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Wisconsin volleyball team enters season with a wealth of talent

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Kelly Sheffield has some interesting decisions to make as he puts together his lineup for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team.

Across the board it would appear the No. 9 Badgers have more accomplished players than spots in the lineup. That’s particularly true in the front court, where he could utilize any combination of players with justification.

Saturday’s Red vs. White scrimmage likely didn’t do a whole lot to clarify things as just about everybody appeared to strengthen their case for playing time.

For the record, the White team, led by backup setter Mallory Dixon, won the match 25-23, 22-25, 25-22 over the Red team. But the results were confusing because many players participated for each team in different sets.

“I thought everybody had their moments and they had a lot of fun getting out there and playing,” Sheffield said. “Whether we got more answers or more questions, I’m not sure I could tell you right now. There was a lot of good stuff that was happening and some things that will allow us to go back and work on some things.”

Sheffield was particularly pleased with the play of his liberos, juniors Tiffany Clark and M.E. Dodge, and with three outside hitters, sophomore Molly Haggerty, sophomore Grace Loberg and junior Madison Duello.

“I thought all three of them were physical and after an error they came right back and steadied the ship,” he said. “What I didn’t see from those guys was one error leading to two or three. I thought they were stretching out the good today.

Just getting back on the court was a significant achievement for Haggerty, who has gone through an extensive recovery period from back surgery that sidelined her all of last season. She finished with 14 kills to lead the Red team, hitting .294, and added five digs and two blocks.

“I’ve been feeling great this whole summer and preseason,” Haggerty said. “Each day I’m getting more and more confident and today I felt like I was playing loose and just having fun again. It’s always so much fun to play in front of this crowd. It was awesome being back out there and doing what I love.”

Sheffield was pleased with the variety of contributions she made.

“She did a little bit of everything,” he said. “Certainly, people leave here excited about where she could be and where we could be, I would guess.”

The 1,591 fans in attendance also likely went away favorably impressed with Loberg, who led the way with 15 kills and hit .344 while splitting time between the two teams.

“Today was the best she’s played all preseason,” Sheffield said. “I thought she passed the ball, served the ball really well, got in there and hit the ball. She was physical, she played with confidence.”

Loberg, who emerged as a force during the NCAA tournament last year after seeing limited time much of the season, said confidence was the biggest difference for her this year. She’s also motivated by the level of competition for playing time.

“Confidence is a big thing for me,” she said. “I just try to get one percent better every day. Obviously, Molly, Duello and Mariah (Whalen) are killing it on the outside. It’s fun to compete with them.”

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