AMES, Iowa – The University of Wisconsin volleyball team had to take a slightly different route, but it’s headed back to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers advanced to regional play for the fifth consecutive year with a sweep of No. 14 seed Iowa State 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 Saturday before a crowd of 3,470 at Hilton Coliseum.
It’s the first time the Badgers have had to go on the road for the first two rounds, but they managed to advance to play No. 3 Stanford in the regional semifinals on Friday at Stanford, California. The Cardinal (28-3) advanced with a sweep of Colorado State.
The Badgers (22-9) will get a chance to avenge last season’s heart-breaking five-set loss to the Cardinal in the Elite Eight.
“It never gets old,” said senior Kelli Bates of the return to the Sweet 16. “A lot of teams have been eliminated in the first couple days and when you’re one of those teams standing here it feels so good. It makes you realize how hard you’re training and how the Big Ten has prepared us for this. We were definitely ready when the pressure situations came on.
“I’m excited to go to Stanford and get another shot at them. I’m excited to see what this team can do out there.”
Coach Kelly Sheffield saw plenty to be excited about in his team’s play against a feisty, defensive-minded Iowa State (22-7) team.
“We went into this match feeling like this is as good of a defensive team as we’ve seen all season,” Sheffield said. “To hit .317 against that defense, as disciplined as they are at the block and how hard they go in the back court, that’s a really big number for us.
“I thought we played with courage. We were playing free. I thought we set the tone with our serving. I thought we served the ball aggressively consistent, without a lot of errors. We were going back there with confidence and putting pressure on the areas we felt like we needed to put pressure on.”
Freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke led the attack with 15 kills, nine of them coming in the hard-fought third set.
After a quiet first two sets, Rettke figured it was time for her to step up and play big.
“I knew that the first two sets were probably not as great as I want them to be and I knew that for this team to win we all had to chip in,” Rettke said. “It was my turn.”
Rettke, who had two service errors in the third set, said she was determined to make up for them. After her second one allowed Iowa State to tie the score at 17-17, Rettke had two kills in a decisive 6-2 run to end the match, including one on match point.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a middle have nine kills in the third,” Sheffield said. “She was just fantastic.”
So was fellow freshman Grace Loberg, who had a major impact on both tournament matches. She finished with 13 kills, six of them coming in the first set and three in that final run of the third set.
Sheffield said setter Sydney Hilley went to Loberg a lot early because she had a favorable matchup against Iowa State’s block. When the matchups switched, she started setting Rettke more, particularly on slides.
Iowa State coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, a former UW assistant, said that tandem of Rettke and Loberg made it difficult on her defense.
“Those two are pretty big difference makers for them,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Rettke presents a problem because she’s good and she’s big. It’s one thing if you’re big, but she’s big and has a good arm. We didn’t quite slow her down. We couldn’t find a way to get enough hands in front of her to slow her down.
“We knew this would be a really difficult match and a tough challenge. They were really good tonight.”
Wisconsin 27 25 25
Iowa State 22 20 23
WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 3-5-2, Gillis 0-10-0, Bates 9-17-0, Williams 8-0-2, Rettke 15-1-4, Dodge 0-6-0, Bell 0-0-0, MacDonald 0-0-0, Duello 3-0-1, Clark 0-13-0, Loberg 13-2-2. Totals 51-54-6.
IOWA STATE (kills-digs-blocks) — Conaway 5-8-0, Harris 2-6-1, West 10-0-4, Lazard 11-3-2, Schaben 9-8-2, Rhodes 6-3-4, Hillmer 0-0-0, Enna 0-6-0, Mauck 0-0-0, Miranda 0-0-0, Hillegas 0-18-0. Totals 43-52-7.
Hitting percentage — W .317, IS .231. Aces — W 4 (Hilley, Bates, Duello, Clark), IS 2 (Lazard, Enna). Assists — W 48 (Hilley 41), IS 41 (Harris 35). Att. – 3,470.