The greatest moments from NCAA volleyball’s last four

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It’s a 100% Big Ten final.

Wisconsin’s No. 4 will face Nebraska’s No. 10 at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night in the NCAA Women’s Division I Volleyball Championship Game. The Badgers secured their spot in their second NCAA Finals in three seasons by knocking out No. 1 and previously undefeated Louisville, while the Cornhuskers beat No. 3 Pittsburgh to play in their 10th Finals in NHL history. program – and the first since 2018.

Beginning just after 7:10 p.m. and not ending until around 1 a.m., the high level of intensity and skill of a last-four was evident throughout both matches. Columbus was treated to two of the most thrilling games in recent tournament history and saw the remarkable return of another team.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the highlights from Thursday’s national semi-final matches.

Wisconsin defeats Louisville in five-set thriller

Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate their fifth set victory over the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA Volleyball Championship Final Four at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

The first semifinal between Wisconsin and Louisville could have had the top two teams in the country. No one would have guessed that after watching an electrifying home-and-away game that ended with the Badgers winning 25-23, 15-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9.

The first set went without either team taking a more than two-point lead until Wisconsin edged 19-16. But after the Badgers won the first set, Louisville outside hitter Anna DeBeer had seven of her 20 kills in the second set to regain her momentum. Wisconsin looked dead, down 19-17 in the third set before middle blocker Anna Smrek pulled the Badgers to a third-set win.

The Cardinals looked set to advance to a fifth set with a 15-11 lead. But center blocker Dana Rettke and outside hitter Grace Loberg regained the lead for the Badgers at 20-19. Both teams made clutch defensive plays, until Louisville outside hitter Claire Chaussee and defensive specialist Ceci Rush had two straight runs to finally force a fifth set.

At that time, Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said he told Rettke, libero Lauren Barnes and setter Sydney Hilley, his group of seniors who returned for another year when they could have left. “That’s why you came back, for times like these. ”

The three of them grabbed the fifth set, with Smrek finishing the last point to give Louisville the only blemish of their spectacular season.

“In a game standings, it was all-time,” Barnes said. “It was two teams competing against each other.”

The Wisconsin Badgers celebrate a point during the NCAA Volleyball Championship Final against the Louisville Cardinals at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

Louisville did a great job of slowing down Rettke, a five-time first-team All-American who hit just .200 for the game after hitting .447 this season. But Smrek was unstoppable, racking up 20 kills with a single error over 27 swings. Hilley and Tori Dilfer from Louisville hosted a directing clinic with their cast. Louisville middle tackle Anna Stevenson was excellent, with 12 kills and two errors on 25 swings and eight blocks.

It’s a little hard to see the Cardinals’ season end in a game that they mostly played very well.

“I wanted our team to be a little tougher in the Game 5 streak and a little more aggressive,” Louisville coach Dani Busboom-Kelly said. “We started to rock a bit and make some unusual mistakes. It wasn’t us. But as far as this game goes, I don’t think I would change much.

Nebraska continues to win over Pittsburgh

Nebraska Cornhuskers players celebrate their victory over the Pitt Panthers in the NCAA Volleyball Championship final four at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

Nebraska coach John Cook said he thinks his team is in trouble, possibly in danger of being swept away.

The Huskers, however, shook off a dominating first set from Pittsburgh and convincingly beat the ACC second set 3-1 (16-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-22).

“I was a little worried it might be a quick night, but we hung on,” Cook said. “Our team made some adjustments, adjusted the tempo of Pittsburgh, and I thought as the game went on, we got stronger and stronger.”

Biggest factor in the game Nebraska stopping Pittsburgh’s dynamic offense. Outside of center tackle Serena Gray, who hit .474 with 11 kills, Pittsburgh’s top three outside hitters Kayla Lund, Leketor Member-Meneh and Chinaza Ndee all hit .150 or less. Lund said the low shot percentage had more to do with Pitt having the night off rather than being outplayed by the Nebraska defense.

Nebraska middle tackle Lauren Stivrins took control of the game at the end. The Panthers battled 18-14 in the fourth set to tie it at 20. Then Stivrins combined with Lindsay Krause for a massive block, followed by two kills and another block on Lund to clinch the Huskers’ spot in Saturday’s final.

Nebraska Cornhuskers outside hitter Madi Kubik (10) hits Pitt Panthers Chinaza Ndee (5) and Chiamaka Nwokolo (20) in the NCAA Volleyball Championship Finals at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Friday, December 17, 2021 .

Stivrins also made a huge five-point run from the service line to take control of the third set.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher said Nebraska won the service-and-pass game, which disrupted the pace of the Panthers’ offense.

“When you’re served over and over again, you have to be brave,” Lund said. “I don’t think we showed enough courage tonight.”

Nebraska was the finalist in 2018. Wisconsin lost in the final in 2019. Both have a chance to redeem themselves.

“I think we are better prepared and ready than ever,” Stivrins said. “We are ready to intervene.”

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