MADISON, Wis. – Head coach Kelly Sheffield has announced the signing of five student-athletes to National Letters of Intent. The third-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team has signed Danielle Hart, Sydney Hilley, Grace Loberg, Dana Rettke and Mariah Whalen for the 2017 season.
“I don’t get too caught up in player or class rankings,” said Sheffield. “What I am interested in is the character of the people we are bringing in, their willingness to work and learn, the passion they have for the game, and how they respond when challenges present themselves.
“Since most of these players committed quite a while ago, I’ve really gotten to know them and their families. They all are great young ladies who have a blue-collar work ethic. They grew up as multi-sport athletes and each of them could have played Division I in another sport. They’ve all had good coaches and mentors around them as well.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the gym with Sydney, Dana, and Mariah this spring, and Danielle and Grace in the fall. Each of them have the potential to be impact players at this program at some point in their careers here.”
A 6-3 middle blocker from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Hart is ranked No. 17 PrepVolleyball Senior Ace. She earned 2015 second-team all-state honors at Ocean Lakes High School and Coach Jack Wheeler. Hart earned 2015 and 2016 All-Coastal Conference honors, leading the Dolphins to the 2016 championship and was named the conference player of the year. Ocean Lakes is currently competing in the regional semifinals for the right to advance to the state championship. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and Mathematics and Science Academy.
“Danielle is a fierce competitor who absolutely loves playing the game,” Sheffield said. “She is a very good slide attacker who hits it with range. She has the lateral quickness where I think she’ll also be a really solid blocker at this level.”
Hart also plays with Coastal Volleyball Club under Coach Dave Albaugh. A three-time Atlantic Coast Power League all-tournament selection, Coastal finished fifth at the 2016 Junior National Championships.
Ranked No. 3 PrepVolleyball Senior Ace, Hilley is the 2015 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She was also named the MaxPreps Junior of the Year and PrepVolleyball National Sophomore of the Year. The 5-11 setter is a 2016 Under Armour first-team All-American and a USA Today All-USA Preseason Team member.
A two-time member of USA Volleyball National teams, Hilley served as captain of the 2016 Junior National Team and also participated in the 2015 World Championships as a member of the Youth National Team.
“First and foremost, Syd is a winner and she makes those around her better,” explained Sheffield. “And at the end of the day, that may be the most important trait that a setter has. Her work ethic and eagerness to learn separate her from most.”
Hilley is a two-time first-team all-state honoree at Champlin Park High School for Coach John Yunker. The Rebels are competing in the Minnesota State AAA state championship this weekend in St. Paul. She is a two-time state all-tournament pick and four-time all-conference honoree. An all-around player, Hilley broke her high school’s record for kills with nearly 1,400 kills.
Hilley played with Minnesota Select under coaches Scott Jackson and George Padjen. Select won the 2016 Junior National Championship with Hilley earning MVP honors. She is a three-time AAU All-American, leading her team to three top-three finishes.
A 6-3 outside hitter from Geneva, Illinois, Loberg is a 2016 Under Armour first-team All-American. She led Geneva High School to more than 130 wins in her four years, earning all-conference and all-area honors all four seasons. Loberg was a 2015 first-team all-state selection for coach Annie Seitelman and record more than 1,300 career kills. She was also a three-time Kane County Chronicle Female Athlete of the Year. Loberg was also a four-year starter in basketball, earning two all-conference and three all-area selections.
“Grace is a terminator,” said Sheffield. “She packs a lot of punch in her swing and hits with range. She’s also a six-rotation player and someone who I think could be a very good back-row attacker for us.”
A member of Club Fusion under coaches Mike Bui and Dave Soller, Loberg is ranked 19th on PrepVolleyball Senior Aces. She is a two-time AAU All-American aiding her team to three top-10 finishes at the national championships. Loberg was also a member of the 2016 Junior Volleyball Association (JVA) All-National team.
A 6-8, Rettke will be the tallest player to ever wear a Badger volleyball uniform. The middle blocker from Riverside, Illinois, is ranked eighth on PrepVolleyball Senior Ace list. A 2015 first-team all-state selection, Rettke is a three-time all-conference mention, including being named MVP as a senior. She is a two-time all-area pick and was named her Riverside Brookfield High School female athlete of the year in 2015-16.
“What jumps out at most people is Dana’s height, but what jumps out to me is her athleticism,” Sheffield said. “She moves her feet really well and is a really nice slide attacker with a high contact point. She’s only touching the surface as far as how good she could be.”
Rettke set career and single season records for kills and blocks for coach Dan Bonarigo. She finished her career with 1,280 kills and 259 blocks while ranking second with 486 digs. Rettke is also a standout basketball player, earning two all-area awards.
A member of 1st Alliance Volleyball Club and coach Kyle Masterson, Rettke aided her team to two top-25 national finishes.
A 6-1 outside hitter from Wausau, Wisconsin, Whalen led Newman Catholic High School to four straight state championships, earning four all-tournament honors. She is a two-time first-team all-state selection for coach Betty Lange. A four-time all-conference selection, Whalen led her team to three conference championships. She finished her career with 2,812 kills, 1,225 digs, 355 service aces and 337 blocks while hitting .387.
“Mariah is a very versatile player with a lot of different tools,” said Sheffield. “She has experience at all three positions along the net and has played six rotations her entire career. She’s carried the offensive load for her teams for a lot of years. She’s a player that embraces challenges and lives for big moments.”
Whalen also played with Wisconsin Volleyball Academy for coaches B.J. Bryant and Rocky Koenig. Her team garnered two top-five AAU National Championship finishes. She is ranked No. 37 on PrepVolleyball Senior Aces and is a 2016 Under Armour third-team All-American. Whalen was named the PrepVolleyball and MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year in 2013 and a two-time MaxPreps All-American and 2014 JVA All-American.