In the final match of a three-game sweep, Rettke and her Badgers defeated Nebraska for their first NCAA title.
The “wisconsin volleyball: roster” is a blog that provides breaking news on the Wisconsin Badgers. The blog focuses on the team’s performance and Dana Rettke, who led the team to their first NCAA women’s volleyball title.
11:00 p.m. ET
ESPN.com’s Mechelle Voepel
- Mechelle Voepel is an espnW reporter that covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports. Voepel has been with ESPN since 1996 and has covered women’s basketball since 1984.
THE CITY OF COLUMBUS, OHIO — With Wisconsin behind 1-0 and the second set looking bleak, it looked like this would be another heartbreaking NCAA tournament for the Badgers.
Wisconsin rallied, lead by national player of the year Dana Rettke, who returned for a fifth season in the hopes of finally celebrating a season’s end. The Badgers are no longer the greatest women’s volleyball program that has never won a national title.
In a 3-2 win against Big Ten opponent Nebraska, which was vying for its sixth national title, they happily discarded that unwelcome designation. The winning point was celebrated twice by Wisconsin.
First, it looked like Nebraska struck a long ball in the fifth set to give Wisconsin a 15-11 win. After Nebraska successfully disputed that there was a Wisconsin touch on the ball, the Badgers had to stand up and calm themselves to continue playing. Instead, the match concluded on a lyrical note with a 15-12 Rettke kill.
Dana Rettke (16), a middle blocker for Wisconsin, returned for her fifth season to help the Badgers win their first women’s volleyball championship on Saturday. Icon Sportswire/Graham Stokes photo
Rettke, the first Badger to be named national player of the year, ended the match with 11 kills and a career-high 13 blocks. Her last kill at Wisconsin secured the team’s long-awaited NCAA championship. Wisconsin was in its seventh final four appearance and fourth championship game. Wisconsin has previously lost in the championship game against Nebraska in 2000, Penn State in 2013, and Stanford in 2019.
The Badgers were the No. 1 seed and unblemished coming into the final four last season, when the NCAA tournament was moved to the spring due to the COVID-19 epidemic, but were swept by Texas in the quarterfinals.
Due to the universal eligibility waiver offered to student-athletes last year because of the pandemic, Rettke, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker, and fellow seniors Sydney Hilley, Lauren Barnes, and Grace Loberg had to decide whether they would return for the permitted fifth season. They’d all come back.
In September, another senior, middle blocker Danielle Hart, suffered an ACL injury. But middle blocker Anna Smrek, a 6-9 freshman who gave Wisconsin another tower at the net and supplied Rettke with an unique teammate: someone taller than she is, was an important freshman acquisition.
After Smrek’s dramatic win against No. 1 seed Louisville in five sets on Thursday, Rettke expressed her admiration for the youngster. Mike Smrek, a 7-foot center who won championships with the Lakers in 1987 and 1988, has a daughter named Smrek. Smrek was voted the final four’s most outstanding player after recording 14 kills and seven blocks on Saturday.
Smrek is a “phenomenal player,” according to Rettke. “She has some very incredible abilities.”
After dropping the first set 22-25, the Badgers rallied to win an incredible second set 31-29 when they seemed to be defeated. They won the third set with a score of 25-23, while Nebraska grabbed the fourth set by a score of 25-23. Since the NCAA volleyball tournament started in 1981, this is the 11th five-set showdown for the national title. In 2018, Nebraska also dropped a five-setter against Stanford.
The Badgers’ program stretches back to 1974, but when coach Steve Lowe took over in 1986, it made a huge stride forward. In 1989, the Badgers won the NIT championship. Then, in 1990, they went 29-7 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time. Lowe, however, became unwell in July 1991. He died in August, just before the season began, at the age of 35, after being diagnosed with lung cancer as a nonsmoker.
Under interim coach Margie Fitzpatrick, the Badgers finished 23-10 and reaching the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. John Cook was hired in 1992 and stayed for seven seasons before returning to Nebraska in 2000 to take over. In the 2000 NCAA final, the Badgers faced their old coach, falling 3-2 to the Huskers.
Wisconsin was successful throughout the first nine years of coach Pete Waite’s career, from 1999 to 2012, but in his final five seasons, the Badgers failed to reach the NCAA tournament. In 2013, he was succeeded by Kelly Sheffield, who guided the Badgers to the NCAA final in his first season as a head coach, despite the presence of talented freshman Lauren Carlini. Her career came to an end in 2016, as the Badgers squandered a 2-0 lead against Stanford at home and were eliminated in the Elite Eight.
However, the brilliant Rettke was brought in the following season. Nobody could have predicted that she would end up playing five seasons at Wisconsin, but that is exactly what occurred.
Sheffield added, “She’s had a unique career.” “Every year, she discovered new methods to improve. She’s a fantastic colleague. She’s one of those rare kinds of great athlete who exudes confidence while still displaying incredible humility.”
Watch This Video-
Dana Rettke led the Wisconsin Badgers to a 3-0 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the first NCAA women’s volleyball championship. The win is also the first for head coach Kelly Sheffield, who took over for Patience Carter after she was fired last year. Reference: dana rettke highlights.
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