The Wisconsin Badgers, who qualified for the Sweet 16 and finished #14 in the year-ending VolleyMob Power Rankings in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, have released their women’s volleyball schedule for the fall of 2018. On paper, the schedule looks like one that will test the Badgers, and one that will likely land among one of the toughest in the country.
We count 15 games against teams that qualified for the 2017 NCAA National Championship Tournament, including 7 against teams that made the Sweet 16 last season. That almost exactly mirrors their 2017 schedule, where they faced 16 games against tournament teams from the year before and 6 against Sweet 16 teams.
Wisconsin has dodged the worst of the Big Ten schedule. Of the 6 Big Ten teams that advanced to the Sweet 16 (which includes Wisconsin), they only have to play two of them twice. One is Minnesota, who are at a very similar rebuilding stage as Wisconsin after graduating a huge class at the end of the 2016 season The other is Illinois, who had a successful first season under new head coach Chris Tamas last year with a very young team, but who have also lost at least 4 players to transfer.
The Badgers will also get Nebraska, the defending national champions, at home. The Huskers have reloaded with a major transfer in Lexi Sun but also will put the offense on the shoulders of a rookie freshman setter who didn’t arrive on campus in time for the spring season. Then they’ll have to play Michigan State and Penn State on the road.
The Badgers’ non-conference schedule is the most intriguing portion of their 2018 slate. Wisconsin will play 3 non-conference tournaments – the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at the Target Center in Minneapolis; the HotelRed Invitational at home in the UW Field House; and the Marquette Invitational in Milwaukee. In addition, they’ve got 2 stand-alone matches at Baylor and at North Texas, for 8 total non-conference matches.
A breakdown of those 8 matches:
- Florida State (1st round of NCAA Tournament loss)
- UNC (9th in the ACC, but 2017 pre-season top 10 nationally)
- Texas (Big 12 Champions, NCAA Elite 8 loss to Stanford)
- High Point (1st round of NCAA Tournament loss – invited as an at-large)
- Baylor (2nd round of NCAA Tournament loss, without their best player for most of the year)
- North Texas (Conference USA regular-season champions, upset by Western Kentucky in conference tournament)
- Marquette (Big East runners-up, NCAA tournament invite as an at-large)
- Illinois State (3rd in the Missouri Valley Conference)
There’s not a game where the Badgers can afford to coast in that entire non-conference schedule. Illinois was the lowest-rated opponent in last year’s final RPI at 91. North Carolina was next at #76, and they’re usually a top-25 team that had a bad season. Even the mid-majors on this schedule like High Point, Marquette, and North Texas are bona-fied NCAA tournament caliber teams.
In fact, only 3 of Wisconsin’s matches are against teams outside of the RPI top-100 from last year: one against Rutgers (#215) and one against Indiana (#126). Indiana has brought in ex-Maryland head coach Steve Aird this season, and after how quickly he turned that program around, we have to assume that Indiana’s fortunes will be on the rise as well.
Wisconsin finished 22-10 and 11-9 in the Big Ten, playing their best volleyball late in the season where they won 7 of their last 9 regular season games. They swept Marquette and Iowa State in the first two round of the NCAA tournament before losing to the defending National Champions Stanford in the regional finals (national quarterfinals/round of 8). The Badgers graduated only 2 players from that team: #2 scorer Kelli Bates and #5 scorer Lauryn Gillis. 6’8″ middle blocker Dana Rettke led the team with 4.39 points/set. That earned her the AVCA National Freshman of the Year honors, AVCA First-Team All-America honors, and VolleyMob Second-Team All-America honors.
It all begins for the Badgers with an intrasquad scrimmage on August 18th before they face North Carolina on August 24th. See the team’s full schedule below.