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Given the nasty weather conditions, Kelly Sheffield wouldn’t have blamed anyone for deciding to skip the University of Wisconsin volleyball team’s opening spring match Saturday night at the UW Field House.

But the UW coach was glad that his team could reward the 1,885 fans who did venture out despite the ice on the roads and sleet in the air with a 25-16, 25-19, 25-13 sweep of Loyola Chicago.

“Our kids had fun, the fans had fun, the coaches had fun,” Sheffield said. “That’s my takeaway from the match.

“Having this many fans here, and you saw a ton of them waiting out in this gnarly weather … I saw people out there almost two hours before match time … they’re crazy and they’re awesome. They very easily could’ve been wrapped in a blanket in front of the fireplace right now. But to come out here shows you how passionate they are about the sport.”

The fans who came out got a chance to witness the much-anticipated debut of redshirt freshman Danielle Hart, as well as the return from injuries by redshirt sophomore Molly Haggerty and redshirt freshman Mariah Whalen.

The 6-foot-4 Hart, who sat out last season to save a year of eligibility, had five kills, hitting .500, and two blocks in her first competitive action.

“It’s been a long time since I played in a match,” Hart said. “Just being back in the Field House and finally getting to get a feel of the environment in here is just so awesome.

“There were a couple shots that were a little rough, so there’s definitely some things to clean up. But I really found that I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I had good nerves, just finding my place and getting used to the match scenario.”

Hart made her presence felt on the national scene last month when she earned a spot on the U.S. National Collegiate team that will play in Europe this summer.

“There are a lot of exciting things that she’s capable of doing and a lot of things that she’s got to continue to learn,” Sheffield said. “And she will. She was super pumped to be playing.”

Haggerty, who missed last season after undergoing back surgery, played just the back court in the first set before moving up to the front row. The 6-1 outside hitter had two kills and nine digs.

“She’s so excited. She’s been ‘Sleepless in Madison’ for a while champing at the bit to get out there,” Sheffield said of Haggerty.

Ditto for Whalen, who played in just three matches last season before undergoing two arthroscopic procedures on her left knee.

She didn’t hit the floor Saturday until the third set but finished with three kills and two digs.

“It felt really good, like, really, really good,” said Whalen, who is 6-1. “I missed it a lot. Recovery is so hard, it makes you appreciate being out on the court so much more.”

Whalen just returned to full practice recently and Sheffield is pleased with her progress.

“She’s crafty,” he said. “She’s got a game that she can get up there and hit a lot of different shots, work the court and she put in some really good serves.

“She’s only been back for a couple weeks now and she is progressing nicely.”

Loyola 16 19 13

Wisconsin 25 25 25

LOYOLA (kills-digs-blocks) — Van Grinsven 3-1-1, Kocken 4-1-1, Gresham 6-2-1, Maciagowski 6-9-0, Spieker 5-5-0, Fluent 0-3-1, Nunez 0-9-0, Cushen 0-0-0, Watson 0-1-0, Hoffman 0-0-1, Wolf 0-1-0. Totals 24-32-3.

WISCONSIN (kills-digs-blocks) — Hilley 3-4-6, Williams 6-0-2, Rettke 12-2-5, Hart 5-1-2, Loberg 3-0-0, Haggerty 2-9-0, Bell 0-0-0, Dixon 0-0-0, Dodd 0-0-0, Whalen 3-2-0, Shanahan 1-0-0, Duello 6-4-0, Clark 0-12-0, Dodge 0-5-0. Totals 41-39-8.

Hitting percentage — L .067, W .376. Aces — L 5 (Gresham 2), W 10 (Haggerty 3). Assists — L 24 (Fluent 13), W 38 (Hilley 33). Att. — 1,885.


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