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Volleyball: Lauryn Gillis finds herself in middle of fray

first_imgWisconsin volleyball’s Lauryn Gillis was an afterthought for a starting spot a few short months ago, but now the sophomore-transfer’s hard work has separated her from the pack.And she’s doing it all with a glowing smile on her face.During Wisconsin’s season opening loss to Western Kentucky, Gillis’ dedication to the team was on display as she desperately tried to stave off defeat and help lead the Badgers to victory.Despite the loss she delivered a solid performance in the match, registering 14 kills and a .314 attack percentage. Her success continued over the next two matches over the weekend, solidifying her place on the Badgers pecking order, but it still wasn’t a good enough performance in her mind.“Obviously there’s more I could have done, more I should have done,” Gillis said about the weekend. “But now we just have to look forward to the next weekend because that’s better competition and we need to get better this week.”Her dissatisfaction with not coming away with three victories is something head coach Kelly Sheffield admires about his new player. He said he liked her team-oriented attitude and desire to win.“[Gillis] had a really nice weekend,” Sheffield said. “She came in here with a lot of confidence this weekend and played with more and more energy as it went along. She really carried us a lot at times. I liked her demeanor. She wasn’t up and down, just very consistent, and that’s what we need out of her.”Brought in to help bolster a roster that graduated six players from arguably the best regular season in program in history, Gillis has a tough task at hand.The 2014 squad was a team that appeared in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, won the Big Ten Championship,  and had First Team, Second Team and Honorable Mention All-Americans.As an outside hitter she fell right into the most decimated part of that lineup where three seniors, Ellen Chapman, Courtney Thomas and Dominique Thompson, used to occupy front-line spots. A unit that averaged 2.61 blocks per set, held opponents to a .158 hitting percentage, and devastated foes with 14.34 kills per set.From the get-go Sheffield said these gaps would be filled by the likes of junior Lauren Carlini, a 2014 First Team All-American, and sophomore Kelli Bates, fresh off the 2015 Big Ten Foreign Tour, playing larger roles. And that fierce competition for remaining outside hitter spots would brew between players with past UW experience such as Romana Kriskova or exciting new prospects like Madison Duello.Yet there was never any mention of Gillis at the time, who now finds herself in the middle of the fray with six players competing at her position.“She’s going to be huge for us,” Sheffield said after last Saturday’s matches. “She’s a great kid. She has an awesome work ethic. People love playing with her. I think we’re just getting started with her here.”Now, Gillis has stepped into that once-vacant role and was named to the HotelRed Invitational all-tournament team after compiling 40 kills, averaging 4 kills per set, and attacking at .341 percent while starting every set.And those numbers are a product of a solid all-around game, Sheffield said.“Every day she’s getting her mojo back a little bit, where we need it,” Sheffield said. “Offensively she was awfully good. Passing has gotten stronger as we’ve gone through the preseason. She was getting more confidence in that, in a match environment as we were going. She’s learning a new serve that was really giving people fits.”Gillis even sparked a dead attack to life in the Badgers’ second match of the invitational against Colgate where she tallied 17 kills and only three errors on 35 attempts. Hitting at a clip of .400, she helped bolster a Badgers attack that similarly fizzled out the previous night against WKU.Yet this time, her efforts ended in a win and Sheffield and teammates credited her with jump-starting Wisconsin’s attack in their final match of the invitational against Charleston.With all of the uncertainty that initially surrounded her career at Wisconsin, Gillis is now certain that she made the right choice.“Being at home for the first weekend especially was a great experience, with all the fans,” Gillis said. “Unbelievable crowd, unbelievable for a weekend tournament for the first weekend. They were awesome and that was awesome to play in front of them. It was a great experience.”Still flashing that same smile.last_img

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