Last year’s momentous success by the UW-Madison women’s volleyball team did not disappoint fans who watched the talented team make their journey through the season. Winning the national championship seemed in the cards for a team consistently holding its own in the NCAA tournament, and the results and excitement about the possibilities of the 2021 season created plenty of new fans.
As that excitement and potential have built up again for this year’s tournament, one pivotal figure who played an important role in securing the title last year is hoping to see the same results this year. Right-side hitter Devyn Robinson, a junior at UW-Madison, is already off to a strong start in this year’s tournament.
This past Friday, the 6-foot-3 Robinson finished with a team-high 11 kills, while posting a .667 hitting percentage and recording five blocks as the top-seeded Badgers swept Quinnipiac, 25-19, 25-9, 25-4, in front of an announced crowd of 7,229. On Saturday, she had six kills and four blocks in a 25-9, 25-11, 25-23 sweep of TCU before another sellout crowd at the UW Field House.
However, Robinson’s status as a powerhouse on the court may have never been reached if her intrigue was not sparked by a simple request from her father.
“Honestly, I thought I was going to be a professional basketball player because my dad’s a basketball coach,” Robinson told Madison365. “Funny story, he actually was the reason I started playing volleyball. At the time, we lived in Houston, and he coached for the University of Houston. He had a volleyball clinic going on at the school and he said, ‘I want you to try a different sport.’ I was like, ‘No way, I don’t want to do volleyball.’ I’m maybe in third or fourth grade, and I’m sitting there with my arms crossed the whole time not wanting to participate.
“But, at the very end, there was a ball going to the floor and nobody was going for it,” she continued. “I was like, ‘I gotta go, I don’t want to lose this point.’ I don’t know if I got the ball up or not, but I got a really huge bruise. I was like, that was insane, I want to keep doing that.”
As Robinson continued to play volleyball throughout elementary and high school, it was clear that her passion and talent for the sport would result in success with dedication. These same qualities and achievements are reflected in the teamwork and drive of the UW women’s volleyball team who overcame a very tough Nebraska last year for a 3-2 victory to hoist the NCAA championship trophy. It was a moment of history for the school and a moment of well-deserved reward and respect for the team that brought it home.
“The journey to the national championship was actually insane,” said Robinson, who was named to the all-Big Ten first team as a freshman. “That was our ultimate goal, and actually completing that with all the blood, sweat, and tears felt like, finally, it was worth it. We got the trophy, and we got the school its first national championship,” Robinson said. “I’ve never felt more in love with my team. We felt like a family, we moved as a unit, and we all were on the same page all the time. It was unexplainable, really, and carrying the want for that feeling again, I’m still chasing it this season. We’re still coming together since we have so many new people. Later on in the season, we’re coming together more as a family.”
It was family that first got Robinson into the sport and now she is embracing the family that the UW volleyball team has become. The ability to move as a cohesive whole rather than individuals on the court was a point Robinson stressed would be vital to achieving the same success they did last year. To reach such success as a team takes each individual to be on top of their game as a player, but also as a student, an area that Robinson has also learned to navigate since her arrival on campus.
“When I first got here it was hard for me to figure out how to balance school and volleyball,” Robinson said. “When I first came here, I was 17 because I graduated early. So I came around the middle of the school year in January 2020. Then we got shut down, so all my school was online. As classes started being in-person, I was able to find a rhythm to get into. With all the resources they give us as student-athletes, it’s really easy for me to stay on top of my schoolwork.”
The importance of finding a balance in the life of any student is important to reach success in your future aspirations. When it comes to sports, many of those aspirations also require dedication to the craft outside of school, and having a clear plan helps fuel the engine that keeps that determination going. Robinson is no stranger to this as her future plans are currently aligned in a way that centers her passion for volleyball as a sport, as well as how she could inspire others as well.
“My ultimate goal is to hopefully play in the Olympics one day, but after I graduate, I want to go play professionally overseas for at least a little bit to experience it,” Robinson said. “I’m a comm arts major with a minor/certificate in sports communication. Hopefully, when I’m done playing pro, I can come back and do a little bit of sports broadcasting. I feel like there’s not a whole bunch of African American women in the sports realm down there with the athletes and giving their insight. I just want to be a role model for young Black girls to say, ‘Oh, if she can do it then I can do it, too.'”
It is no surprise that organizations such as Black Girl Magic Educational Services Inc. turn UW-Madison volleyball games into wonderful opportunities for young Black girls to go out and see players like Devyn Robinson who inspire and excite young fans who could turn out to be the next generation of players. Fans both in attendance and at home are eager to see the team compete as their match against Nebraska last year for the title broke records for viewership of women’s college volleyball on ESPN.
“Since we won the national championship, I feel like we’ve gotten more recognition as a sport, women’s volleyball as a whole,” said Robinson. “Last year, we broke the record for people watching with 1.2 million people watching [the NCAA finals]. We also broke the regular season attendance [this year] with the Kohl Center match. Even though it didn’t turn out how we wanted [losing to Florida 3-2], it’s just amazing to see how many people come out and support women’s volleyball.”
The Badgers will face Big Ten rival Penn State this Thursday, Dec. 8, at the UW Field House. To keep up on UW-Madison Women’s Volleyball, check out their website here, and to keep up on the rest of their schedule for the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament, check out their upcoming schedule here.