All in the family

first_imgBRYAN FAUST/Herald photoThe old adage is defense wins championships.Volleyball is no different, and the University of Wisconsin’s recent success can be directly attributed to the play of its defense, which has been anchored by junior libero Jocelyn Wack for the past three seasons. After reaching the Elite Eight the past two seasons, UW head coach Pete Waite credits much of the success to the steady play from Wack in the back row. “There was noticeable difference when she came in as a freshman,” Waite said. “We took a big step up in our level of our play and ball control. A lot of that was because of her.”For Wack, volleyball has been a part of not only her life, but also her entire family’s life.Wack’s older brother, Nate, and younger sister, Allison, also play the sport. The Wack siblings’ interest in volleyball began when their grade school gym teacher, Charlie Berg, who later would be Jocelyn and Allison’s high school coach, first introduced them to the game. Nate was the first to pick it up, but he did not always think highly of it.”I’ve [coached] them all since kindergarten, so I have a long lasting relationship with not only them but their parents,” Berg said. “Nate was one that didn’t take to volleyball initially. He was more into football and basketball and thought of volleyball as a sissy sport at first.”But Nate’s opinion toward the sport quickly changed.”Then we needed a guy for a boy’s club team,” Berg added. “He is really good friends with my son, who invited Nate to play. That’s pretty much how he got started with volleyball.”Once Nate started to play, both of his younger sisters got involved in volleyball.”My brother got into it and that is how I started doing camps because I noticed that he liked it, and I thought it was something I might like,” Jocelyn Wack said. “I started doing camps the summer before fourth grade with Mr. Berg, and that’s how it all started.””He gets them when they are in kindergarten, and he watched them grow and developed them over the years,” Wack’s mother, Michelle, added. “He got us all hooked on it.”Growing up in a volleyball family, life in the Wack household was always busy.”I coached club volleyball,” Wack’s mother said. “Our son played club and the girls each had their own teams so we had four different club schedules that we were all trying to work around.”And despite all three playing the same sport, Wack said she was not too competitive with her siblings growing up.”The three years was a big enough gap where [Allison and I] weren’t too competitive with each other,” Wack said. “Nate and I weren’t really [competitive with each other] at all, which is surprising — because of the same sport you’d think we would be. We’re all pretty supportive of each other.”And if it wasn’t for the support, Jocelyn Wack says she’s not certain she’d be where she is today.”I wouldn’t have the scholarship and playing Division I if I didn’t have my family and them pushing me to do all the things that I did,” Wack said. Even though she plays the position like she has been playing it her whole life, Wack has only been a libero for three years. Before switching positions her freshman year of college, Wack had been an outside hitter her whole life, which she also excelled at. As an outside hitter, Wack played on the varsity team at her high school — Westosha Central in Salem, Wis. — as a freshman. During her four years at Westosha Central she received several accolades, including being named the Gatorade State Player of the Year in both her junior and senior years. Because of her hard work, Wack was able to lead her team to a Division-I state title during her senior year, alongside her sister Allison. However, Jocelyn Wack’s senior season was bittersweet because she suffered a knee injury in the summer and missed most of the season. Wack was able to get back on the court in time for the state tournament where she earned all-tournament team honors.”I was out the first two months [and] I didn’t start coming back until a couple weeks before regionals and sectionals,” Wack said of her senior year. “It was tough just watching on the sidelines for a while, but then actually finally getting into play and leading my team on the court instead of off the court, I think, was pretty bittersweet.”Because her knee injury had not fully healed by the time she committed to play at Wisconsin, Waite approached her about switching positions to libero.”[Wack] really excels defensively, and as a passer,” Waite said. “That is something we really needed.” Height was also an issue for Wack. Being only 5-11, Waite said she might have had trouble blocking the taller hitters in the Big Ten. “I was tall in high school,” Wack said. “I knew the Big Ten was huge and that the best role for my team would be as the libero.”Despite switching positions and excelling at it, Wack said she does, at times, miss being a hitter, but thinks she made the right decision.”I miss it but I know if I was a full-time hitter I would probably be a lot more sore and it would just be harder on my body,” Wack said. “It was a little different sticking to defense specifically and not being able to hit much, but like [Waite] said, it was the best fit for my team and I think I’ve proved that.”However, Wack does still occasionally get the urge to swing during a game but has learned to overcome those urges.”Right away, my freshman year in the preseason, the coaches told us ‘Defensive specialist, you cannot hit it no matter what the circumstances are. Either set it over or pass it over,'” Wack said. “Even though I do have the urge, I’m really not supposed to unless it’s really the only way I can get it over. You’re really not allowed to take swings. They frown upon that.”Even though she is not allowed to hit during a game, Waite allows her to take swings in practice, occasionally filling in for an injured outside hitter.”There’s time in practices where we’ll play quads or play some games and have her hit,” Waite said. “There’s times when we have an outside hitter who goes down, we give her some chances in practices to swing because she’s still a great hitter.”Since Wack got used to her new position, she has been setting records while leading the Badgers to great success over the past three seasons. After getting only nine digs in her first collegiate match against Missouri, Wack recorded 15 digs in her second match, and it was not until 80 matches later that she failed to reach double-digit digs again in a win over then-No. 9 Purdue Oct. 13 this year. The streak of double-digit digs topped the previous NCAA record held previously by Virginia Commonwealth’s Griselle Lopez-Pereira with 63 straight matches. Despite the added pressure from fans to continue her streak, Wack said she never really thought about it. “It was more so after the matches when people would come up and ask me, ‘Did you get your 10? You got to keep it going,'” Wack said of the pressure. “But once you’re in match and you’re playing, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my god, is that seven or eight?’ I’m not thinking. I’m just playing the game, getting the digs that I’m supposed to be getting, just kind of going with the flow of the game.”Even though the streak ended earlier this year, Wack is not upset she was unable to keep it going.”It was awesome while it lasted,” Wack said of the streak. “It ended on a match that was a great match, one where the whole team played phenomenal. I can’t really be upset about that. I don’t think there are enough matches to start a new one. I’m just going to go out there and get as many digs as I can each match. Just keep trying to better myself.”Besides setting the NCAA record for consecutive matches with double-digit digs, Wack has also been rewriting the Badger record books in her time on the court. With 567 digs her freshman year, Wack set the single-season record for digs by a Badger. She also set the Wisconsin record for digs in only Big Ten matches with 374.The next season, Wack turned around and topped her own record with 595 digs and 378 digs in conference play.With 460 digs this past season, the libero moved into second place on the all-time dig list at Wisconsin. Being less than 300 digs from the top spot, Wack is on pace to become the Badgers’ all-time dig leader midway through next season, barring any major setbacks.”[Wack] doesn’t do anything but work hard, and she reads the hitters really well,” Waite said. “The records just kind of happened.”Along with setting records left and right, Wack has also saved her best performances for when they count most — the postseason. During her freshman year, she had a then-career high 35 digs in UW’s surprising upset of undefeated No. 2 seed Hawaii in the Sweet 16. The following year, again in the Sweet 16, Wack set a new career high with 36 digs in Wisconsin’s five-game victory over Norte Dame.”That was really shocking,” Wack said of making the Elite Eight the past two years. “I never thought coming in that we would be one of the top eight teams in the country.” Now as her junior year winds down, Wack is playing every game like it is her last. “Every match we play is one less match I have in the Field House, with this atmosphere,” Wack said. “I can’t believe that I’m almost done already. I have one more year left. I’ve got to savor each moment.” While Jocelyn’s career at Wisconsin will end after next season, Badger fans will still see the Wack name in the lineup as Jocelyn’s younger sister Allison will be joining her next year. The younger Wack has also had a highly touted high school career. While on Westosha Central with her older sister in 2003, Allison was named the PrepVolleyball.com National Freshman of the Year. Besides winning a state title her freshman year, she went on to win two more as a junior and senior, and during the semifinals and finals of this year’s tournament, the younger Wack put down a total of 59 kills.Now Coach Berg is ready to send another Wack off to play Division-I volleyball.”It’s been very enjoyable and rewarding,” Berg said of coaching the Wack siblings. “They are very intelligent, receptive kids. They’re good athletes. They’re just open to anything that you give them.”And Waite thinks Allison will be able to come in and make a contribution right away.”Ever since Allison was a freshman in high school, she’s been playing up in the older divisions because of her talent,” said Waite. “She’s a hard-hitting outside hitter who has a ton of shots and is used to taking a lot of swings for her team. She comes from a volleyball family, and she’s learned a lot from her older brother (Nate) and sister.”With less than a year until the start of next season, the Wack sisters are excited to once again have the opportunity to play on the same team.”It was fun,” Jocelyn Wack said of their first time together in high school. “Her being a freshman, I could lead her, but she has so much awareness on the court, I didn’t really have to teach her much or anything. It was more of being a leader and getting her out of that freshman mentality. [I’m] looking forward to it again next year. It’s going to be a lot of fun.””When we were both in high school my freshman year, we won state together. I learned so much from her in that year,” Allison Wack said. “It was a while ago so I’m really excited [to play with her] again.”Wack’s parents are also looking forward to seeing Jocelyn and Allison playing together again next year, as travel plans will become a lot easier.”It will be nice not having to chose who should we go watch,” Wack’s mother said. “We had to make sacrifices either with high school or here, so it will be nice not having any conflict.”last_img

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