Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tour provides several benefits for Wisconsin
MADISON – It has been four years since the Wisconsin volleyball team took a foreign tour and it's hard to argue with the results.
Four Big Ten championships. Three Final Four appearances. Two trips to the national final. One national championship. Those are lofty goals to reach, but as the Badgers embark on a four-country tour of Europe later this week, the list offers insight into the potential impact this kind of trip can have for a team.
“I think it takes teams and staffs to a different level of understanding about people and usually we're locked into some really high-level competitions,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “We get a month when you talk about the training and going over there and playing. That's an extra month together and I think in so many different ways it is such a huge opportunity for teams that are able to do that.”
The tour goes from June 2-14 and will take Wisconsin to Turkey, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. Here is how the experience could help the Badgers this season.
Temi Thomas-Ailara gets some early work with the team
Perhaps the most important benefit to the trip is the opportunity to weave outside hitter Temi Thomas-Ailara into the fabric of the team. Unlike Minnesota transfer Carter Booth, who has been with the team since January, Thomas-Ailara is a graduate transfer from Northwestern who arrived on campus just in time for the start of training for the tour. She will spend about a week with the team on the trip before returning to Evanston, Illinois, for her graduation.
Her impact could be huge. The threetime first-team All-Big Ten selection was a second-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association last season when she ranked second in the Big Ten with 4.33 kills per set and posted a .252 hitting percentage.
“She's extremely gifted and she's learning how we go about things,” Sheffield said. “I think every team, how they operate, what's important to them, what they value is different from program to program. She's learning that.”
Healed Badgers will get taste of action after quiet spring
Four players, or almost one-third of Wisconsin's roster, didn't play in any of the spring scrimmages due to injury. Three of those players - junior outside hitter Sarah Franklin, sophomore outside hitter Ella Wrobel and senior middle blocker Caroline Crawford - will play during the trip.
The only player who won't be available to play is Sage Damrow, a freshman libero from Howards Grove who enrolled in January.
Coaches can get jump start on determining lineup
The Badgers' lineup is far from set despite losing just one starter to graduation (Danielle Hart) and a key reserve (Jade Demps, LSU) to the transfer portal.
That is what happens when you add talents like Thomas-Ailara and Booth, a sophomore middle blocker. The Badgers return four players - Thomas Ailara, senior right-side hitter Devyn Robinson, Franklin and Booth - who received all-Big Ten distinction or better last season plus trusted veterans like Crawford, junior outside hitter Julia Orzol and junior right-side/middle blocker Anna Smrek.
“They're a really good group, but there is an opportunity to hopefully take them to a different level, so we're pushing them right now,” Sheffield said. “We're not viewing this as a vacation. We're going to be able to see some cool things, but there is an opportunity here to catapult yourself to the next season and so we're getting after it.”