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UW volleyball build one tough slate for 2016 season

Head coach Kelly Sheffield has proven to be a game-changing hire for the Wisconsin volleyball team, going deep in each of his first two seasons at the helm of the program. However, getting equal results will be very difficult to duplicate in the 2016 season.

That’s because Sheffield has set out to challenge his team with what is arguably the toughest schedule in school history, and certainly the toughest of his tenure in Madison.

UW will play 17 teams that made the 2015 NCAA tournament — three of which were in the Final Four and 14 teams that had 20-plus wins last season alone.

“It’s obviously a challenging schedule,” Sheffield said. “Not only with the level of teams that we are competing against - every nonconference team was ranked in the top 70 in last season’s RPI - but also with the travel.”

Competing in the Big Ten is a big enough challenge, but Wisconsin isn’t shying away from the challenges early on either. All nine non-conference matchups come against opponents that were involved in the 2015 NCAA tournament, adding to the eight Big Ten teams that made it to the women’s volleyball big dance.

Of course, there will be national champion Nebraska on the B1G slate, along with fellow Big Ten final four representative — Minnesota.

Given that slate of competition, the UW Field House is likely to be a rocking environment in 2016. With over half of last season’s matches selling out, this season has a chance to be really special on the attendance front.  

To that end, Sheffield has a message for Wisconsin Badgers fans.

“I’d like to encourage our fans to go out and get their tickets today,” said Sheffield. “Half of our matches sold out last year and every year it’s a harder and harder ticket to get. Hopefully our fans are as excited about the start of this upcoming season as we are!”

UW went 26-7 last season and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after appearing in the Final Four in Sheffield’s first season at the helm of the program.

This year, the challenge begins on Aug. 26-27, with UW traveling to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Wahine Invitational.

Wisconsin will take on Hawaii (29-2 in 2015), Arizona (19-14) and Kansas State (17-12) in the round-robin tournament. The Rainbow Wahine ended the 2015 season ranked seventh in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Top 25 poll after advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament while Arizona received votes. Arizona and Kansas State were both first-round NCAA participants.

“We kick off the season playing a Hawaii team that was in the Elite Eight last season and should be even better and then we play two really top-notch, well-coached teams in Arizona and Kansas State,” Sheffield explained.  

The Badgers will return home the net weekend for its annual invitational tournament, with plenty of NCAA tournament feel to it this season.

Wisconsin hosts the HotelRED Invitational on Sept. 2-4, with San Diego (22-10) and Texas A&M Corpus Christi (31-5) coming to Madison. San Diego advanced to the second round and the Islanders advanced to the first round of the NCAA tournament last year.

The following week sees a third-straight weekend of tournament play, but this is of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge variety. UW will face hosts No. 25 North Carolina and No. 21 Louisville, while the Big Ten will also send Minnesota to Chapel Hill.

UW’s challenges don’t take a break though, as they face a Texas-sized challenge the next weekend with travel to the Lone Star state and a date with Texas A&M on Sept. 16 and then the Texas Longhorns team that made it to the NCAA championship game against Nebraska the very next night in Austin.  

“I’m certainly excited about the non-conference portion of our schedule,” Sheffield raved. “As for the Big Ten, it’s hard to find too many teams that shouldn’t be even better this upcoming year.  A lot of talent returns in the conference.”

The Badgers open the Big Ten season at home on Sept. 23 against No. 13 Ohio State (25-10). Wisconsin also has home matches against Maryland (15-19), No. 15 Illinois (21-13), No. 3 and reigning Big Ten champion Minnesota (30-5), No. 9 Penn State (28-6), Rutgers (4-28), No. 17 Purdue (23-10), No. 24 Michigan (20-13), Michigan State (19-14) and Iowa (12-21).

UW also has a road match at defending NCAA champion Nebraska (32-4).

Given the Big Ten’s overall strength, it could be a really interesting season for Sheffield’s veteran roster.

Here is a look at the full schedule:

2016_Wisconsin_Volleyball_Schedule

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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