Wisconsin: “No matter if we’re playing this coming spring or next fall, we will all be here”

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Sydney Hilley back sets Wisconsin teammate Dana Rettke during the 2019 NCAA national-championship match/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

When last we saw the Wisconsin volleyball team, it was in the NCAA championship match on a December night in Pittsburgh when Stanford shut the Badgers down in three. 

Now, with Big Ten volleyball moved to the spring, that seems like so long ago. 

But no matter what, it appears, Wisconsin — one of the heavy national favorites whenever there is a season — will be ready.

“Even if we’re playing next fall I will be here,” said senior All-American outside hitter Molly Haggerty. “I don’t want to leave my college career feeling like this and if I left I know I would have so many regrets. 

“No matter if we’re playing this coming spring or next fall, we will all be here.”

Added the other senior outside, Grace Loberg, “Everybody is coming back. Our team is 100 percent in. We’re all so excited to start training again and get back into the gym.”

Sydney Hilley

The returnees include Dana Rettke, the senior middle who was the Big Ten player of the year; senior All-American setter Sydney Hilley; senior middle Danielle Hart; senior DS Lauren Barnes; sophomore DS and serving assassin Izzy Ashburn; and, well, you can see why the Badgers figure to be right in the NCAA title hunt again. And there’s also a newcomer who will contribute in Deahna Kraft, a senior outside/DS who transferred from Pepperdine, where she played on the beach.

However …

“Look, my seniors came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said they were considering sitting out the year,” eighth-year Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “All of them. 

“What, we had eight people and they were all talking about sitting out. Not because they were scared or anything else, but they don’t want to lose a year of eligibility without getting into an (NCAA) tournament. That was when almost everybody was still in the fall.”

Of course, last week was like a tidal wave of conferences postponing fall sports and moving to the spring. That included the Big Ten, which made its announcement last Tuesday.

Grace Loberg

For Loberg, the news was sad but a relief.

“We’ve been in the gym training hard and kind of expected it,” Loberg said. “And hearing the news that the (fall season) was actually canceled was upsetting. I was a lot more upset than I thought I would be. But now I feel that it’s nice to know that we have an answer and put our 100-percent focus toward the spring.”

For that matter, just six conferences remain in the fall, the ACC, Big 12, and SEC, and three others that also want to play football, the American Athletic, Conference USA, and Sun Belt.

Sheffield actually pleaded the case for their volleyball teams to move the spring, regardless of what their respective football teams do.

“We want access to a championship and the access is no longer in the fall, it’s in the spring,” Sheffield said.

“I think at some point if they continue moving forward with football you will see some of these teams try to make the move. These are the kind of things that are happening all over the place and it’s OK, because this is important stuff.”

Loberg agreed.

“We all just want to play. We all just want to compete with the best,” Loberg said.

No doubt. Wisconsin, which finished 27-7 last year, won the Big Ten at 18-2, before getting to the NCAA final for the second time in Sheffield’s seven years.

The spring was cut short, of course, and finally this summer the Badgers got back together.

“This summer we were split into two groups, so I wasn’t even seeing half my teammates,” Loberg said. “Which was just, like, sad. It was awesome to be able to do sixes again.”

That wasn’t lost on Sheffield, who is going to give the Badgers three weeks off before they resume training. Wisconsin doesn’t start classes until September 2.

“As soon as we got into the practice gym all the worries went away. They were just loving life, being able to be in there and train and get better and all that stuff. The fact that we’re moving to the spring, they’re all fine with it. They would have been fine playing in the fall, they would have been fine playing in the spring, but that’s because all of them are planning on still being here. It would be different if there were people who were planning on leaving in December — which there were — saying my career is now done. But none of them are feeling that. All of our kids are saying we’re good and we’re all coming back.”

Molly Haggerty

Haggerty agreed.

“Yeah, we’re really upset that we can’t have our usual fall season, but this team, after that loss to Stanford in the national championship, we have even more determination to get back there again,” Haggerty said.

And Sheffield offered a real-world perspective.

“You can’t put a price tag on dreams,” Sheffield said. “And this is a horrible job market to go to. How many people are going to bail because they were going to get a job? 

“This is the perfect place to be. They can start their grad programs and get it paid for. Some of them can go overseas (to play) and get paid some money, but that will be there after.”

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