Familiar Feeling for Badgers in Field House

The stakes don't get any higher for Wisconsin volleyball with the Badgers beginning first round action in the NCAA tournament tonight. Luckily, the Badgers are playing in a familiar place.

For the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, the opening round of the 2006 NCAA tournament won't be much of anything new.

Not only do many of the Badger players have extensive postseason experience, having reached the Elite Eight the past two seasons, but the UW Field House will also be hosting the first and second rounds for the third straight year.

However, maybe the most familiar aspect of this season's tournament will be the team Wisconsin is matched up against Friday.

For the third consecutive season, the No. 10-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (24-6 overall, 16-4 Big Ten) will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (18-13, 10-4 Big East) in the NCAA tournament.

"It's a motivational factor," UW junior middle blocker Taylor Reineke said of playing Notre Dame once again. "You know them and you're friends with them, but you also want to beat them."

Having lost the last two contests against Wisconsin, Notre Dame is hoping the third time will be the charm Friday.

And while playing against the Badgers for the third straight year may feel like déjà vu, many of the Irish players believe this time will be different.

"It's in the past," ND senior defensive specialist/libero Danielle Herndon said of Notre Dame's history against Wisconsin. "This is a new team, and we're focusing on what we're going to do this year."

This season has been somewhat of a learning experience for the Irish, with Herndon being the lone senior on the team.

Nevertheless, Notre Dame head coach Debbie Brown believes her team's youth may actually be beneficial against Wisconsin.

"We have half of the roster that has played Wisconsin before and … half of the roster that hasn't," Brown said. "It's a new team, it's a new year and you can't keep going back to last year or the year before."

Waite believes Notre Dame has a different look this year, as well.

"This is a different Notre Dame team," Waite said. "They're much younger and they're a little bit smaller and quicker, more athletic, so we've had to re-learn this team and what they're doing on the other side of the net.

"They bring a very different style to the court than they did last year."

Even though many members of Wisconsin's roster have a strong understanding of Notre Dame's team, one player who does not is freshman outside hitter Brittney Dolgner.

While Dolgner brings an impressive postseason résumé with her — she won four state titles at Waupun High School — the fact of the matter remains she is playing in her first NCAA tournament game ever.

Adjusting to the collegiate level of play wasn't a problem for Dolgner, though. In just her first season, Dolgner posted 4.14 kills per game and 2.51 digs per game — good enough to not only earn herself Big Ten All-Freshman team honors, but also first-team All-Big Ten accolades, the first UW freshman to do so.

After all the success Dolgner has already experienced, the freshman phenom can't wait to start postseason play.

"It's a new experience for me," Dolgner said. "I'm really looking forward to it and excited to see what it's going to be like."

For that matter, everyone on the UW roster is looking forward to tipping off the first round of the tournament, as this is what the team has been striving for all year.

"The NCAA tournament is the time of year that you look forward to all year, and that's what you're working towards," junior setter and All-Big Ten selection Jackie Simpson said. "I think we're all excited to just get out there and play."

If the Badgers win Friday, they will advance to the second round Saturday and play the winner of Iowa State/UW-Milwaukee.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

While Dolgner put up some hefty numbers her freshman season in terms of kills and digs, one area she believes she still has some work to do is blocking.

Dolgner had the opportunity to learn from the best in teammate Taylor Reineke, who led the Big Ten in blocks per game (1.62) and is another UW All-Big Ten selection.

"[Reineke's] definitely one of the players I look up to," Dolgner said. "She's taught me the fundamentals."

But Reineke's help can only go so far. In order to help Dolgner improve her skills on the net, Waite came up with a unique routine for the freshman to go through.

"Before practice, I have a thing where I have to go in the bathroom and practice blocking in a mirror just so I know what I'm doing and how my hands look when I'm blocking."

"It's another one of those creative little things I've come up with," Waite said. "It just happened to be the only mirror we could find."

Badger Nation Top Stories