Dana Rettke leads the Wisconsin Badgers to their first NCAA women’s volleyball championship, defeating Nebraska.
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 programme that has never won a national title.
They got rid of that label with a 3-2 win against Big Ten opponent Nebraska, which was vying for its sixth national title. 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 get up and calm themselves to continue playing.
“We simply maintained establishing eye contact with each other during the challenge,” Wisconsin libero Lauren Barnes said. “‘All right, if this doesn’t work out, we’ll keep playing volleyball.’ We haven’t taken any action yet. ‘The game hasn’t ended yet.'” Instead, the match concluded on a lyrical note with a 15-12 Rettke kill.
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 final kill at Wisconsin secured the team’s long-awaited NCAA championship. Wisconsin was in its seventh final four appearance and fourth championship game. Wisconsin had previously lost in the championship game against Nebraska in 2000, Penn State in 2013, and Stanford in 2019.
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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.
Rettke, a 6-foot-8 middle blocker, and fellow seniors Barnes, Sydney Hilley, and Grace Loberg had to decide whether to return for a fifth season, which was made possible by the pandemic’s sweeping eligibility waiver for student-athletes. They’d all come back.
In September, another senior, middle blocker Danielle Hart, suffered an ACL injury. However, middle blocker Anna Smrek, a 6-9 freshman, gave Wisconsin another tower at the net and supplied Rettke with a unique teammate: someone taller than she is.
After Smrek’s dramatic win over No. 1 seed Louisville in five sets on Thursday, Rettke expressed her admiration for the youngster. Mike Smrek, a 7-foot centre 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.”
Following a 22-25 loss in the first set, the Badgers rallied from a 13-7 deficit to win a crucial second set 31-29, saving four set points.
Rettke, who concluded the set with a kill and two solo blocks, said, “That was absolutely a tremendous fight.” “volleyball championship is excellent, with a lot of back-and-forth action. That won’t happen until everyone feels we have a chance to win the set. And we did it with some squeaky-clean volleyball.” They won the third set 25-23, but Nebraska won the fourth set 25-23 in front of a record-breaking NCAA championship crowd of 18,755 at Nationwide Arena.
Since the NCAA volleyball championship tournament began in 1981, this is the 11th five-set showdown for the national title. In 2018, Nebraska also dropped a five-setter to Stanford.
The Badgers’ programme 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 at the age of 35, just before the season began, 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 over the first nine years of coach Pete Waite’s tenure, which spanned 1999 to 2012, but they failed to make the NCAA tournament in each of his last five seasons. 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 superstar athlete who exudes confidence while still displaying incredible humility.”
Nebraska had a fantastic season, reaching the national championship game for the tenth time. The Huskers, however, were unable to overcome a Badgers squad that had defeated them twice during the regular season.
Sheffield was overcome with emotion as he discussed Wisconsin’s victory.
He remarked, “This squad stands on the shoulders of the alums who came before them.” “We are standing on the shoulders of the coaches who came before us. We’re inspired by a fantastic fan community that is both enthusiastic and supportive. This is the pinnacle of teamwork.”
We’re on our way to number five! Nebraska prevails in the fourth set.
To stay alive, the Huskers won the fourth set 25-23. With the race to 15, the title will be decided in the fifth set. This has been a thrilling fight, and a championship matchup at that.
Nebraska embarked on a 5-0 run with the title on the line in an all-tied set. They took advantage of a few of Wisconsin errors to establish a 21-17 lead. The Badgers battled back from three set points to come within one, 24-23, but Keonilei Akana made a great save and Ally Batenhorst finished it off in one of the most important moments of the match. Lindsay Krause has 11 kills and Batenhorst has nine as John Cook continues to put his faith in his freshmen.
This match is as close to a draw as it gets, and the fifth will be a nail-biter. Take a look at the rally that took this match to a fifth round.
An rally forces a fifth set to decide the National Championship!
— NCAA Women’s Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 19, 2021
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