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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | February 23, 2021

The Wisconsin volleyball dream player, built by coach Kelly Sheffield

The Wisconsin volleyball dream player, built by coach Kelly Sheffield

Kelly Sheffield has been the head coach for Wisconsin volleyball for eight years. He has led UW to seven straight NCAA Final 16-or-better tournament appearances and two national championship matches. Wisconsin has also been a dominant force in the Big Ten Conference in six of the past seven seasons, winning titles in 2019 and 2014. 

That gives you some idea of how many good players he's coached. I asked Sheffield to build his ultimate Badger dream player from those players. He did just that, picking players for 11 different categories from the student-athletes he coached during his eight years in Madison. 

Here are his picks and what Sheffield had to say about each category: 

The Quarterback — Lauren Carlini

"Well I have only had two setters in my eight years here, and man I've been really fortunate with both of them. But we will go with Lauren Carlini," Sheffield said. "Every team she has ever been on, is better than probably what their collective talent is. She just makes every team better. Her teammates play hard for her, she's got incredible range when she's on the run, makes all the sets, big-time competitor." 

Lauren Carlini, Setter (2013-2016)

  • Ranks second at UW in career assists with 5,599
  • UW's first four-time All-Big Ten pick in program history
  • Ranks first in program history with 74 career double-doubles
  • Ranks fifth in assists per set at 11.52 and 10th in digs per set (2.81)
  • 2014, 2015 AVCA First-Team All-American
  • 2013 AVCA Second-Team All-American
  • 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year
  • 2014, 2015 Big Ten Setter of the Year
  • 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 All-Big Ten
  • 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year

The Terminator — Molly Haggerty 

"(She) had a huge impact on us her freshman year, led her team in kills," Sheffield said. "She had back surgery after her freshman year, and it looked like her career was possibly going to be over. (She) worked hard to get back, had a great year last year ... When I think of terminator, I think of someone who brings in big moments, big matches, can carry a big load." 

Molly Haggerty, Outside Hitter, 2016, Redshirt 2017, 2018-Present

  • 2019 AVCA Second-Team All-American
  • 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
  • Led the team in kills her freshman season
  • Came back from back surgery after her freshman season

WATCH: Molly Haggerty's journey back to the volleyball court

The Brick Wall — Dana Rettke

"She certainly could have been the previous category as well," Sheffield said. "Her freshman year she got quite a few blocks but that probably had to do with her height and reach more than anything else. (She) was probably more of an offensive player early on in her career. But she has worked really hard the past year or two on her blocking ... She's got a chance at being the schools all-time leader in blocks. That defensive part of her game has just really become an important thing for her." 

Dana Rettke, Middle Blocker, 2017-Present

  • 2017,  2018 and 2019 AVCA First-Team All-American
  • 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year
  • 2019 NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team
  • 2017 AVCA National Freshman of the Year
  •  2017 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
  • 2017, 2018 and 2019 All-Big Ten
  • In 2019, led the team with 3.75 kills per set... finished fifth in the Big Ten in kills per set (3.77)
  • In 2019, led the team with 1.45 blocks per set... finished second in the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.40)
  • Named to the 2019 NCAA All-Tournament Team following National Championship vs. Stanford 

The Energizer — Kelli Bates

"Kelli probably had a higher vertical in celebration than what she did in actual match play," Sheffield said. "(She) loved playing the game, loved competing, loved trash talking. Loved watching matches. I think she brought the best out of others." 

Kelli Bates, Outside Hitter/Libero, 2014-2017

  • Led the team with 2.85 kills per set (331 total) her freshman year... record double-figure kills in a team-best 19 matches 
  • 2014 Big Ten All-Freshman Team
  • Split play time between Outside hitter and Libero

The Captain — Sydney Hilley

"Syd graduated from high school a semester early and came here and got work in.," Sheffield said. "And then in the fall, the team voted for captain and I think she had enough votes to be captain her freshman year, which is insane. She is a three-time captain for us. Everything matters to her. She doesn't miss a rep at practice, yet she does it with a confidence and calmness. I think great leaders go to bed thinking how they can bring out the best in others and bring people together. I think Syd probably does that. She's our compass."

Sydney Hilley, Setter, 2017-Present

  • Ranks fourth at UW with 4,127 assists
  • Ranks fifth in assists per set with 11.93
  • Tied for sixth in career double-doubles with 34
  • Has played in all 98 matches and 346 sets as a Badger
  • Set UW season records for assists per set under 25-point rally scoring a 12.03 in 2019
  • 2019 AVCA First-Team All-American
  • 2019 Big Ten Setter of the Year

The Pancake-Getter — Tiffany Clark

"I don't know how many pancakes she got in her career she probably ate more pancakes than she got on the court," Sheffield laughed. "But I think what you're at with this one is somebody who plays with a lot of range, goes after the ball, not afraid to hit the floor. She is certainly that player. Her senior year she played with two torn labrums in her hips, so right after the season she had two separate hip surgeries. Probably just how many times she throws her body on the floor had something to do with that." 

Tiffany Clark, Libero, 2016 (at Michigan), 2017-2019

  • In 2019, led the team with 3.89 digs per set, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten
  • Recorded double-figure digs in 25 matches, including five matches with 20-plus digs her senior season

The Ace Machine — Izzy Ashburn

Izzy Ashburn, Setter, 2019-Present

  • In her freshman season, led the team with 47 service aces
  • Finished second in the Big Ten in service aces per set (0.42)
  • Third on the team with 2.14 digs per set

The Swiss Army Knife — Courtney Thomas

"(Volleyball) is the ultimate sport where you have to be able to do a lot of things. You can't stop to organize," Sheffield said. "Courtney Thomas by far and away has to be the swiss army knife. She was a starting setter early on in her career, moved to the right side. Became a solid blocker for us, solid defensive player, solid server. Then her senior year, she never passed in her entire year. Moved into the passing pattern, turns into a pretty good passer for us ... She doesn't pass her entire career, you ask her to pass and she didn't blink. Probably the most complete player that I have ever been around." 

Courtney Thomas, Multiple positions, 2011-2014

  • 2014 Second-team AVCA All-American
  • 2014 All-Big Ten 

The Unsung Hero — Haleigh Nelson

"Probably tough to go with a multi All-American as the unsung hero, but we will go with Haleigh Nelson," Sheffield said. "Probably on the standpoint that when she got here, I didn't think she'd ever play a point for us to tell you the truth. But man, she ended her career with playing more sets than anyone in school history, so what the heck do I know," Sheffield laughed. "It was work. She was a middle blocker who was one of the first ones in the gym during passing practice. Goes from a player I thought would never play to a three-year captain for us. She knew when to bring the hammer, but more importantly she knew when to lower the temperature. She was a guiding light to people on how to live their life. Do good things away from the gym, take care of academics...everything. We'll go with Nelly."

Haleigh Nelson, Outside Hitter, 2013-2016

  • Finished her career ranked first in career hitting percentage (.375)
  • Finished her career ranked seventh in career blocks per set with 1.20
  • Finished ranked third in career block assists with 537 and tied for fifth in career total blocks with 597

The Dirty Worker — Taylor Morey

Taylor Morey
"Let's go with someone who does the dirty work," Sheffield laughed. "Man, she just is tough, tough. I remember being in Colorado, she goes pursuing a ball off the court, her foot clips the bleachers and she spins in the air, it was nasty. It was the only time I've ever seen a player go down where I ran on the court. I was scared to death. She looks up at me, drops a "F" bomb at me wondering why I am over there. Gets back up and and goes back out on the court. Absolute competitor. Loves everything that goes into being an elite defense player."

Taylor Morey, Libero, 2012 (at Notre Dame), 2013-2015

  • Finished her career ranked fifth in career digs with 1,506
  • Finished ranked fourth in digs per set with 3.97
  • 2014 AVCA Second-Team All-American
  • 2014 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

The Clutch Gene — Annemarie Hickey

Annemarie Hickey

"(She is) mentally tough, loved big moments. Didn't get too high or too low. Put the work in. Spring going into her senior year she was in the gym twice a day on her own. Doing wall work or having somebody serve to her. I think she was doing a lot of studying in the field house. Her senior year we played six NCAA tournament matches and she passed .256 on a three-point scale which is just ridiculous. She got served 121 times and got aced three times. Just in BIG moments." 

Annemarie Hickey, Libero, 2010-2013

  • Finished her career ranked second on the UW career record list with 4.00 digs per set
  • Became the 12th UW player to record 1,000 digs in her career 
  • Finished with 1,367 digs in her career, which ranked fifth all-time for Wisconsin

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