"I was really pleased with our play this weekend. We've been working for the first two weekends trying to get a young group integrated into the system and have the upperclassmen get used to them being around, and they took a big step up. They played great defense. They passed well. We set a couple blocking records. And it really prepared us for the Big Ten weekend coming up, so I like our chances.
"Now this weekend coming in with Ohio State and Penn State, those are two undefeated teams. I think Ohio State is 8-0 (actually 10-0) and Penn State's 10 -0 (9-0). And we've got a great challenge ahead of us, but it's going to be really exciting and our kids are ready."
You are starting three freshmen. What qualities do they possess that make you confident that they're ready for Big Ten play?
"Well, one of the qualities is confidence. They really came from great backgrounds. They've played at a high level during their high school and club days. Jocelyn Wack is a great ball handler, a great libero for us. Jackie Simpson is a great competitor at the setting position. She's tall; she's got a big block. She can take balls from high above the net from the passers and the defense.
"And Taylor Reineke, who's a national championship player from the last two seasons with her club in high school, and does some great things with the block. So those three have just fit in really well, especially Taylor. This was her first real full starting weekend and she came on strong."
Pete, take us through the Big Ten Conference here after the non-conference games. Who are the real teams to beat?
"Well, Penn State again is defending champions. They're in the top 10 right now. Minnesota is ranked No. 1 in the country and they've taken another step up from last year being in the final four. Illinois had a big breakout year last year. They're going to be strong. Ohio State has Stacey Gordon coming back after three years as an All-American already in her senior year now and has got a good group around her. You can go down the list.
"Michigan State's going to be strong. Purdue's back being strong after being down a little bit and they had a new coach in last year. Iowa's got a new coach, so they're stronger this year. So all the teams are better and the top five or six slots are going to be a real battle. But I like where we are, even with our youth. I like our chances."
It seems like in the last week since the Kansas tournament that Taylor Reineke has really come on. Why is that? Why just in the last week?
"Actually, Taylor's had her game going the whole time. I think Jackie as a setter just needed to get her tempo set to Taylor and for those two to connect and get confidence. And that was just a matter of really Jackie taking the reins for a longer period of time. And every time she's stepped on the court she's gotten better."
Last year the team was at the bottom of the Big Ten when it comes to blocks. This year they're at the top of the Big Ten. What do you attribute that to?
"Well, size is one thing. Our senior class last year, they were our four smallest players, and we knew in the recruiting process we had to get bigger. And so this freshman class is our biggest class. And then just a combination of the discipline of the upperclassmen and what they've learned over the last year and these new players coming in have really made a difference."
You've compared Jocelyn Wack to Erin Byrd and Sara Urbanek in her passing ability. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
"She's just got a real innate sense for the ball, real fluid going to the ball and to the floor. She knows that she can take over the whole court and we've pretty much given her free reign to do that. She's, as some freshmen do, sometimes give way to the upperclassmen if they go into their zone to play a ball, but we've told her to go everywhere and go after everything and she's really starting to do that."
Pete, would you say Wisconsin has the best home-court advantage of any Big Ten team?
"I think so. I think it's great. Obviously, size, we've been leading the Big Ten with our attendance. I think the band is awesome all the time, both in just the noise level and just the cheers they do.
"There are a couple places that are pretty tough. Illinois has gotten real tough. The size of the crowd isn't as big, but they've got a little bigger student section that comes out. Minnesota is strong but not as big as ours.
"So it's been amazing. It really takes our kids to another level. They just work harder for the fans. And as soon as they have any kind of lull in their game, the fans start cheering and pushing them again and they really refocus and get going."
Not that it would ever be easy to win a Big Ten title, but when asked like who are the other teams that were contenders, you listed off most of the conference. Does it seem then with each year it's tougher and tougher to win a Big Ten title because of the other teams and the depth in the league?
"I think every team has their ups and downs and they're going to waver a little bit from the top to the, you know, maybe the fourth to fifth spot, and we're kind of in that spot where we're chasing back to get up to the title. But sometimes that's a good thing. You know, there's very strong teams out there, but it's good to be chasing people at times, and I think that's where we are.
"We're going to be going after them. We're going to be hungry. And I think after we won our Big Ten titles we got a little soft. It's hard to defend titles. People say that in every sport, but it's very difficult to do. And now we've got a young mentality of we're going after everybody, we don't care what happens, let's go for it."
Could you talk a little bit more about, you just said that you got soft. Is that just overconfidence after you won or what?
"It's nothing you try to do. You try to train them to go just as hard as they always have, but when you're being pursued by people and you're always defending what you've done in the past, it's difficult. When we went to the Final Four, it was something this program had been striving for forever. They had never done it.
"And once you get there then again and you finish second in the country, what's your next goal. Obviously first, but there's a lot of people along the way that are trying to take you down. And so while you're looking ahead of you, there's a ton of people behind you trying to get you. So it's tough.
"I think in 2001 it was, it's even difficult defending a Big Ten title and getting it a second year, and we did that very well. But after that, of course, you've got different personnel in there. Once we lost Sherisa and Lizzie and Urbanek and just a great core of what made this a great team, you're rebuilding and trying to find all those talents and not just talents but personalities that make that great mix."
You mentioned Stacey Gordon. What impresses you or concerns you about Ohio State? Maybe it's her.
"Well, Stacey Gordon's amazing. She was National Freshman of the Year coming in. Last weekend in a three-game match she had 33 kills, which is unbelievable. Most people in a five-game match wouldn't get 33 kills. She's got the whole game. She's got a tough jump serve. She gets set front row and back row. She plays great defense. She does it all. In the last two years they didn't have a great team around her. Now they've got a lot more good personnel. They had a new setter transfer in, a middle blocker transfer in. So they're much more solid so it'll be a tougher team."
Monday press conference: Pete Waite
Badger Nation Top Stories
Furtney Checks Out WisconsinMilan (Mich.) offensive tackle Michael Furtney recaps visits to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Scout Football3:34 PM
Westfall Hopeful for Wisconsin OfferArguably the top wide receiver in the state, Wisconsin Rapids junior Isaiah Westfall believes he is in line for a Wisconsin offer.
Badger Nation1:17 PM
2018 TE has "ability to be a Badger"Waubonsie Valley (Ill.) 2018 TE Charles Robinson shares some similarities with past Wisconsin tight ends, so it is no surprise that the Badgers are interested in him. He talks…
Scout Football10:25 AM
Game Day Grades: MinnesotaMINNEAPOLIS - BadgerNation analyzes the game and hands out the grades from Wisconsin's 78-76 overtime victory over Minnesota.
Badger Nation7:58 AM
Happ Leads Wisconsin's Gritty EffortA slow start turned into a big finish for sophomore Ethan Happ, who delivered a career-high 28 points in a double-double performance to lead No.17 Wisconsin to an overtime road win…
Badger NationYesterday at 5:02 PM