Dana Rettke named Badgers' first Big Ten Conference Female Athlete of the Year since 1997
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Dana Rettke named Badgers' first Big Ten Conference Female Athlete of the Year since 1997

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Dana Rettke embraces Baylor outside hitter Yossiana Pressley after UW won the NCAA tournament semifinal match in four sets on Dec. 19 in Pittsburgh. The two juniors were first-team AVCA All-America selections.

Add another chapter to Dana Rettke’s storied University of Wisconsin volleyball career.

Rettke, a three-time first-team All-American, was named Thursday as the Big Ten Conference Female Athlete of the Year.

Rettke is the fifth UW female athlete to receive the award and the first since 1997 when Kathy Butler (cross country and track and field) shared the honor.

The last Badger of either gender to win the award was Ron Dayne (football), who was named the Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year in 2000. Dayne is the only UW athlete to receive the Owens award.

Joining that list is a humbling experience for Rettke, who was named UW’s athlete of the year earlier this week along with running back Jonathan Taylor.

“It is such an honor to be named Big Ten Athlete of the Year,” Rettke said. “Having the opportunity to play in this conference every day is something I will never take for granted. The competition is top notch, and there are so many amazing players, coaches and staff that make me a better athlete and person every day. Thank you to my teammates and coaches at Wisconsin for everything they have done. I truly cannot do anything without them.”

Ohio State junior defensive end Chase Young was named the Jesse Owens award winner.

Rettke, a 6-foot-8 junior middle blocker from Riverside, Illinois, was named the 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year after she helped lead the Badgers to the conference championship. The Badgers then advanced to the NCAA national championship match and she was selected to both the NCAA championship All-Tournament team and the NCAA regional All-Tournament team.

Rettke became just the second Badger to be selected a first-team All-American three times, joining Lauren Carlini.

“There are a lot of big-time athletes in this conference,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “For Dana to earn this honor is quite impressive, especially considering it’s been 20 years since the last Badger has achieved it.”

All four of the Badgers’ previous female recipients were cross country/track athletes — Cathy Branta in 1985, Stephanie Herbst in 1986, Suzy Favor in 1988-89-90 and Butler, who shared the honor with Minnesota swimmer Gretchen Hegener.

Rettke becomes the fourth volleyball player to be selected and the first since Penn State’s Megan Hodge was chosen in 2010.

“I’m thrilled for Dana,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “She was certainly a key figure in our volleyball program’s run to not only the Big Ten title, but to the NCAA championship match. She has been a great representative of our entire university, on the court and in the classroom. I am proud of her and very happy she’s being recognized as the conference’s athlete of the year.”

Rettke led the Big Ten with 1.45 blocks per set, while leading the Badgers and ranking third in the conference with a .399 hitting percentage. She also led UW with 3.75 kills per set, fifth best in the conference.

She is UW’s career leader in hitting percentage (.420) and ranks 12th in career kills (1,237) with one season remaining.

In addition, she is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, majoring in marketing with a certificate in education studies.

Rettke also has become a presence on the national and international levels, as she competed with the U.S. National Team during the summer of 2019, winning the Volleyball Nations League and qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She was a finalist for both the 2020 AAU James E. Sullivan Award and a 2019 Honda Award.

The Big Ten has recognized a Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year since 1982 and first honored a Female Athlete of the Year in 1983. The Big Ten Athletes of the Year are selected by a panel of conference media members, with one male and one female student-athlete nominated from each Big Ten institution.

Rettke and Young were among a field of nominees that included three national champions, 23 All-Americans, 11 Big Ten champions, 11 conference players of the year and two who collected a national player of the year honors.

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