View Gallery (2 Photos)The 2006 Wisconsin volleyball team fell short of its goal to make it to the NCAA Final Four when it lost to Texas in the Sweet 16.Now with more than half the roster comprised of upperclassmen — including five seniors — the team is poised to make a run at the ultimate goals of reaching the Final Four and winning a Big Ten title.”This is something we planned on and have been excited for since this class came in as freshmen,” head coach Pete Waite said of his senior class.”And we had four or five starters at that time, so their experience level has risen each year, their focus has gotten better and now they have an urgency to finish with a great season.”Even with an experienced team, Waite will have to find a way to replace three seniors — Amy Bladow, Maria Carlini, and Katie Lorenzen — who graduated after last season. “You just kind of fill in the hole, and we have people waiting in the wings,” Waite said. “Kat Dykstra is looking really good in practice, as is Morgan Salow. … In the middle, with Bladow gone we got Audra Jeffers, who can be in there or Salow. So we got some nice options. We’re even a little bit bigger.”Also looking to contribute this year are two incoming freshmen: Allison Wack — the sister of senior libero and co-captain Jocelyn Wack — and Kim Kuzma.”The freshmen are awesome,” Wack said. “There are only two of them, which is a little bit different from the last couple of years, but they are very experienced and very mature as players. “They are definitely embracing everything the coaches are giving them, everything the players are giving them. They are doing awesome and the fans are going to see great things out of them this year.”In an effort to gain more experience, Waite took his squad to Europe this summer to play against teams in Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. “We saw a lot of different styles of play out there and different levels of maturity,” Wack said. “They were a little bit older, and you could just tell how experienced and composed and just calm the other teams were. That was something we really wanted to take away from our European Tour, just staying calm while we are playing.”Since getting back from the European trip, the Badgers have been working on taking their game to the next level by becoming more consistent with their play. “Consistency on road matches [is big],” senior co-captain Taylor Reineke said. “In previous years, we have gone away to other gyms, and we didn’t play as well as we had hoped. I think we need to work on being more consistent on the road.”Wisconsin will also need to find a way to top four-time defending Big Ten champion Penn State if it is going to win its first conference title since 2001.”You pretty much are going to have to make it through Big Ten play with maybe at most one loss,” said Waite about what it will take to win the conference. “You’ve got to beat people not only on your own court, but on the road, which is very tough. We split with [Penn State] last year. Now we have to do the same with Minnesota and take care of them and then try and get that win at Penn State.”This team is totally capable of it. I think they have the ability this year more so than in the last four or five years.” Regardless of what this season ultimately becomes, the players and coaches are looking forward to what should be a fun ride.”I’m excited to just get back on the court and play in front of the fans here,” Reineke said. “I’m excited for every match.”Carroll leaves teamSenior middle blocker Maya Carroll decided to leave the team this summer. According to Waite, Carroll was offered an internship with the Big Ten Network where she will be a sideline reporter for football and volleyball games.”That is just a great thing as far as her résumé and the experience she can get for her future career,” Waite said. “We will miss her, but I couldn’t be happier for her for the opportunity.”In her three-year career with Wisconsin, Carroll appeared in 11 games notched 11 kills, with a .333 hitting percentage.
Tiller, who’s affectionately nicknamed “The Mama’s Boy,” loved every second of it.Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a year“It was beautiful,” he told Sporting News about seeing his mom celebrate his — their — victory back at the Professional Fighters League 3 event in June. “It was a beautiful thing to see.”If it wasn’t for Rains, Tiller wouldn’t have been able to make his fights in different parts of the country as he came up in the amateur ranks — or have a good fighting mentality, period.“My mama raised me to be tough,” he said. “My mom told me, ‘If someone hits you, hit them back.’ But she also told her son that, ‘This is not our reality forever. We’ll figure it out one day.’“We started this journey 11 years ago,” he said. “We used to scrape up gas money and she used to help us get the cars fixed to make the trips (to different fights). I had 12 amateur fights. She’s been there supporting for every single event — from when I was not even making a penny to where we are now in the PFL, fighting for a $1 million.”Tiller will continue that quest on Thursday when he faces Denis Goltsov in the PFL 6 main event at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., live on ESPN+. The No. 1 seed in the heavyweight playoffs is on the line. Once again, his mom will be in attendance watching keenly.But there were times growing up when Rains wasn’t there to keep a watchful eye over her son or his three older sisters in their one-bedroom apartment — “she just worked, worked, worked, worked.”“We used to eat Ramen noodles for days, we were so poor,” Tiller said.Tiller became hardened during that period, having been exposed to some harsh realities of the streets. He contributed to them as well.“I’ve seen shootouts at 9-, 10-years-old. I’ve seen people get shot in front of me when I was 11, 12 years old,” Tiller said. “Eventually, I had to start carrying a gun at the age of 14. I was in shootouts at the age of 14. I was selling dope at the age of 14 — in school, my ninth-grade year.”MORE: Breaking down Combate Fresno resultsAmid the bedlam, Tiller took up mixed martial arts under local trainer Shannon Woodward. Eventually, his growing love for mixed martial arts took him off the streets as he poured all his focus into the craft. He turned professional in September 2011, participating in stints with different promotions, including Bellator for two fights in 2012 and the PFL, starting last year.Still, just because he chose MMA doesn’t mean Tiller and his family are removed from that environment.“I was around a lot of violence in my life and to make it here … I try to explain to people that to fight for me is probably the easiest thing for me — win or lose,” he said. “Just in the neighborhood that I stay in now in Kansas City, Kan., there were three homicides in the apartment complexes in the last three weeks, I believe. That’s the environment I still live in. The fight is always the easiest part for me because I have to come back to reality. At any given moment, there’s a shootout where I’m at.”The real fight for me is not in the cage. The real fight for me is outside the cage in my everyday life.”Like the inaugural PFL season last year, this season’s playoffs will crown a $1 million winner in each division. Tiller would like nothing more than another convincing victory to close out his regular season and prepare for the heavyweight playoffs, set to begin on Halloween at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. He made it to the quarterfinals last year. Himself a father of six, Tiller fully acknowledges that to run the table in the playoffs and win the tournament would be life-changing. He told SN that, if he’s successful, he’d like to apply the money toward his existing lawn care business and to open a barbershop and gym in Kansas City. The latter would possibly help other kids in the area fall in love with MMA. Just like he did.Considering Rains’ jubilant reaction over Tiller’s PFL Season 2-opening victory, just imagine the mother-son turnup that will spark if he wins it all. “I’ll be doing a lot of crying on national television,” Tiller said. “I’m telling you that now, so don’t make fun of me.” Kelvin Tiller had just made Muhammed DeReese tap out to a kimura in the first round of their fight and his mother, Patricia Rains, couldn’t contain her excitement.She threw her hands up in the air, broke out into a dance and even joined her son in the cage. During his post-fight interview, she celebrated with him further.