MADISON, Wis. – Before the 2018 season started, the Wisconsin Badger volleyball team was labeled as being young.
The Badgers lost outside hitter Lauryn Gillis and outside hitter/libero Kelli Bates to graduation and defensive specialist Amber MacDonald to a career-ending injury. They also returned only one senior on their roster. The youth of the program and lack of seniority doesn’t seem to affect sophomore setter Sydney Hilley.
“We expected to get this far and we expect to keep going. It’s not the outside pressure so much, but it’s our internal goals we are looking towards,” said Hilley.
Although the team doesn’t have an abundance of upperclassmen, it has plenty of experience with success. In six seasons of coaching the Badgers, Coach Kelly Sheffield has led the team to Sweet 16 appearances in every single one of those years. Of the 16 players on the Badgers roster, 15 have been a part of at least one of those Sweet 16 games. Wisconsin is one of only five programs to play in the NCAA Tournament the last six years in a row.
We have made it to the 𝘚𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘵 16 six years in a row. IN. A. ROW.
— Wisconsin Volleyball (@BadgerVB) December 3, 2018
In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the No. 6 Badgers defeated Pepperdine in four sets. The University of San Diego (18-12) swept the No. 11 USC Trojans.
The Badgers will face the Toreros on Friday at Illinois, and the winner will head to the Elite Eight. Senior Tionna Williams said San Diego showed that any team can be beaten on any given day.
“There’s 16 teams left playing in the country. That’s not a lot of teams and everybody wants to get to the Final Four. Everybody wants to win a national championship and be a part of that very small list of schools that achieved that,” said Williams. “You’re good if you’re here so everyone’s going to put up a good fight,” said sophomore middle blocker Dana Rettke.
No matter the rankings or records of the remaining teams left in the tournament, everyone’s goal remains the same: Survive and advance.
The lone senior on the Badgers squad, Tionna Williams, is playing in her fourth Sweet 16 game on Friday. She is hoping her experience on the big stage can help the underclassmen on the team.
“First and foremost, calm down. Relax. Things are going to happen. Things are going to go our way. Things are not going to go our way. It’s the game of volleyball. Just relax. Control what we can, take care of our side, the rest will fall in line,” said Williams.
The Badgers have shown consistency by winning eight straight matches. They haven’t lost since Nov. 4 against Michigan.
When asked if the Badgers are playing their best ball, Williams said, “We are always building. Best match is yet to come.”
The winner of Friday’s match between Wisconsin and San Diego will play the winner of No. 3 Illinois/No. 14 Marquette on Saturday. Whoever wins the Elite Eight matchup will head to Minneapolis to compete in the Final Four.
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