The Texas Longhorns have had to battle through the last two rounds of the NCAA tournament, taking on volleyball powers like the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Penn State Nittany Lions to make it to the Final Four.
The run of tough opponents continues as they take on the No. 1 seed Wisconsin Badgers in the national semifinal, an undefeated team that has dropped just five sets in the entire season. In order to gain some insight into the Badgers, we reached out to Wisconsin SB Nation site Bucky’s Fifth Quarter and spoke with Bremem Keasey.
Burnt Orange Nation: We have to start with the barn burner against the Florida Gators. Nobody would have been disappointed in that as a national championship game, but it took Wisconsin all five to get the Final Four berth. How did the Gators manage to take two sets against a team that had surrendered just three leading up to the NCAA Tournament?
Bremen Keasey, Bucky’s 5th Quarter: The Gators were very impressive on offense and really hurt Wisconsin on off-speed shots. It seemed like UW had no answers for those change-of-pace shots, and the Badgers had a tough time getting settled on offense. Florida had a lot of blocks early on — they ended up finishing with 12 on the night — and even if they didn’t put it on the floor, Wisconsin got out of system afterwards. In the two sets the Gators won, Florida hit over .300 while Wisconsin was held to only .153 over the match. But the Gators’ hitting percent was lower when the Badgers won, and I think Wisconsin’s senior class dragged the team over the line when it mattered.
BON: Senior Dana Rettke is one of the most dangerous weapons in the country, averaging more than three kills per set while hitting .423 on the year, while also sitting No. 8 nationally in blocks per set. What makes her such a dangerous weapon for the Badgers?
BK: Dana Rettke often looks unfair. The now four-time All-American is a constant threat on both ends of the court, partly because of her quick feet. Rettke — as it seems most volleyball players — didn’t just play volleyball, but she played basketball when she was younger which she and the coaches credited as developing her lateral quickness. I also think that her ability on the slide play, which is a kind of running start and hit cross court, makes the block have to move quickly to adapt. That is tough, especially when she is often getting a perfect pass from her All-American setter, Sydney Hilly.
BON: This matchup was a collision course since the moment the bracket was set. What’s the key to the matchup for the Badgers?
BK: Serving. Even with a perfect record during the season, Wisconsin often struggled with service errors. Against the Gators, they had 11 service errors and they often unsettled UW, who had turned themselves into a pretty consistent serving team. If UW struggles with serving, the Longhorns will be licking their lips to try and take advantage. But if Wisconsin limits the errors and gets some aces down, it will be a really tough day.
BON: What’s your prediction for the match?
BK: Predictions can be weird when the only thing the team has done all season was win. While watching as a writer and a fan, matches where Wisconsin would lose a set were weird. This team reached the final last year and returned pretty much everyone, and they have looked the part of a number one team all year. Obviously, Texas is also near perfect, but with Wisconsin having a pretty ugly game and gutting out a five-set victory has me feel that UW and its senior class will move on again. I think it would be a 3-1 victory for Wisconsin.
The match starts at 8:30 p.m. Central on ESPN as Texas tries to break the 4-4 series tie between the two schools. The last win for the Longhorns against the Badgers came in 2006.