The Wisconsin Badgers (25-3, 17-3 Big Ten) secured their third consecutive Big Ten conference title with a dominant 3-0 sweep (25-14, 25-9, 25-15) over the Indiana Hoosiers (10-22, 4-16) Nov. 27 at the Field House.
The Badgers faced another Big Ten opponent Friday as the No. 10 Nebraska Cornhuskers (21-7, 15-4) rolled through Madison and suffered a 1-3 defeat featuring a stellar performance by Badgers’ graduate student Lauren Barnes.
Saturday’s win over Indiana marked the end of the regular season as the Badgers now look ahead to their 25th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers earned the No. 4 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament and faced off against the Colgate Raiders (18-9, 13-3 Patriot League) Friday at the UW Field House in Madison, where the Badgers dominated Colgate in a sweep. It was Colgate’s fifth NCAA tournament appearance but their first since 2012.
The Badgers next matchup in the tournament will be Saturday at 6:00 p.m. against the Florida Gulf Coast (26-5, 15-1 ASUN) at the Field House. The Badgers will record their first ever matchup against Florida Gulf Coast at the second round Saturday night.
The Badgers are overall feeling good heading into this weekend, Wisconsin sophomore Liz Gregorski said.
“I am very fully confident that from this point on forward we’re going to see more moments of brilliance and less of the dips in our performance,” Gregorski said.
As a team that has consistently been positioned at the top of national rankings and dominated the Big Ten, the Badgers understand the mentality other teams have when playing them.
Gregorski recalled how Coach Kelly Sheffield broke down at a practice that they had a target on their back all season. As the top seed in their region for the NCAA tournament, this will remain true throughout the postseason as well.
But this team is no stranger to the spotlight and has experienced postseason volleyball on the biggest stage. Three Badgers will compete in their fifth NCAA tournament as a member of the Wisconsin volleyball program.
Wisconsin finished the 2020 season as runner-up in the NCAA tournament and suffered their only loss to the Texas Longhorns in the national championship. A hungry group of returning Badgers looks to eliminate mistakes and surpass their 2020 accolades.
“What we’ve done a really good job of is taking the losses as lessons,” Gregorski said. “We’re still working on the things we saw in the film of our losses because we don’t want to take that lightly if we want to win it all.”
Wisconsin won their last five matches after suffering their second loss of the season to the Purdue Boilermakers (23-6, 15-5). Purdue beat Wisconsin on Oct. 31 in West Lafayette and again on Nov. 12 in Madison. The second match handed the Badgers their first home loss since Sept. 19, 2019.
“They’re a really good team. They have a lot of talent and a lot of experience,” Gregorski said. “I have a feeling we’re going to see them again and it’s going to be an unforgettable match.”
In a tournament field stacked with eight Big Ten teams, the most representing any conference in the NCAA, the No. 12 Minnesota Golden Gophers (20-8, 15-5) is the other Big Ten contender in the Badgers’ region of the bracket.
Wisconsin looks forward to facing new competition, Gregorski said.
“I’m just excited to step outside of the Big Ten and see what else is out there and why these teams are ranked so high,” Gregorski said. “I’m really excited because right now the top-ranked teams are teams that historically have never really been ranked.”
Wisconsin’s path to the NCAA tournament championship game will likely run through the No. 5 Baylor Bears (20-5, 14-2 Big 12) who lost to Wisconsin 3-1 in Madison earlier this season.
Gregorski said the extensive experience and leadership have been a contributing factor to the team’s success this season — and will continue to be.
“This season, there’s so many seniors that stayed the extra year which brings the caliber of volleyball so much higher into the gym,” Gregorski said. “The older girls had to take on an older sister role because it was so much harder for freshmen to compete in the gym.”
The senior group, led by four-time All-American and 2019-2020 Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year Dana Rettke, has left its mark on the Wisconsin program and impacted the current underclassmen.
“Those girls are my best friends,” Gregorski said. “They couldn’t have done a better job of leading by example and all of them work so hard and started such a good culture here.”
Gregorski said staying in the moment will be key for the team’s success in the NCAA tournament and they are ready for the challenge at hand.
“We’re in a dangerous mindset and I’m really excited to see how we show up,” Gregorski said.