Sports are back in the most excellent college town in America, and that means everything from fans rolling down State Street for football games to hoards flocking to the University of Wisconsin Field House to see the most dominant show on a court.
Of course, that is in reference to the UW women’s volleyball team, whose full pedigree can not be understated. The Badgers are perennial Big Ten Champions, far from a stepped-on conference in women’s volleyball. Consistently, the Badgers can land not only high-level recruits but also top-level international and transfer talent.
Last season, the Badgers were long-standing favorites to make a long run in the Big Ten and compete for a national championship. This team saw not only high-level freshmen talent Devyn Robinson and Jade Demps, but a slew of highly touted transfers like Giorgia Civita to add to an already loaded senior core.
After what many people saw as a powerful Big Ten season, winning most matches by three games to none, the Badgers charged into the postseason. After an easy-going first round and a telling victory against Florida, the Badgers faced Texas to whom they ultimately fell, ending seniors Molly Haggerty and Deahna Kraft’s Badger careers.
This defeat was made even more crushing when Texas lost the championship to Kentucky.
After losing two influential seniors, the Badgers now stand two games into the season with what feels like a team that can make a run at more championship greatness. With only five games under their belt, this year’s team is off like they never left, spotting a clean 5-0 record.
While it could be easy to pile, pushing through the point that the Badgers are crazy good, this team already has a slightly different feeling than in 2020. The factors for this are threefold, adding important details to what is a very nuanced team narrative.
While last season’s team could rest on their laurels in the first two games of a match, this squad seems to come out hot from the start winning all of their first games this year. But, a perfect record can easily mean little to nothing if you are playing slow and lackluster competition.
This is simply not the case for a team with two of their five wins coming against ranked opponents in Texas Christian University and Kentucky. The most recent win against the defending national champions plants a proverbial flag in the new season of college volleyball.
Along with this meaningful start is the fact that the Badgers are straight-up tall. The Badgers tower over teams like Dayton and TCU, adding to the David and Goliath feeling most couples face against the Badgers. This height creates an imposing front line that boasts high block percentages, with nine in their last game against Kentucky.
Moreover, the Badgers have a clear changing of the guard going on as strong senior talent is paired with increasingly impressive play from underclassmen. While the team itself has been viewed nationally as a powerful force, individual players are beginning to become superstars on a national scale.
One of these players is graduate senior Dana Rettke who’s play and high level of leadership earned her the Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year award in 2019-2020. Following these honors, Rettke has done far from slow down with multiple matches with double-digit kills, including nine against Dayton in only two games.
While in years past Rettke’s incredible play almost eclipses that of her team, that is not the case for this season. While Rettke is undoubtedly the backbone of this solid squad, sophomores Demps and Robinson are rapidly coming into their own light.
While Rettke adds height and power to the team, Demps tends to compliment with a high amount of touch. Examples of this can are seen in her Dayton performance, in which she had a kill percentage of 38.
While Demps compliments, Rettke and Robinson add a much-needed layer to the rotation, often playing in correspondence with Demps and working to create constant pressure on the other teams’ defense.
For many high-level teams, it is necessary to walk before they can run. This simply has not been the case with Badger volleyball as they continue to break the mold of Wisconsin Athletics characterized by hot starts, eventual skids and the eventual postseason exit, leaving fans with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
The feeling in the Wisconsin Field House is just different.
It may be the addition of a full fan section bringing in energy every night, or it could simply be whatever they’re putting in the water in Madison. Overall, this Badger team looks well pressed to carry on a tradition of excellence that has spoiled fans for almost a decade.