Kelly Sheffield

Fifth-year coach Kelly Sheffield led Wisconsin to the national championship match in his first season in 2013. In his second season, the Badgers won the Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin Athletic Communications

A loss can gut you, Wisconsin volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield says, and there was some of that feeling after the Badgers let a 2-0 lead slip away in a five-set loss against Nebraska about two weeks ago.

You spend hours studying an opponent and coming up with a plan, and it stinks when you come up short.

It was also what happened in the hour before the Wisconsin team left Lincoln that evening that left an impression on Sheffield, and made him feel a little better.

Nebraska fans kept coming up to Sheffield, and telling him that they enjoyed the match, and that he had a good team. There was a standing-room-only crowd of 8,453 for that match.

It meant so much that the next day Sheffield went to his Twitter account and posted a message. He thanked the Nebraska fans for what they had said to him. A few even sent him emails, he said. Classy fan base, Sheffield wrote.

Sheffield’s post went viral, getting shared by other users at least 150 times and being "liked" by 1,600 users.

More than 20 people left comments for the coach after his message, including these:

* “We recognize a great game when we see it. Unfortunately there had to be a loser last night. Terrific effort!”

* “Great volleyball is as much a part of our culture as FB, Dorothy Lynch and Runzas. We appreciate a great match."

* “6'8" out of the back row? Are you kidding me?” one person wrote, in reference to Wisconsin freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke. “That is Nightmare on Elm Street and we have 4 seasons to experience it.”

In an interview this week, Sheffield explained what prompted him to share a thank-you to the Nebraska fans.

“It’s not a usual thing when you’re walking through a concourse and people are complimentary towards competition that’s from an opposing school. That’s not something that is usual,” Sheffield said. “Although we were on the short end of that, and most losses are difficult, they gut you afterwards, regardless the competition was really good that night. The environment was great and the match was fantastic. It was just a really high-level-played match for most of the night, and a great battle.”

Sometimes Sheffield thinks when fans want their team to win so badly, they lose sight of how college volleyball is great entertainment when played the right way. But that usually doesn't go unnoticed at Nebraska matches.

“So afterwards when you’re kind of down, and you’re hearing from quite a few people saying, 'Hey, that was really enjoyable to watch, and you got a fun team that we enjoy watching and seeing them battle,' it’s not something you hear very often. It felt appropriate to recognize that,” Sheffield said.

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin is one of the good series going now in the Big Ten Conference. They’ll play again Wednesday in Madison, with the Huskers ranked No. 4 and the Badgers 11th. Each team has won a Big Ten championship in the past three seasons. Nebraska coach John Cook was the Badgers head coach from 1992-98.

In the matches Nebraska and Wisconsin have played against each other during the past four seasons, each team has won twice. Both teams have been ranked in the top 20 for each of those matches.

In the first match this season, Wisconsin won the first two sets 25-22, 25-17. Nebraska looked tired to begin the match, but made some adjustments, elevated its play and won the final three sets.

Going into the season, several of the top Big Ten teams — minus Penn State — lost a few of their best players to graduation. So far, it’s Nebraska that has been most successful in reworking its lineup, with the Huskers leading the league standings with a 6-0 record.

“They’re solid at every position. There is not a position that they’re covering for,” said Sheffield of the Huskers. “They’re solid, and their older players are playing with an incredible amount of freedom and experience and execution that you kind of expect out of your older players. And the younger players have come in and filled a role real nicely.”

The Badgers also have a talented lineup. Cook said Rettke is a one-of-kind player — she leads the Badgers in kills, blocks and ace serves — and that junior middle blocker Tionna Williams has given Nebraska fits forever.

Briefly

* Wisconsin is in the grind of its Big Ten schedule and has lost three straight matches, coming against Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan State.

* According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin outside hitter Molly Haggerty will not play this season, taking a redshirt year to give her time to recover from offseason back surgery. She led the Badgers in kills last season. She was once committed to the Huskers and is the sister of former Husker Meghan Haggerty.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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