The University of Wisconsin volleyball team’s storybook 2019 season ended in disappointment, but the Badgers are primed to return to form in 2020 with the return of several key players, including Dana Rettke, Sydney Hilley, Dani Hart, Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty.
After starting the 2019 season with a 4-4 record including losses to ranked teams in Marquette, Baylor and Washington, the Badgers shocked everyone by opening Big Ten play on a 12-game win streak in perhaps the toughest conference in all of NCAA Volleyball.
Wisconsin finished the season with a 27-7 record, closing the season at 23-3 after their poor start, including a conference-best 18-2 record in the Big Ten. In the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin dominated nearly every team that stood in their path with sweeps over Illinois State, UCLA, Texas A&M and Nebraska before a 3-1 victory over No. 1 Baylor in the Final Four, their first Final Four win since 2013.
Despite all of their success, the season ended in defeat as the Badgers fell to No. 3 Stanford in straight sets in the NCAA Championship Game. By the end of the match, Wisconsin looked tired and defeated. But expect Wisconsin to make another tournament run in 2020.
Behind soon-to-be senior Dana Rettke, the Badgers will be among the favorites to win the championship this fall, as a few of the top 2019 teams will lose key seniors before the start of the 2020 season, including Stanford star Kathryn Plummer.
Despite the return of most of the roster, the Badgers do lose two key seniors in libero Tiffany Clark and outside hitter Madison Duello, as well as fellow seniors M.E. Dodge, Sarah Dodd and Mallory Dixon. The loss of Clark and Duello will be noticed early in the season as the Badgers attempt to find their groove, but we’ve seen Wisconsin’s ability to adjust before under Head Coach Kelly Sheffield.
Following the Badgers’ NCAA Championship Game loss, Sheffield explained just how much these seniors meant to the team.
“We probably graduate the greatest servant leadership class that I’ve ever had,” Sheffield said in a recent interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “We return a lot of talent, but that doesn’t guarantee you anything, you still have to form a team.”
Like Sheffield said, much of the team’s talent is returning for 2020, providing increased motivation for the Badgers as a team and individually as Rettke, Hilley, Loberg and Haggerty will all graduate at the end of the season. That means the 2020 Wisconsin volleyball team will strive for nothing less than a championship after falling one win short last year.
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The experience of the 2020 roster will be an advantage throughout the season as these players, along with other veterans like Hart, understand the fatigue that comes with a full volleyball season. This is especially true in a Big Ten Conference that includes perennial top teams in Minnesota, Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois.
Coach Sheffield has several options to fill in the absences left by the departing seniors, including current freshmen Izzy Ashburn and Anna MacDonald, as well as incoming freshmen Devyn Robinson and Jade Demps. Wisconsin will also add a beach volleyball player, Deahna Kraft, a grad transfer from Pepperdine.
Sheffield expressed his excitement for the 2020 season as he acknowledged the fact that the team will be a good mix of returning players and new players.
“I’m certainly excited about what’s down the road,” Sheffield said in the WSJ interview. “We’ve got some great pieces that are coming back and we’ve got some great people coming in that have a chance to figure into the equation. And there’s always a spot or two for a potential transfer.”
The fall 2020 season will signal the end of an era at Wisconsin, with this senior class accumulating a record of 74-24, including a 44-16 Big Ten record, in three seasons. Three players in the class have also earned All-American honors, including Rettke (First team: 2017, 2018, 2019), Hilley (Second team: 2018; First team: 2019) and Haggerty (Second team: 2019).
The 2020 senior class also made the NCAA Tournament each season, improving from Sweet Sixteen berth in 2017 to an Elite Eight berth in 2018 before finishing as NCAA Runners-up in 2019.
If you’re a fan of Wisconsin volleyball or if you followed the Badgers in their 2019 tournament run, watch out for a repeat performance behind Rettke and Co. that might just result in a championship in 2020, the first championship in school history.