Volleyball: UW beats Nebraska in a thriller to win first ever national championship

Badgers get the job done and go out in style

· Dec 19, 2021 Tweet

Justin Mielke/The Badger Herald

After nine straight NCAA tournaments, four semi-final and three championship appearances that had 11 different All-Americans, Kelly Sheffield and the Badgers volleyball team have finally won it all. The 2021 National Champions.

Wisconsin faced No. 10 Nebraska in a close five-set match. Nebraska took the first set 25-22, before the Badgers were able to bounce back, winning sets 2 and 3 with a score of 31-29 and 25-23 respectively.

Wisconsin was unable to close out the match in set four, committing seven errors and losing 25-23. The fifth set saw the Badgers jump out to an early 8-1 lead, before Nebraska inched their way back to a three-point game. The Badgers led 14-11 for championship point.

Wisconsin thought they had won on the next play, but the celebration was cut short when the play was later overturned, with replay revealing the ball was first tipped by Wisconsin before going out. Finally, after a long rally, the Badgers were able to finish off Nebraska, winning the final set 15-12 and bringing Madison its first volleyball national championship.

The road to success started in a dominant fashion. The University of Wisconsin won its first four matches in straight sets, beating Colgate, Florida Gulf Coast University, No. 13 UCLA and No. 12 Minnesota. They then had to face their biggest challenge all season with undefeated, No. 1 Louisville.

The Cardinals were the favorites to win it all, but that did not phase the UW team. The Badgers pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year in an amazing five set battle, punching their ticket to the National Championship.

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The Badgers overcame Nebraska’s attack with a program-record 24 blocks. The final point of the championship was a kill delivered by Dana Rettke, the only five-time first team All-American in NCAA Volleyball history and the recent winner of the AVCA National Player of the Year Award.

Rettke is the owner of numerous Wisconsin records, including most blocks (751), most points (2,314) and sports the best hitting percentage in school history. It’s only fitting that the greatest player in program history was able to record the final point in her last ever game as a Badger.

Rettke has been accompanied by her partner-in-crime and roommate, Sydney Hilley, all along the way. Hilley is a three-time first team All-American herself at the setter position and owns the school record for assists with 6,122. She was also named the regional-tournament Most Outstanding Player, averaging 12.17 assists per set in Wisconsin’s victories over UCLA and Minnesota. Giorgia Civita and Lauren Barnes — who had 31 digs in the championship match, two short of her career high — join Rettke and Hilley as the other two graduate students on the team.

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Though Barnes, Rettke and Hilley all put in amazing performances down the stretch for Wisconsin, it was freshman middle blocker Anna Smrek who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

Smrek had the tall task of filling in for senior Danielle Hart during the beginning of the season, after Hart tore her ACL. Smrek’s match against Nebraska saw her lead the Badgers with 14 kills, hitting a team-best .429 and recording a career-high seven blocks.

To go along with her championship performance, her effort elevated Wisconsin over Louisville in their toughest match of the season. She had a career-high 20 kills, with only one error, making her hitting percentage an astonishing .704.

Wisconsin Head Coach Kelly Sheffield has established himself as the best coach in Wisconsin Volleyball history. Through his nine seasons with the team, he holds the best win percentage of any coach with .820 and has brought the Badgers to the NCAA tournament every year — with four Big Ten Championships. Now, he has done what no other Wisconsin volleyball coach has, win a national championship.

Wisconsin has been a dominant force in the volleyball world for years, but was never able to reach the top until now. Congrats Badgers, Wisconsin can officially be crowned a volleyball school.


This article was published Dec 19, 2021 at 5:20 pm and last updated Jan 10, 2022 at 2:51 pm


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