Danielle Hart immediately noticed the people filtering into the stands when she came out to the Kohl Center floor for warmups before the University of Wisconsin volleyball team’s match Friday.
There was more than an hour until first serve, but the first few rows around the arena already were filled. She continued to watch the seats fill from top to bottom while preparing to face No. 16 Florida.
She likened it to the crowd that would be at a Final Four. She’d know — she was part of the Badgers’ run to the national championship last season. The only difference was it was a sea of red, all Badger fans this time.
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“It was absolutely electric out there throughout the whole match,” Hart said. “The Field House regulars taught the rest really quickly our traditions over at the Field House. It was so cool to see those transferred over into the Kohl Center. The energy was absolutely awesome. Everyone was on their feet and loud and really got into the game, and it was really cool to feel that as players.”
The Badgers made history at the Kohl Center Classic, breaking the NCAA’s regular-season attendance record as 16,833 fans gathered Friday. It broke the previous record set nine days ago by Nebraska and Crieghton in Omaha, topping their mark of 15,797. UW dropped the match in five sets, but that did little to dampen the atmosphere.
Volleyball fans of all interest levels flocked to the building to be part of history. Students sat behind both baselines from court level to the 300 sections. They only took a seat during breaks in the game. They otherwise were on their feet cheering.
They sang along to UW classics such as “Build Me Up Buttercup” and there were some typical crude chants akin to ones at a football game.
The fans were making noise, whether it was the first point of the set or match point.
The building was just as loud, or louder than, when UW men’s basketball’s Chucky Hepburn banked a 3-point shot to win a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last season.
Even when the Badgers were down two games to the Gators, the fans stayed engaged, rooting for a comeback. The energy in the arena increased when UW tied the game 22-22 in the third set, and it was a goosebump-inducing noise as the Badgers started to settle into the match.
It only got louder when UW took the lead and eventually won the third set then the fourth.
“I feel like especially when you're losing by a few points, it's frequent to hear, to feel the nervousness in the gym,” sophomore outside hitter Julia Orzol said. “Playing here in the Kohl Center, you couldn't feel it at any point. Fans were staying with us the whole time, supporting us. People did an incredible job showing up.”
Fans lingered to give the Badgers a standing ovation and sing “Varsity” even after Florida sealed the upset.
“This was great,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Whether that's a one-time shot or we do it again, and I don't know. I'm sure at some point when the time is right, we'll huddle up. We're not doing it this year. I don't know, man. That was pretty cool, right? It was pretty cool.”