Open Jim: What will Wisconsin volleyball’s rotation look like next season after an offseason of transition?

Open Jim: What will Wisconsin volleyball's rotation look like next season after an offseason of transition?


There are times when I think I’m really busy and wonder how I’ll be able to get all my work done. Then I look at Todd Milewski’s workload and ability to produce under tight deadlines, and it inspires me.



My colleague has been at his amazing best over the past week, and I think it’s time to let the Open Jim readers get to see a little bit about how the sausage is made at the Wisconsin State Journal. My hope is you’ll gain an appreciation for Todd, whose combination of likeability, poise and smarts is a big reason why he’s so valued around our place.


Let’s start with last Friday night. Todd was at LaBahn Arena covering the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team’s 3-0 loss to Minnesota Duluth. That game started at 7 p.m., an hour after the puck was dropped for the game between the UW men’s hockey team and Ohio State in Columbus. Todd not only kept tabs on the men’s game while covering the women’s game in person, he interviewed Tony Granato afterward and completed interviews for the women’s game when that was over.



 Open Jim: What will Wisconsin volleyball's rotation look like next season after an offseason of transition?

Todd filed his men’s hockey game story at 9:02 p.m. His women’s hockey game story arrived 43 minutes later. He was right back at it the next night, covering two teams at once.

But that’s not even his most impressive feat of the week, in my opinion. I was at the Kohl Center on Tuesday afternoon working ahead on some upcoming columns when Todd walked into men’s hockey practice looking a little bit flustered. He had every reason to be: His vehicle had been rear-ended at a stop sign, leaving his car damaged in front and back and, worse yet, leaving Todd’s neck sore.



We sat there for a while talking about how something didn’t seem right about the situation. Media availability for the men’s and women’s hockey programs had been canceled at the last minute — I was literally 5 minutes away from the Kohl Center when I got the news — and there were signs all around us that the men’s game against Notre Dame was in jeopardy of being postponed.



I encouraged Todd to get some medical treatment and offered to help in any way I could. In retrospect, I should have demanded it and drove him to an emergency room myself. But that’s not how Todd operates: He did go to the ER — but continued to reach out to sources while sitting in the parking lot. He eventually was diagnosed with a mild concussion but still managed to file a 400-word story letting our readers know that the UW-Notre Dame series, scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the Kohl Center, had been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.



Let’s have a standing ovation for Todd, people, but maybe keep the clapping to a minimum while he recovers from the concussion.



UW volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield and his staff have been busy since the program won its first national title in December. They’ve added three transfers — middle blocker Caroline Crawford (Kansas), middle blocker Gabby McCaa (Boston College) and outside hitter Sarah Franklin (Michigan State) — and one recruit, libero Gulce Guctekin of Turkey.



That’s a much-needed haul for a roster that had to replace two first-team All-Americans (middle blocker Dana Rettke and setter Sydney Hilley), a second-team All-American (libero Lauren Barnes) and another multi-year starter (outside hitter Grace Loberg).



I’m bringing in Dennis Punzel to help me answer the question about what a rotation might look like for UW in 2022. Punz is a real ace — see what I did there? — when it comes to covering this program.


“Good question, one that has many fans intrigued. Whatever the rotation is in the first match likely won’t be the same for the last. This past year they used 14 different lineups, with the one used in the championship match not used until the Nebraska match for the Big Ten title in the final weekend.



“One big issue is whether they go with one or two setters. That would impact several spots. I think they’re seriously going to look at a 6-2 lineup with MJ Hammill and Izzy Ashburn sharing setter duties, playing back row.


“If they go with a 5-1 lineup as in the past, my best guess would be:

S: MJ Hammill (or Izzy Ashburn)

OH: Julia Orzol and Sarah Franklin

MB: Danielle Hart and Devyn Robinson

OPP: Anna Smrek (Jade Demps in back row)

L: Gulce Guctekin



“That would leave a deep bench, with Ella Wrobel and Lauren Jardine at OH, Caroline Crawford at MB and Joslyn Boyer and Anna MacDonald at DS among those battling for court time.


“It should be interesting to see how things evolve.”


There are a lot of Johnny Davis questions this week, and keep in mind they rolled in Sunday. A lot has changed since then: namely Davis going 8 of 11 from the field en route to a game-high 25 points in No. 14 UW’s impressive win at No. 17 Michigan State on Tuesday night.


When I started working on this answer earlier in the week, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to vote for tired legs, extra attention from opponents or the idea that Davis was pressing a little bit. I landed on it probably being a 1A, 1B situation and 1C situation.



Davis played 755 minutes in 31 games last season. He’s already at 731 this season through his first 21 games, and a lot of those have been high-stress minutes because UW has been involved in so many close games.


And let’s give some credit where credit is due. Opponents have done a good job of scouting Davis and figuring out ways to make life difficult for him. There are a lot of great coaches in this conference, and they’ve figured out a way to make Davis work harder to get the ball and get to his favorite spots.


In hindsight, the main cause might have been that Davis was pressing. That’d be a natural response from a young player who went from well below the radar to getting touted as a national player of the year candidate. He looked more relaxed in the Michigan State game, and there weren’t many times where I thought he was trying to do too much, though going 1-on-4 in transition certainly stood out.



There’s also this simple but still important fact: Some of the same shots Davis was making during his incredible surge in the first half of the season weren’t falling for him during this seven-game slump. But some of those tough shots went in against the Spartans, and that gave the Badgers a huge lift.






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