UW looks to home-court advantage

Wisconsin volleyball team earned opportunity to host opening weekend of NCAA tournament

As the Wisconsin volleyball team begins the 2004 NCAA volleyball tournament, one thing it will certainly have on its side is a sizeable home-court advantage. After being bestowed with a No. 14 overall seeding by the NCAA selection committee, the Badgers (19-9, 13-7) earned the right to host first and second round matches at the UW Field House and drew Loyola (Ill.) as its opening-round opponent.

"We're real happy to be here and be hosting the NCAA tournament first and second rounds," Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite said. "It's been a good season for us. We've been excited about how well our team has done and there are some excellent teams in here to play this weekend. It's going to be some great volleyball in the Field House."

The Badgers own a 12-3 record this season at the Field House and have not lost in that venue since Sept. 24. All three home losses came at the hands of teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top 25: No. 24 Missouri, No. 4 Penn State and No. 8 Ohio State.

"Obviously, we were really excited to be able to host," junior middle blocker Sheila Shaw said. "It's a great opportunity for us in the Field House. We know we play our best here and it's just a great environment. We're really going to take advantage of it."

As usual, Wisconsin has enjoyed the support of large and raucous crowds in Madison. UW finished the regular season third in the nation in average attendance. With 4,218 fans per gate, Wisconsin trailed only Hawaii and Nebraska. In total attendance, the Badgers finished second to only the Rainbow Wahine.

"Obviously just being in Madison is a comfort zone," said freshman setter Jackie Simpson, who will be making her first NCAA tournament appearance. "You have a crowd out there we're so comfortable being in front of. Especially having such a young team, I think it's going to make a huge difference, just having that ability to relax a little more and just enjoy the game."

Staying at home for the opening rounds will be a welcome change for the Badgers who last season were sent packing to College Station, Texas. Wisconsin defeated Arizona in the first round, only to fall to host Texas A&M in round two.

"It's definitely nice not having to travel," Odenthal said. "It saves some wear and tear on your body. Just feeling comfortable on our home court in front of our fans is a big advantage."

Should UW defeat both Loyola and the winner of the Notre Dame-Valparaiso matchup, it would also enjoy a favorable home-court advantage in its regional, which would be played in Green Bay.

"You have to set goals, you want to look ahead to advance in this tournament," Waite said. "If you don't, you're expecting to be done the first night. We definitely know it's out there, it would be great to be in Green Bay. We first of all have to take it one match against Loyola. We'll take it from there and see what happens."

Shared history: Although the two teams have not met since 1998, the Badgers and Ramblers have something of a common history. Former Wisconsin setter Liz Tortorello-Nelson, coached Loyola from 1997-2003 before stepping down prior to this season. A two-time All-Big Ten pick as a Badger, Tortorello was a part of the 1990 Wisconsin team that captured the conference championship.

"We've got a history with Wisconsin, having Liz Tortorello-Nelson," said current Ramblers head coach Tim O'Brien, who served as an assistant under Tortorello-Nelson before becoming head coach. "We know a lot about the program and the program's history. We just feel excited to be here and we're just excited for the event itself. We feel real comfortable and feel like we've got a good chance in this match."

What: NCAA first and second round matches
Where: UW Field House
Events: Notre Dame v. Valparaiso, Friday, Dec. 3 at 5 p.m.
Wisconsin v. Loyola, Friday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.
First-round winners face each other at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4
Broadcasts: None.

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