Sept. 19, 2013
MADISON, Wis. – It’s hard to believe that only one tournament remains in the non-conference season for the Wisconsin volleyball team. The Badgers (8-1) wrap up preparations for the always tough Big Ten Conference season by competing at the NC State Invitational Friday-Saturday in Raleigh, N.C. Wisconsin takes on the host Wolfpack (8-1), Virginia Commonwealth (9-2) and Colgate (6-3) in the round-robin tournament.
“NC State was an NCAA tournament team a year ago,” said UW first-year head coach Kelly Sheffield. “At this point, they return everybody but one from last year (and we play at) their home place. We know that they're going to be tough.
“VCU I would say has probably been a little bit of a surprise. They graduated (a lot of players) and had some key transfers. (I’m) not sure we were expecting them to be 9-2 at this point with a win over Tennessee this past weekend and almost knocking off top-20 Kentucky the week before that. They're really good.”
Colgate’s staff includes Kristin Baker, a former player at Albany under Sheffield
“Three teams that are going to be pushing for NCAA tournament berth so it doesn't get any easier from our standpoint,” said Sheffield. “This is going to be a tough one. There will be at least two teams (at this tournament) that should be in the dance by the end of the season.”
Sheffield’s team dropped its first match of the season last Friday, losing its home opener to Kansas, 3-2. UW bounced back with a 3-1 win over Milwaukee and a 3-0 win over Bowling Green to wrap up its own InnTowner Invitational with a 2-1 mark and a second-place finish.
The Badgers played without starting outside hitter Annemarie Hickey at the InnTowner Invitational, the sixth player this season who has missed at least three matches due to injury.
“We had an opening home tournament this past weekend and came out and played a Kansas team (after we) found out about 24 hours before the match that we were going to be without Annemarie Hickey,” said Sheffield.
“To come out of this stretch right now 8-1 without a senior on the court this past weekend and some of our top players that are out and very little depth, I think it's something our players should be very proud of.”
With all of the injuries, Sheffield has been impressed with the way his team has responded and come out winning.
“I've never seen a team respond and come together and persevere as much as this team has,” said Sheffield. “From that standpoint, it's a team that I've really, really grown to respect and really, really enjoyed being around because we talked about it from day one. When adversity hits, how do you respond? These guys respond in a way that any coach and any fan would want them to.
“I think we're coming together as a team. What you're hoping is that at some point you start to heal up a little bit and realizing some of the potential that you have.”
Hopefully that potential will be realized this weekend and during Big Ten play.