Super Seniors

first_imgAs the Wisconsin volleyball team gears up in hopes of makinga deep run in its 12th straight NCAA tournament appearance, five seniors’Badger careers will end in just three short weeks.Amanda Berkeley, Megan Mills, Jackie Simpson, Taylor Reinekeand Jocelyn Wack have been the core of the volleyball team that has won almost100 matches over the last four years from day one.Now, with three weeks at most left in their careers, thesefive seniors are beginning to look back at their time as Badgers before theymake one final push toward the Final Four.”I try not to think about that,” Wack said about the thoughtof her career as a Badger coming to an end.”Thisis it,” Reineke added. “Some of us might not be able get the chance to playvolleyball again. It’s just kind of play hard or go home. This is it. This isall we have left. We are going to work hard and play like we have nothing tolose.”The early yearsFor these five seniors, putting on the Wisconsin uniform forthe first time back in 2004 provided them with mixed emotions.”Just to have that jersey on, and be a Badger and realizethere is so much to come was so exciting,” Simpson said.”I was excited and nervous,” Berkeley added. “I’ve neverplayed in front of so many people before. I was more excited to be on the teamand be playing at the Field House when I use to watch games here.”However, from the beginning, this senior class hit the groundrunning, immediately contributing on the court. Wack earned the starting liberospot from the get-go and Simpson and Reineke quickly made their way into thestarting lineup as setter and middle blocker, respectively. Mills and Berkeley,who both walked onto the team freshman year, also contributed as defensivespecialists coming off the bench.”It’s very rare for a class to come in with as many peopleas they have and to start right away and to continue on for four yearscontributing in such a big way,” head coach Pete Waite said. “They clearlyearned their spots as freshmen. You (also) have a situation with two walk-onswho have contributed in big ways during their careers, which is also veryrare.”It was this experience that was gained during their firstyear that the seniors attribute their successes to today.”Just getting that experience was invaluable,” Wack said.”We’ve been through everything together on and off the court and that is reallypaying off this year.””It’s to the point now where you don’t even have to hearsomeone or see them to know where they are on the court,” Simpson added. “It’slike we are connected on a whole other level. A lot of that has to do with thechemistry we have off the court. We truly are a family.”Entering their first NCAA tournament, the Badgers were notexpected to make a deep run. However, Wisconsin shocked many in the volleyballworld when it upset No. 2 and undefeated Hawaii in the Sweet 16 before losingto the eventual champions, Stanford, in the next round.”The biggest thing I remember from that is how it went backand forth,” Wack said. “I remember Jill Odenthal pulling everybody in themiddle and saying, ‘We are going to win this game.’ It was just an amazingfeeling to take such a great team like Hawaii and send them back home.”Wisconsin followed up the Hawaii upset with two more upsetsthe following year by beating then-No. 2 Minnesota and then a favored NotreDame in the Sweet 16.It is these big upsets early in their careers that givesthis Badger quintet the confidence they can make a deep run in this year’stournament.”Onceyou get in the tournament, you get faced with these teams that are expected towin,” Mills said. “After we beat Hawaii and all the big matches that followed,it showed us that we could play up to that level and that we had so muchpotential that we could be good. It gave us that extra confidence.”Finally upperclassmenEntering their junior year, the Badgers were now anexperienced bunch and many expected them to make a run at a Big Ten title.However, Waite enjoyed the 2006 season because he was ableto see how the group of girls matured during their first two years.”It was fun to see them go from being kind of frustratedplayers earlier in their career, because of the mistakes they might have beenmaking — the freshmen mistakes,” Waite said, “to go to the point where they arereally enjoying the game their junior and senior year because they’ve made thecorrections, they’ve worked hard in the offseasons to be better players.”During Halloween weekend, the Badgers pulled off anotherupset, sweeping No. 2 Penn State in what the seniors consider one of thebiggest matches of their careers. All five of them contributed in Wisconsin’sdominating performance, as the trio of Wack, Mill and Berkeley combined for 16digs, while Simpson and Reineke combined for 12 kills and eight blocks.”It was unbelievable because everybody played flawlessly,”Wack said of the Penn State match. “That was awesome because it doesn’t happena whole lot. Sometimes people have off-nights here and there, but everybody onthe team picks it up here and there. That night we couldn’t be stopped.”Mills echoed Wack’s assessment of the match.”We were all in the zone,” Mills said. “We weren’t forcingit or trying to do anything miraculous. We all worked together really well.”While the Badgers rode the high of the win to moreconference wins, for the third-straight year their season ended indisappointment.After making it to the Elite Eight in their freshmen andsophomore year, the quintet was stopped short of their goal of making the FinalFour when they lost to Texas in the Sweet 16. The seniors have used that lossto motivate them to finish strong this year.”Wekind of had a chip on our shoulder, and we knew this year we wanted to do a lotbetter and we didn’t want it to end there,” Reineke said about the Texas loss.”It made us work a lot harder this season.”One last pushAfter their most successful campaign, the seniors are nowready to make their final push at making it to the Final Four.”Sometimes our staff has been spoiled and our fans have beenspoiled by the level of play they have brought to us and the effort they havegiven us,” Waite said. “It has been a great jolt, and now as we enter thetournament, they’re eager to play great and make a deep run. I know they haveset high goals, and they are going to give everything they can to the programnow.”While none of the seniors wanted to think about the fact thattheir careers could be all over Friday, the realization that their time as Badgersis winding down is beginning to set in as the quintet signed the hitting boxesthey use in practice Tuesday, a Wisconsin tradition.However, the seniors were excited to find out they will nothave to leave Madison again unless they make it to the Final Four, which wouldbe welcomed by all.”It was nice for the seniors,” Mills said about finding outWisconsin would host the first four rounds. “Either we make it to the FinalFour, or we lose at home. We are definitely striving for the Final Four, but ifwe don’t make it, there is no place to end like home.”Because the Badgers are hosting the first four rounds, theseniors feel their last shot at making to the Final Four is their best.”This is just a great place to play,” Simpson said of theField House. “The energy level is just up another notch. When you have allthose people cheering for you want to bring your game up to another level. Iknow as our season as gotten closer and closer to the end, we have all startedstepping it up.”However, whenever Wisconsin’s run in the tournament comes toan end — whether Friday or as national champions — the seniors will begin to gotheir own ways as the finish up their education and peruse other ventures likegraduate school and playing overseas. But no matter how far they end up away fromeach other, they all agreed that no one could take away the bond they developedover the last four years.”Wekind of like each other,” Wack joked. “We are like sisters. We see each otherevery day. We talk about the stupidest things all the time. We are just therefor each other for anything. I think we going to be life friends, and that issomething we are going to take away forever.”Legacy and futureRegardless of how far Wisconsin makes it in this year’stournament, the senior class will go down as one of the most decorated in UWhistory.In four years they amassed a 99-28 record overall and 61-19in the Big Ten, pulled off numerous upsets, brought record numbers of fans tothe Field House and had strong showings in the NCAA tournament.They have also accumulated numerous personal achievements. Alook in the Badger volleyball record books, and you would see the seniors allover the page.Wack is not only Wisconsin’s all-time dig leader but alsoholds an NCAA record with an 80-match streak of at least 10 digs or more.Reineke is a three-time member of the All-Big Ten team and ranks second inblocks in UW history. Simpson was a second-team All-American last season andalso ranks second in assists.”I think if you were to ask any player on this team, it’sall about the team,” Simpson said. “Any personal accolades that any of us haveearned, we would trade it in a heartbeat to have a Big Ten title. That’s whatvolleyball is all about. It’s a team sport. It’s a puzzle, and if you’remissing any single piece at any given moment, it’s not going to be complete.It’s a very unique sport in that matter.”Now as the seniors get ready to leave the program, they areconfident they are leaving the team in great shape.”It’s Wisconsin volleyball. With or without us, it is alwaysgoing to be Wisconsin volleyball,” Simpson said. “Had we not come here, itstill would have been a top 10 team with great recruits coming through. It isone of the best places to play in the country. That is a huge reason why peoplecome here. The girls next year are going to be awesome. It is a bright futurefor Wisconsin.””I think it will keep getting better and better,” Berkeleyadded. “We are always a top-notch team so I think it will continue to be thatway.”Even though the foundation is set for Wisconsin to continueit success, Waite knows replacing this class will be one of the toughest thingshe has had to do in a long time.”It will be very tough,” Waite said. “We’ll miss them forthe level of play they bring, for the effort they give in the classroom and onthe court, and just for the people they are. They enjoy this game and havegreat passion for playing it. They have been great role models for thereturning players.”I think that is something they will pass on to the groupfor next year, how hard you need to work to be good and how much fun you canhave by giving everything you can to the team every day.”last_img read more

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