The fourth time proved to be the charm for the Wisconsin volleyball team.
Behind standout performances from players up and down the roster, the Badgers claimed their first national title in school history. They did it with a five-set win over Big Ten rival Nebraska on Saturday night in Columbus.
It was the final step for a program that had done everything but win its final match of the season. Eight Big Ten titles, 25 NCAA tournament appearances, 19 Sweet Sixteens, five Final Fours and three runner-up finishes. The only thing missing was a national championship and Wisconsin finally checked that box by beating the Huskers.
It was far from easy, though. Nebraska came out and punched the Badgers right in the mouth, taking the first set 25-22. The second looked to be going the Huskers way as well as they took a 13-8 lead. But Wisconsin responded and it turned into an epic back and forth with the Badgers fighting off four set points and finally closing it out with back-to-back blocks from All-American Dana Rettke to win 31-29. The third set came down to the wire, too, before Devyn Robinson had a pair of kills to turn a tie match into a 25-23 set win for Wisconsin. The Badgers led 17-16 in the fourth before Nebraska went on a 5-0 run and ended up winning 25-23.
The fifth set was filled with drama. Wisconsin jumped out to a 7-0 lead but the Huskers answered to get it to 14-11. The Badgers thought they had won when the Huskers appeared to hit the ball long. But after replay, it was determined that a Wisconsin player touched it. The Badgers, though, came right back and got a kill from Rettke to finish it off.
The story of the match was the defense from both sides. The Badgers, led by Robinson and Rettke, had 24 blocks, while Nebraska had 93 digs. Rettke had 13 blocks, which set a career-high in her final college match. Freshman Anna Smrek added seven blocks while also leading the offense with 14 kills. Jade Demps chipped in 12 kills and Grace Loberg had 10. Sydney Hilley finished with 51 assists and Lauren Barnes had 31 of Wisconsin’s 79 digs.
Smrek, who had a remarkable tournament, especially in the upset of Louisville in the semifinals, was named the Most Outstanding Player. Rettke and Hilley were on the All-Tournament team.