CANTON, Ohio — The smash down the line from the NCAA’s first-ever five-time All-American was a fitting way to end it, a fitting way to win it all.
Dana Rettke’s kill, setup by senior Sydney Hilley, was the one that won the NCAA National Championship for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team.
The fourth-ranked Badgers needed all five sets to beat No. 10 Nebraska 22-25, 31-29, 25-23, 23-25, 15-12 on Saturday.
And while it was Rettke’s kill that finally ended the fifth set, it was the 6-foot-8 middle hitter’s 13 total blocks — and 24 blocks from Wisconsin — that proved to be the difference.
Wisconsin has been to the NCAA championship three times in school history — 2019, 2013 and 2000.
Over the past three seasons, the Badgers (31-3) have gotten to the Final Four, as well. In 2019, like they did this season in upsetting No. 1 Louisville, the Badgers beat No. 1 Baylor in the semifinals.
Of course, they lost in the championship. History did not repeat itself.
Wisconsin had beaten Nebraska twice already this season (3-0 on Oct. 27 and 3-1 on Nov. 26). Of course, with a title on the line, this one was much more difficult.
Nebraska finished with more kills (68-60) and more digs (93-79) than the Badgers, but it was, again, the 24-10 advantage in blocks that made all the difference in a five-set match decided by at total of 12 points. Wisconsin also hit a bit better (.183 to .141) and had 25 errors to Nebraska’s 39.
Hilley finished with 51 assists, 13 digs and five blocks, while four Badgers finished with double-digit kills — led by Anna Smrek’s 14. The 6-foot-9 freshman was also named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The other double-digit kills for UW came from Jade Demps (12), Rettke (11) and Grace Loberg (10), while All-American libero Lauren Barnes added 31 digs for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin came out slow in dropping the first set, though many of those 50-50 plays went Nebraska’s way. UW regained its composure, depending a lot on all those blocks in winning the next two sets.
Things looked all but over for Stanford (26-8) to start the final set, as Wisconsin got out to a 7-0 lead. The Cornhuskers fought back, but that deficit was too great.