It’s always a big deal with the University of Wisconsin and Nebraska get together to play volleyball, but seldom is it bigger than it will be Friday when they meet at the UW Field House with the Big Ten championship on the line.
Here are five things to know as the No. 5 Badgers (23-3, 15-3 Big Ten) prepare to face the No. 11 Cornhuskers (20-6, 15-3) on Friday and Indiana (10-20, 4-14) on Saturday night.
UW coach Kelly Sheffield is not big on the whole rivalry thing. In his mind, the biggest rival is the next opponent on the schedule. It’s all part of the philosophy that all matches count the same, an approach he instills in his players.
But for most everybody else, a matchup like the Badgers and Huskers gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing a little faster.
“It’s a fan thing,” Sheffield said. “Maybe it’s a player thing, depending on who you ask. There are certain programs that you recruit against a lot and you’re around in the standings with a lot. There are certain programs with how they conduct their business, run their programs, that you’re watching a little more because they’re at the cutting edge.
“Nebraska would not be the only one in that, but they’re certainly in that for all of those things. But you’re just trying to find a way to win against whoever it is.”
The UW-Nebraska series has the main elements of every good rivalry: the teams are always good and there’s always a lot at stake when they meet.
“We don’t talk about rivalries,” Sheffield said. “Maybe we should in our sport. Football has all these trophies they’re playing for. You have the axes and the hogs and whatever. Maybe we should be doing that.
“No game is more important than any other in the grand scheme of things. But when you get down to the end, there are fewer things in the running. It’s not more important, but the lights are certainly brighter for certain matches.”
Not only is a Big Ten title on the line, but the Badgers also could seemingly wrap up a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, giving them the opportunity to host the first two weekends. A loss would open up the possibility of heading off to Waco, Texas; West Lafayette, Indiana; or Lexington, Kentucky, for the regionals.
While that has significance, it’s not really a motivating factor.
“Nobody hangs up a banner for a seeding,” Sheffield said. “You don’t get rings for a seeding. Seeding is for everybody but athletes. What you want them thinking is I don’t care about seeding, put somebody in front of me and I want to go beat them. They couldn’t care less about the seed.
“All of us would like to play as many matches at home as possible, but that doesn’t even register on what motivates people.”
Conventional wisdom heading into the final weekend of the season is that Louisville has the No. 1 seed wrapped up, with Texas, Pittsburgh and UW in line for the other three spots and Baylor, Kentucky and Purdue lurking just behind.
The field of 64 will be revealed Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Setter Sydney Hilley is on the brink of becoming the UW career leader in assists. Hilley is second with 5,801 assists, 33 short of surpassing the record of 5,833 set by Laura Abbinante (1993-96). Abbinante, who ranks eighth in Big Ten history in career assists, will be in attendance Friday.
Sheffield is one win away from his 500th career victory. Sheffield has a 499-165 (.752) record in his 21 years as a head coach at Albany, Dayton and UW.
He ranks second on UW’s all-time list with a 226-53 (.810) record in nine seasons. He trails only Pete Waite (1999-2012) with 305 victories.
She said it
Grace Loberg, on how the UW program has impacted her.
“Wisconsin volleyball has made me so much more of a confident person,” Loberg said. “I walk into a room and I know I can own that room. I know how to speak confidently, I know how to stand tall. I think the main thing I’m going to get from this experience is having lifelong friends and role models and a lot of memories.”