The upcoming year in Wisconsin Badgers athletics should have their fans absolutely amped.
After a year that featured Final Four runs for both men’s basketball and volleyball, a Big Ten tournament title in men’s hockey, a Frozen Four appearance by the women’s hockey team, and impressive accomplishments in several other sports, UW appears poised to take another step forward and have a banner year in athletics.
Numerous Badgers teams have all the pieces to be relevant on the national stage, and we’ll take a look at all of them, starting with volleyball.
The Wisconsin volleyball team is coming off one the most successful seasons in program history, under first-year coach Kelly Sheffield.
Sheffield replaced longtime coach Pete Waite, who resigned after a rough stretch from 2008 to 2012 where the Badgers missed five consecutive NCAA tournaments. Over that span, the team went just 77-80 overall and 31-70 in Big Ten play.
Despite these struggles, he was able to land the No. 1 recruit in the country, setter Lauren Carlini, who reaffirmed her commitment to the Badgers after Waite’s departure.
Behind Sheffield and Carlini, Wisconsin stormed out of the gates to start the season, winnings 14 of their first 15 games. The Badgers carried this momentum over into Big Ten play, navigating their way through a brutal conference schedule to finish fourth in the Big Ten with a 12-8 record.
This earned them the No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament, their first postseason appearance since 2007. Carlini also received several individual accolades, including being named to the All-Big Ten team and winning the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award.
While the season would’ve been considered a success regardless at this point, it was their improbable NCAA tournament run that elevated their campaign to a whole new level.
UW shocked just about everybody my making it all the way to the Final Four for just the second time in school history, where they picked up arguably the biggest win in program history by upsetting the top-seeded Texas Longhorns in four sets.
Though the Badgers ended up falling in the NCAA championship game to Big Ten foe and perennial national powerhouse Penn State, their magical run still put them into the national spotlight, and there’s every reason to believe that they will stay there in the upcoming season.
Carlini, who has the potential to be an All-American, returns for her sophomore year along with several other key players from the 2013 team. This includes a trio of solid senior outside hitters, Courtney Thomas, Deme Morales, and Ellen Chapman.
Sheffield and the Badgers will welcome in a couple of transfers as well, juniors Romana Kriskova of VCU and Erin Juley from Long Beach State.
Both had success with their previous programs, with Kriskova winning the 2013 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year award and Juley being named to the Big West’s All-Freshman team in 2011.
With all these pieces in place, UW fans should feel extremely confident that the team’s sudden rise to national prominence won’t be short-lived.
At the very least this much is certain, if Wisconsin finds its way back to the Final Four in 2014, nobody will be calling it a Cinderella run this time around.