Dec. 16, 2013
Watch News Conference
MADISON, Wis. – For the first time since 2000 and the second time in program history, the 12th-seeded Badgers advance to the NCAA championship with a 3-1 victory over Purdue in the regional final Saturday night. Wisconsin grabbed a 25-22, 23-25, 25-18, 25-21 decision at the State Farm Center to improve to 27-9 on the season.
Wisconsin will face No. 1 Texas at Key Arena in Seattle on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield met with the media Monday prior to the team’s departure from Madison.
A complete transcript of Sheffield’s comments is below.
Sheffield: Appreciate everybody coming. It's an exciting time for us. We had a great weekend this past weekend. It will be two really quality opponents, two teams that have a lot of experience in that level, that stage.
But we've kind of been doing what we've been doing for most of the year. Certainly this last month or so, you know, we're a team that just keeps getting better and better.
I've said for a while we haven't played our best volleyball, and I still believe that. Confidence means an awful lot in athletics, and I think we've got a team that believes they can take down anybody in the country. I think we're finding ways of getting better. They're blaming themselves, they're going for it, they're not holding back. Special things can happen when those things are coming together.
This weekend, you know, we're leaving today, heading out there to Seattle. We've got the defending champs up first. Perfect, you know. It's what we want. I can promise you this: we're not going out there to just go check out the fish markets. Our team, they're going to go hard and lay it all out there and we're going out there to try to win a national championship like the other three teams are.
Question: What have the last 40 hours or so been like as you transition from woo-hoo to the next challenge you're facing?
Sheffield: Yeah, the locker room was pretty exciting afterwards, as I'm sure it was for the other three teams that are going. It was cool. It's one of those things that our players will remember for the rest of their lives. You're celebrating together.
Then reality kicks in that these guys are coming back to Madison and there's a lot of finals to be had. They're doing that right now. I mean, shoot, finals are a bear at any point.
I would say probably it's kind of business as usual. I mean, certainly there's a lot of texts and everything else that you just don't have time to respond to. You start responding to a couple of them, all of a sudden you lose six hours of your day. You know, you've got a lot of those things.
Most of it is logistical things, trying to get airlines, all the stuff that the NCAA requires you to do, turn that around in less than 48 hours. Jessica Yanz, Lori Murphy, Terry Gawlik, Diane Nordstrom, those guys may have as little hair as I do after what they've been through the last 48 hours.
The coaching staff, it’s business as usual. Let's get some tape, break it down, figure out what we're doing, moving forward. So from that standpoint, you know, this is a shorter week than what we normally have. You're playing on Thursday. We typically don't go anywhere on a Monday. So from an organizational standpoint things are going a lot quicker.
The coaches, you know, its film, which is no different from any other day.
Question: Kelly, you mentioned about the team has gotten better and better but still hasn't played its best volleyball. What factors are behind that? Is it health? Natural maturation of a team?
Sheffield: Well, it's not health, I can promise you that. The two people in the back of the room, Lauren (Carlini) and Annemarie (Hickey), those guys Saturday morning at our walk-through, somebody on our staff said, God, they look like a couple of 70-year-olds walking around.
But Anne and I had a talk going in. We're sitting there on the bench that morning serve-and-pass. I said, You know, nobody's healthy that is playing in a Super Bowl either. Nobody is healthy when they're going into a game seven of an NBA game or Major League Baseball game. It's the end of the season, people are beat up, and the great ones learn to raise their level even when they're not all the way healthy. So our kids have been able to do that.
I think it's been a few different things. You have a freshman setter missing pre-season the first couple weeks. That's valuable time to spend on connecting with your hitters. We were without that a good portion of that time.
When you have people that are coming in and out of the lineup, we may not be totally healthy right now, but what we don't have, is we don't have people coming in and out of the lineup right now. So we're able to find some type of rhythm together and some offense.
You know, I think our defense has been pretty solid most of the year. What you're really seeing is our offense taking off, and I think that's because we've got some consistency with the lineup and a setter that's getting really confident with our hitters. I think those things are coming together. I think that's why we're all seeing what we're seeing.
Question: Texas hasn't lost since September 13th, I think it is. You've seen them on film. What do they look like to you? Beatable?
Sheffield: Well, I think everybody's beatable. But they look really athletic. You know, I mean, they are really, really good at their game. I mean, their outside hitters are probably touching 11 feet, and that's not an exaggeration. They are really big and really up there, and very physical. You know, they've got a lot of people returning from a national championship team.
Our game is very different. Our game is not touching 11 feet. It's not torsos over the net when you're blocking. We are a very balanced team. Almost all their sets go outside. We're a very balanced team. We are a great serving team. We're a great passing team. We defend like crazy. We play together. We're tough-minded. We bounce back and move on to the next point.
We are great at what we do, and they are great at what they do. It's two very, very different teams. If we try to play their game, I mean, well, we're not capable of it.
But, you know, you see that all the time in sports. Football, I mean, a team that runs it down your throat, another one that's letting the air out. Basketball teams that are up and down the court, and another one that's going to eat up a lot of clock.
We play our game, and we feel very, very confident in our ability to play our game and play at a very high level.
Question: What would your reaction have been in back in August if somebody would have said, coach, in December you're going to be going to Seattle?
Sheffield: Sure, let's do it, let's go.
You know, I don't know. I don't ever go into a season saying, Let's go to .500 or something like this. You know, you tell your team to dream big. That's just not something that you just throw out there. I mean, you know, I believe that. You know, hopefully I live my life like that and, you know, our staff does.
Now, if betting was legal in college sports and Vegas had a line, you know, that certainly would have been a really good bet to place some money on. I don't think too many people would have placed it there.
But a lot of things have kind of come together to get to this situation. Yeah, is it a little bit crazy to think we're in the final four? Yeah, probably is. I mean, I don't know, only a few nuts would have believed we were a final four team last spring. We're a very, very different team. We've added a couple nice freshmen that have really helped. But on the other hand we have lost a couple of people that have been two-year starters that have been out almost the entire time. When you have people coming in and out...
Probably to be fair to your question and to be honest with your question, you probably get to the point where you're sitting there going, I hope we got six bodies that we can put out there by the time the end of the season is, that we don't have to forfeit our matches.
We were at a point where we were losing a body every 23 minutes or something like that in practices. I don't know how many practices we had to cancel because we didn't have bodies. Shoot, we're losing our managers. This weekend we lose our media relations people to injuries. If any of you guys got stocks in boots and crutches, you guys are making a killing right now off of our program.
Yeah, I don't think honestly you're thinking final four at that time. You're thinking, Let's find a way to get healthy, let's find a way to get better. Let's keep staying on the path and see what happens.
Question: With Texas being the reigning national champ, do you think that experience gap will be an issue?
Sheffield: It hasn't yet, you know. I mean, the three teams we just played had experience up the wazzu. Experience can go the other way, as well. To me it's not experience, it's belief in yourselves and each other. Nobody has more than what this team has. They have a really, really strong will.
The other thing I'm learning, these guys love big stages, man. I mean, I saw that first match at Nebraska. We walked out there. You're playing in front of almost 9,000 fans. I'm sitting there, you're watching them come out of the locker room, and you see the look in their eyes when they're going through warmup. I'm like, All right, it's on now. You could tell the team is thinking it's on.
It didn't matter who we played. The more people that were there, the better. These guys haven't backed down to anything. You can see that this past weekend. That first weekend you're at home, the cozy confines of the Field House. But you get on the road in the NCAA tournament, when your season is over, you really start learning a lot about your team. Like you said, those three teams had a lot of experience, but there wasn't a team that had more confidence. Just how they walked around, you could just tell, than what our team had. I don't think experience is going to be the factor of any match this weekend.
Question: Kelly, I think before the last regular-season matches you were asked about Ellen Chapman. You said you pushed her harder to expand her game, not worry if a shot is two inches out versus two inches out. Can you talk about where she has come to from when she first got here and her value.
Sheffield: My first phone call with her right after I got the job, I asked her had she ever thought about being an All-American, and she said no. I said, I think you ought to start. I said, What do you think? What do you think of that as a goal? She literally chuckled and said, It would be kind of cool. I said, You need to start thinking about it. If that's a goal of yours, that's how we're going to coach you.
She went out to the USAA-II team and had a good showing out there, maybe not as good as what she wanted to, but it helped her confidence. You've just kind of seen her progress as the season has gone on.
I know the All-American committee is meeting right now, and who knows what they're doing. But you look at the numbers that kid has put up the last 11 matches, and they're probably first team All-American numbers. If they're not a second or third team All-American, I mean, there's a lot of good outside hitters, but she's put herself in that kind of discussion.
She's been great. She's been fearless. That's probably not a word that you would have used to describe Ellen Chapman a couple months ago, is fearless, but that's exactly what she's been.
She's wanting the ball. She's in a great place. She's fun to watch right now.
Question: During the broadcast on Saturday they said that Deme Morales is the shortest outside hitter in the Big Ten. She played phenomenal throughout the tournament. Comment on her efforts. How is she able to play so big?
Sheffield: She's not just the shortest outside in the Big Ten, she is in any of these power conferences. She might be the shortest outside hitter in a 16-and-under club tournament.
We have a 5'11" middle in Dominique Thompson. There's not a middle in any of those power conferences that are that small. These two are lined up next to each other.
Like I said, you're playing a different game than what people that are touching 11 foot are. But her game is really good. She's a warrior, that's the best word I can use to describe her. I keep waiting for her to show up with some eye paint, some eye black underneath. She's probably our most unsung hero of this team. She passes half the court. She takes a lot of swings. Everybody is running their offense over the top of her. Most teams are coming in after they've left the match with their lowest hitting percentage of the year against us, so...
I think that's a tribute to our other backcourt players. But I said it earlier in the year and I really mean it, that's the last kid I'd want to face in a dark alley. She just has that mentality she just wants to brawl. She doesn't care.
There's this fierceness of keep coming back, keep coming back. There's a lot of matches that she'll get stuff blocked quite a few times early on. You just don't keep her down. She's got a big wall in front of her. She's getting (indiscernible). She's having to listen to her idiot coach get on her over on the sideline. The kid just keeps coming back for more and more and more.
You know, she's a warrior. That's the best thing I can say about her. There's no way we would be in the position we are in without Deme Morales.
Question: You described Ellen (Chapman) as being fearless. Is that an apt description of your team going into this final four?
Sheffield: Oh, yeah. You could see that probably a week or two left to go in the regular season. I said something to my coaches. I said, you know, We're at a place right now, we can get a lot better, but we're in a place right now where we're capable of beating anyone and everyone.
You could see, there was this strong confidence, this communication gap that I thought we were having there for a while, this resolve and bouncing back when tough things happened. All those things were kind of coming together, and we were finding ways of getting better.
When we were coming in the gym, when we were coming in the film room, you could see there was a real intent purpose of getting things accomplished from everybody. For most of the year you have these ups and downs from certain people. When you look in somebody's eyes, you can say, All right, this person is with me, or, this person has something else kind of going on. It's the challenge of coaching.
But we got to a place a few weeks ago where, you know, you could just tell, All right, we've got a group that's really locked in right now. They've stayed locked in. You know, I think there's a hunger right now because I think this group is playing with a chip on their shoulder because they feel disrespected. I think they felt that for a while, that people on the outside haven't taken this team real seriously. You could tell that's really driving them.
Question: In the last few matches it seems like there's always been a different player stepping up. How does that help you and the team going into a final four like this?
Sheffield: Probably makes us a little bit tougher to scout. You know, we're a team that we need all the pieces to play great. We're not somebody that just relies on one or two people and they carry the ship.
But when you have everybody that is really critical, to me it makes it a lot more fun. Everybody on this team, you sit there and they would honestly say, yeah, if you remove Deme (Morales) they would have some issues, if you remove the person to my left, we would have some issues, and they would be right.
This is a team in every sense of the word. They've come together. It probably makes it tougher to scout against, I would guess, when you have that many weapons that can go.
When you have great ball control and you have great setting, you're going to have good options. If either one of those pieces is average, then the ball control is where you're setting it. Right now we're in a situation where Lauren (Carlini) has a lot of options right now. As a setter, that's a pretty sweet taste.
Question: Is what you're seeing in the huddle, is your team different, listening to you, is that situation any different?
Sheffield: No. I think this team has really done a great job of buying in all year long. We went into the match. We said, this will be the hardest, the most fun match you've ever been a part of. I really thought it was two really, really tough-minded teams that were going at each other.
We talked about, there’s going to be some of you guys that are going to walk out with bruises all over, black eyes, hopefully no broken bones, but it was going to be a really tough match, we knew it. Two teams that would just really lay it out there on the court.
You hear in a lot of sports of just how hard that regional final is or that game to go to the Super Bowl or whatever that is, it being the really, really hard one to go. Especially when you're playing a team that wasn't going to give up or lay down.
We had a nice lead. They're coming back 'cause they're desperate. You know, we played a match at Purdue, that marathon match we played a month and a half ago or whenever it was, they had a massive lead in Game one, and we come storming back. I think they had game point, 24-19, something like that, we come back and win Game one.
Game two, we have a massive lead, they come back and win that. We had a massive lead in Game three, they come back and win that.
You have three games against this opponent where craziness ensued at the end of the game. You're hoping your team isn't remembering that because we came out on the short of that stick.
But I never got the feeling that our team lost confidence or was questioning their ability to close things out. I thought they were a little bit frustrated. We dealt with that. We reminded them, you know, to embrace, to live in the moment. We talked about that all weekend, to make sure we're the best team on the planet of living in the moment. We wanted to make sure we did that.
Before they head out, we reminded them over and over and over again, we're five minutes from the final four, you're five minutes from going to Seattle. Then you could really see a spark. You know, they left that last timeout with a pretty good spark and energy about them.
You know, when they left that huddle, there wasn't a doubt in my mind. You could just tell we're closing out right here, right now.
Question: Is this team the type of team that enjoys the ride as it's happening or is all business and you can reflect later on? What do you want them to be?
Sheffield: Good question. I want them to enjoy it and I think they are. I think early on in the year, I think they were a team that maybe wasn't enjoying the journey so much maybe. I think it was, you know, there were some people that were probably wound pretty tight.
But I think they're in a good place. I think they're enjoying it. Look, I think they're doing exactly what they need to be doing. When it's time to have fun, be lose, enjoy each other, they're doing it. When it's time to get to work, I think they're putting their heads down and marching. I would probably say that's how I'd characterize them.
Question: Annemarie (Hickey), you're the only senior on this team. You've seen everything that's gone on with the coaching change, all that. I asked coach earlier what he would have thought if you were to end up in Seattle in August. What would you have said to that in December?
Hickey: Well, I mean, at the beginning of the year when we were having our meetings, we were kind of actually talking about that with Deme Morales' birthday being on the 21st, and being like, what a cool present that would be for her. We were kind of like, Yeah, you know, there's a slim chance, like we're rebuilding, we have a new coaching staff, we got more players coming in, so there's a slim chance we're going to make it. We're going to work really hard.
Now we kind of look back and it's like that's a joke. We knew we were more than capable of making it to the final four. We're definitely a team that deserves to be here with the level of play we've been playing at. We're just really excited to be here and super pumped to get on the road.
Question: Ellen (Chapman), when Kelly had that first conversation with you and asked you about what you think about being an All-American, why did you chuckle? Did you think he was being serious?
Chapman: I knew that he had a lot of belief in me just from the start because he saw me play in club, in high school and everything. But I don't know, the last couple of years I just haven't had the confidence that I should have playing.
But Kelly did an amazing job of just believing in me and I think that was the main thing that made my game so much better this year.
So I guess that's kind of why I chuckled, because I never really saw myself being the player that I am today. But, I mean, I could not be happier of what he's done to me like as a player and everything, so...
Question: Ellen and Annemarie, do you remember what you were doing last year at this time? How much more enjoyable is this?
Hickey: Well, we're in finals week right now so we were kind of just studying, trying to stay on top of our grades. But we were all also kind of enjoying the college life, just kind of doing what regular college students do, not really motivated as we are right now.
Now I look back and I'm just like, Wow, this is how it's supposed to be. This is where we're supposed to be. It's a great feeling.
Chapman: Yeah, just same as Anne. I mean, just enjoying. Like it's always weird not having any responsibilities like a normal student does. Just no practice, no lifts, no anything. Just class and being a regular student was what we were all doing last year at this time.
Question: Lauren (Carlini), you committed to Wisconsin early. There was a coaching change. When you came here the program was struggling. Did you have any trepidation or hesitation and did you think it would turn out this way this quickly?
Carlini: No, I never had hesitation because I knew where I wanted to go at a young age. I had a path. I committed to it. I stood by my word.
And did I think we were going to be as far as we are today when I came in? No. I thought there was going to be a process we had to go through to get to the point that we are.
But I couldn't be more happy and I couldn't be more proud of my teammates that we've made it this March. Just the fact we made that transition so quickly to get to the final four.
Question: Lauren, your coach talked about how hurt you guys were earlier in the year. Can you just comment on what that process was like.
Carlini: It was disappointing. It was kind of frustrating, too, just because we want to get better and we want to keep advancing. Then people keep going down every other day in practice. It was hard to get into a rhythm. It was hard to get a solid six people on the court and kind of start practicing for real.
But, we struggled through those first few weeks pre-season, just had to keep adjusting and fighting. I think that was a really good precursor to what our season was: just keep battling through it and keep working as hard as we can to get to where we need to go.
Question: Texas is a team that you don't face often, unlike some of the Big Ten teams you face. Will this lack of familiarity cause you some trouble early on?
Hickey: I think we hadn't seen Florida State all year so we were kind of unfamiliar with what they were doing. We watched a lot of film and scouted a lot about what their team was doing.
We have to give a lot of props to our coaches for all the hours and all the work they put in making us a better team each time, being able to scout that type of offense and defense.
I think it's not really going to be different for us since they're a different team and we haven't seen them yet. I think we're just going to have to go in and really execute the game plan our coaches give us and really have trust in them that they know what they're doing.
Question: Kelly said the players feel a lack of respect has been shown the team. By whom and in what way?
Chapman: I don't know, I mean, throughout the whole season we were winning and we continued to win, and we still never -- we think we still never got the respect we deserved. People were always doubting us. People never stopped doubting us in the media, in the rankings, that type of stuff.
We just have always had a chip on our shoulder. We don't want our previous years to define who we are this year. We are a new team obviously. Everyone's different. Like me, I'm completely different from the player I was last year. I think that goes for a lot of people on this team.
We just kind of wish that people saw that in us and realized that sooner.
Carlini: Yeah, I think the big thing is there was definitely a precedent that went along throughout this whole year, people kept looking at previous years, how we fared throughout the conference.
It wasn't a good - what's that word - example of what this year is. People just doubted us from the start. Kind of even now they're doubting us. Again, like Ellen said, always that chip on our shoulder helps. We're going to go out there and battle no matter who's on the other side of the net.
Question: Now that you've had a chance to reflect on last weekend, what was the coolest part? What will you remember most?
Hickey: I think just at the end of the game when we won. This is actually like kind of the first time I actually am reflecting and thinking about what happened, kind of thinking about what my favorite part was.
But just we went back into the locker room and we were all screaming, and they came in to tell us to come back out. I think that was probably my favorite moment, was coming back out on the court and seeing the band, our family, our friends still there, cheering us on, making the final four.
We were just screaming our heads off. Hearing all the players, being so excited for them. I think just coming back on the court, seeing all the support we have, how excited our teammates were, how excited I was. Just finally making it, finally proving people wrong, that we do deserve where we are right now. Just we're excited that we get to go to Seattle, we're one of four teams left. It's a really exciting opportunity for us.
Question: I highly doubt many people on the outside are going to be picking you on Thursday facing the defend champ, No. 1 team in the country. Coach was talking about how their girls can reach 11 feet. How do you prevent yourself from having doubt?
Carlini: Again, just having a chip on our shoulder, having that confidence that we can compete with everybody. Like Kelly said, they play a very different game than us. We are a very defensive-minded team. They're a very offensive-minded team. I think it's going to be a real battle because I don't think they've seen a defense as good as ours.
Just going out there, being confident, saying we have nothing to lose, laying it all out there on the floor, seeing what we can do.
Question: Lauren, there was a lot of hype around you coming in as a recruit. You probably lived up to most of that hype. How much of that have you heard throughout the year?
Carlini: I try not to listen to it just because I don't want other people's opinions and other people's comments and things in my mind. All I focus on is my team and getting my team to win. Whatever happens at the end of the year happens as far as accolades and awards. Like that doesn't really matter to me. The only thing that really matters is getting my team as far as we can and just winning.
Question: At what point in the season did the final four go from being a dream to a tangible reality, in your opinion?
Chapman: I think that we stepped up a lot when we played Michigan State and Minnesota, that area of the season. We have been playing well the entire season, but I think that was kind of the turning point where we were upsetting some major teams in the Big Ten.
I think that's sort of when we started getting everything together, everything started to click. After that point we just continued to grow. I think this past weekend, we're playing better than we ever have, and that's how it should be. Every match is just getting better.
Question: Obviously everybody goes into the NCAA tournament to win. Nobody goes to lose. For some reason there is a certain honor of going to the final four. Even though you might not win the tournament, still the final four is significant for a lot of people. Why is it significant?
Hickey: I think you're finalizing the teams that really can play calm and stay very poised and together as teams, whereas before in either like the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8 you're playing teams that might be a little bit more nervous or might be a little more anxious to get the games started.
Now we're playing teams like Texas and Penn State who have been in the tournament multiple times, have been in the Final Four multiple times, where it's easy for them. It's just normal for them to be there.
I think now the significance is, Okay, now we're going to be going up against this huge crowd of many coaches, fans, like little kids that looked up to us that are watching us, and it's definitely going to be a different environment for us to play in. We're really excited.