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Riverside-Brookfield grad Dana Rettke grows from late bloomer to All-American at Wisconsin, Olympic hopeful

Dana Rettke started playing volleyball later than most girls.

But she’s been ahead of the game ever since.

The Riverside-Brookfield graduate didn’t begin playing club volleyball until she was 15, yet she quickly became one of the best players in the country.

Rettke, now a 6-foot-8 senior middle for Wisconsin, already has U.S. national team experience and has a shot at playing in the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo.

Not bad for someone who thought her future was in basketball. She was getting recruited by Division I basketball coaches when she was a 6-5 freshman center at R-B.

Rettke changed her mind when she started playing club volleyball. She blossomed while at 1st Alliance, where her teammates included current Wisconsin libero Lauren Barnes.

Rettke gave up basketball after her sophomore year and became an All-American volleyball player, setting program records for kills and blocks. She then graduated early to enroll at Wisconsin for the spring semester in 2017.

“That senior year there was a big corps of graduating players on Wisconsin and one was a big middle hitter,” Rettke said. “I knew I’d be filling that role. It made sense to me to get there early.”

Rettke grew literally and figuratively from the start. She was Big Ten Freshman of the Year and an All-American as a rookie, success that stunned her.

“I knew was going to a big-time volleyball school, a great academic school,” Rettke said. “I just came in ready to work and I was just going to work as hard as I could and see where I ended up.

“In our first game I had like 15 kills, which is pretty good. I thought it was just one game, but then it happened the next game and the next game and I saw that I could have a huge impact on the team from the get-go and that was super exciting for me.”

It was just as exciting for Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield, who marveled at Rettke’s amazing athleticism, something rare is someone so tall.

“When Dana came into college, she didn’t have a whole lot of bad habits, which was really good,” Sheffield said. “She’s just a sponge.

“She wanted to learn, wanted to get better, never got concerned about individual accolades. It’s always about the team.

“She was like that when she first came in, she was like that when she first started getting some recognition and she continues to be that as she’s gotten older.”

Wisconsin Badgers' middle blocker Dana Rettke (16) reacts during an NCAA Volleyball match against Penn State on Saturday September 28, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo by Tom Lynn/Wisconsin Athletic Communications

Wisconsin Badgers’ middle blocker Dana Rettke (16) reacts during an NCAA Volleyball match against Penn State on Saturday September 28, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo by Tom Lynn/Wisconsin Athletic Communications (Tom Lynn/)

Indeed, Rettke has remained humble despite becoming a three-time All-American. She was the 2019-20 Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year after leading the Badgers to the NCAA championship game, where they lost to Stanford.

“A lot of it is just the gifts that I have been given,” Rettke said. “I was very well-rounded as an athlete growing up.

“I did everything under the sun, from dance to cheerleading to softball and track, basketball, volleyball, soccer and swimming. I think working a lot of different muscle groups really helped me develop into the athlete I am.”

Rettke, who turned 22 on January 21, stands out on the court due to her ramrod straight posture and fluid motion.

“When you’re her size, most kids can’t move,” Sheffield said. “They don’t have good balance or good core strength and you have to correct some of those things.

“So many of the sports she was involved in were about movement, which was really helpful to speeding up her process once she got here.”

Unlike some players whose passion for playing ebbs over time, Rettke’s relatively late start in volleyball means she remains fresh in mind and body.

“My love for the game of volleyball really grew and helped me grow my skill level,” Rettke said. “Coming into college I had a really good base because the Chicago area is huge in terms of volleyball, with lots of great competition. I was very fortunate for that.”

Rettke also isn’t afraid to get out of her comfort zone. She proved that by graduating from R-B early and accepting Sheffield’s challenge to get better after her freshman season.

“When she was named National Freshman of the Year, that was a total shock to her,” Sheffield said. “She was kind of lost in the moment and that’s one of the greatest things about coaching her.

“I said. ‘Let’s elevate your game even more, you are an elite player.’ She looked at me like I was crazy.”

Rettke once thought the idea of making the national team was crazy, but she was called up for the 2019 season and helped the U.S. win the Nations League and qualify for the Olympics.

The Olympic team roster will be chosen during tryouts in May. But Rettke is currently focused on helping top-ranked Wisconsin win a national title.

The Badgers opened the season January 22. Their roster includes Benet grad Barnes and senior outside hitters Meghan Haggerty, a St. Francis alum, and Grace Loberg, the former Geneva star.

“I am the youngest player on the national team,” Rettke said. “Everyone else is at least two years older.

“I know I have a lot to learn. I’m not a professional athlete yet, so I’m going to put my absolute best foot forward trying to earn a sport. I’m really pumped about that opportunity.”

Rettke is double majoring in marketing and risk management. She could play a fifth season because of the NCAA’s COVID-19 rules that give everyone an extra year of eligibility, or turn pro.

Sheffield predicts she will have success at any level.

“Her size and natural athleticism are unique,” Sheffield said. “She also doesn’t get caught in some of the trappings that dump other people.

“A lot of people, once they get good, they don’t like that process of being uncomfortable in learning. That’s not her – her character is strong.

“She won’t have a problem going overseas because she’s an independent kid. She works well with others, so people want to be around her.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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