‘Point Wisconsin’ follows UW volleyball team’s championship run | Books

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For all the practice, preparation, and perseverance it takes to win a championship, there also needs to be a culmination of random events and possibilities. You know, like in real life.

That was precisely the case for the Wisconsin women’s volleyball team when they won their first NCAA championship last December – a lot of hard work and a lot of little things that years later have become very big things.

Sportswriter Dennis Punzel captures moments big and small with his new book, “Point Wisconsin,” which tells the story of the people, places and events that led to the Badgers volleyball title that put years to make.

Punzel, a former Capital Times reporter and editor, has covered the team since 2013 for the Wisconsin State Journal. While he had a wealth of newspaper articles to mine, Punzel wanted to start from scratch and tell a larger story about the Badgers’ title pursuit. It included the career of coach Kelly Sheffield, who rose through the ranks in a sport he had never played, and a look back at the decades spent in Wisconsin before Sheffield arrived.

“The challenge was to come up with a story that would be compelling after telling that story in real time,” Punzel said of the NCAA title. “How can you already tell people what they already know and everyone knows how it ends?”

In doing so, Punzel’s book shows that while the march to the title took the expected blood, sweat and tears, there were also plenty of other steps — many of which didn’t even happen in Madison — that made the title possible.

“Everything in life, there are various accidents on the way to good or bad fortune,” Punzel said. “Kelly had a program that was good enough that someone like (US and USA national team member) Lauren Carlini was interested in it, but tough enough that there was a coaching change. “

In 2012, Sheffield quit his dayton job to come to Madison, replacing Pete Waite.

“He was happy at Dayton and there were only a number of schools that he would have considered a step up. His parents had moved to Dayton, his sister had moved to Dayton. It was the perfect setting and boom, one of five schools he would have gone to turns up.

Punzel also features many other “What if?” this led to Sheffield even being in that position. What if the Badgers didn’t have a player in the early 2000s named Maria Carlini that an unrelated youngster named Lauren with the same last name saw and then decided Wisconsin was her favorite team? What if (American and National Player of the Year) Dana Rettke hadn’t decided she wanted to focus on volleyball instead of basketball?

What if Sheffield hadn’t volunteered to help a high school friend coach their high school’s JV volleyball team, even though he knew nothing about the sport? What if a college volleyball coach hadn’t asked the young club coach/bartender who helps him at his summer camp, “What do you do with your life?” »

Punzel knows all about unexpected paths. He had been a sportswriter at Green Bay, Stevens Point and the Capital Times, covering the Brewers (including the 1982 World Series), high school sports, Packers and Badgers men’s basketball.

He quit sports to become a business editor for the Capital Times, a move he made to be more at home with his young children. After the Cape Times grew from an afternoon daily to an early digital news site and print weekly, Punzel moved on to the State Journal, working as an editor and reporter in sports and some reports.

But when the Badgers unexpectedly made it to volleyball’s Final Four in 2013, Punzel also followed. It turned into a whole new beat for him, and he’s been at it ever since.

“It opened a chapter that I could never have imagined,” Punzel said. “I don’t watch the NFL much anymore, except I’m going to watch the Packers. I don’t know who the Chargers tight end is, but I know who the Nebraska libero is.

The championship season gave him the impetus to write a book, which hadn’t really been his plan. He pitched the idea with Sheffield a few years earlier and the coach gave him extra access to team meetings, cinema sessions and other things beyond Punzel’s volleyball pace. But without a title, Punzel just didn’t think there was a book there.

That changed in 2021. After coming close and having title-winning streak since the 1990s, the pieces finally came together when the Badgers defeated Big Ten rival and five-time NCAA champion Nebraska. on December 18, 2021. Besides being a fun season for Punzel to cover, it was a reward for the loyal fans who packed the Field House.

They also seem to like “Point Wisconsin,” Punzel said.

“We had a signing and people were hurt all over the bookstore and at the door and around the waiting block,” Punzel said. “Although I know it’s because Dana and (all American) Sydney Hilley were there – I have no false illusions about that. But it tells me that there are people who are in it and who want to celebrate a championship.


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