The prevailing thought throughout this season was that the ACC and Big Ten were the best conferences.

They more or less proved it Saturday, as the top two teams from each league moved on in the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.

And on Thursday, the first-place team from the ACC, top-seeded and unbeaten Louisville, will play the Big Ten champion, fourth-seeded Wisconsin in one semifinal. The second-place teams from both conferences will square off in the other, will No. 3 seed Pittsburgh facing No. 10 Nebraska.

The lineup on ESPN:
7 p.m. Eastern Thursday, Louisville (32-0) vs. Wisconsin (29-3)
9:30 p.m., Pittsburgh (30-3) vs. Nebraska (25-7)

Louisville and Pitt are the first ACC teams to advance to the national semifinals since 2011, when Florida State became the only other conference team to make it that far.

Wisconsin has never won the title but is headed back to the semis for the fifth time in program history and the third year in a row.

Nebraska, which won it all in 1995, 2000, 2006, 2015, and 2017, also played in the 2018 title match. The Huskers crashed the party this time by upsetting No. 2 Texas on its homecourt.

“It’s a fun group of girls to be around,” said Lauren Stivrins, a fifth-year senior at Nebraska, “and clearly we’re on to something great.”

Nebraska’s Madi Kubik hits against Texas/Matt Smith photo

Huskers dominate

Nebraska overpowered Texas 25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21 before 5,080, the largest volleyball crowd in the history of Austin’s Gregory Gym. 

“The last couple of years, we’ve come up short and not played great in the final game,” senior setter Nicklin Hames said. “Everyone stepped up. And it wasn’t perfect, but it was our way, and we had each other’s backs, and we out-hearted and out-schemed them.”

Madi Kubik and Ally Batenhorst led Nebraska with 15 kills each. Kubik, who hit .041, had an assist, an ace, and five digs. Batenhorst had two errors in 32 attacks to hit .406 and had two blocks and two digs. Lindsay Krause, celebrating her birthday, had 13 kills with two errors in 22 attacks to hit .500 and added five blocks and four digs. 

Kayla Caffrey had seven kills and four blocks, and Stivrins had four kills and five blocks. 

“This team has been through the ringer through trial and error and a lot of things that didn’t go our way,” Stivrins said. “But all of it has led us to where we are, and we’ve grown to where I don’t even know.”

Lexi Rodriguez had 20 digs, four assists and an ace, and Hames had three kills in as many tries, 43 assists, two blocks, and 13 digs. Keonilei Akana had a career-high seven aces, four digs and an assist, and Nebraska hit .259.

“I knew we would have a chance in this tournament because of the preparation and the teams we had to play and the level we had to play at (in the Big Ten),” said Coach John Cook of Nebraska, who sat at the post-match media conference more or less drenched from a locker-room dousing. 

“It’s been a grind this year, and it’s been really good volleyball.”

Nebraska is back in the national semifinals for the 16th time and fifth time in seven years.

Texas, which hit .250, got 20 kills apiece from Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields. Their teammates combined for nine kills.

Eggleston had an assist, two blocks, and 10 digs. Fields had five errors in 45 attacks, hit .333 and had an assist, three blocks, and four digs. 

One of Eggleston’s errors came in the fourth set when the official called her for a throw. Her kill was negated, and instead Nebraska had a 16-12 lead during an 8-0 run, and Texas (27-2) never recovered.

“They said I caught and threw the ball. I’ve been doing that the whole season,” a teary Eggleston said. “That one wasn’t much different, but, hey, you can’t change it.”

Brionne Butler had four kills and eight blocks, and Asjia O’Neal had two kills, an ace, five blocks, and three digs. Texas had six aces and four errors; Nebraska had nine aces and eight errors.

“They clearly won the serve-and-pass game,” said Coach Jerritt Elliott of Texas, whose team lost to Kentucky in last spring’s NCAA title match.

Louisville keeps rolling

At least one ACC team was going to advance when Louisville played Georgia Tech (26-6).

The Cardinals, who swept the Yellow Jackets twice in the regular season, won this one 25-18, 21-25, 25-21, 25-20.

Claire Chaussee led Louisville with 18 kills, hit .348 after two errors in 46 attacks, and added two blocks and two digs. Anna DeBeer had 14 kills, an ace, three blocks, and 21 digs. Anna Stevenson had 13 kills, hit .391, and had two digs and 10 blocks, three solo. Amaya Tillman had six kills with one error in 16 attacks, a dig, and seven blocks, one solo.

Also, Aiko Jones had three kills but hit negative .143 to go with four blocks and three digs. Elena Scott had 19 digs, two assists, and an ace, and Tori Dilfer had one kill, 49 assists, two aces, four blocks and seven digs. Her team hit .217.

“I’m just insanely proud of this team,” Coach Dani Busboom Kelly of Louisville said. “People don’t realize how hard it is to make it to the final four, especially when you have all the pressure, and you’re supposed to make it there, that’s even tougher in my opinion.”

Kelly won titles as a player and as an assistant coach at Nebraska.

Georgia Tech, which hit .152, had 55 kills, and 27 of them came from Mariana Brambilla. She added a solo block and 16 digs. Bianca Bertolino had 10 kills and 10 digs.

Erin Moss had six kills, a dig and two blocks, one solo. Breland Morrissette had four kills, an assist, three blocks, and a dig. Julia Bergmann, the ACC player of the year, was not at her best — she had four kills with 10 errors in 33 attacks to hit minus .182. She added four assists, an ace, four blocks, and 20 digs. Matti McKissock had four kills in six errorless tries, 42 assists, three blocks, and 10 digs. Paola Pimental had 14 digs, five assists, and an ace.

Pitt breaks new ground

Pittsburgh beat the Big Ten’s Purdue 25-20, 28-30, 25-20, 25-15 to become the school’s first women’s team in any sport to reach a national semifinal.

“We’ve dreamed of this since we’ve gotten together this year, and it just feels amazing to be here,” Coach Dan Fisher said. “I’m really proud of this team and excited to go to Columbus.”

Pitt, which tied with Miami for second place in the ACC, hit .311. Leketor Member-Meneh led with 21 kills and hit .383 with three errors in 47 attacks. She added an assist, three aces, nine digs, and two blocks, one solo.

Serena Gray had 14 kills in 24 errorless swings to hit .583 and had two assists, an ace, two digs, and four blocks, two solo. Rachel Fairbanks had 10 kills with two errors in 17 attacks to hit .471 and had 28 assists, a block, and eight digs. Chiamaka Nwokolo had eight kills, hit .375, and had an assist and two blocks. Ashley Browske had 19 digs and two assists. Kayla Lund had five kills and hit negative .115 but added three assists, a block, and 11 digs.

Purdue, which finished 26-7 and had it most victories since 2011, lived life on the edge in this tournament. The Boilermakers swept Illinois State in the first round, but then had to come back after losing the first two sets to beat Dayton. On Thursday, they had to rally again to beat BYU in five. 

Purdue, which hit .156, got 16 kills from Caitlyn Newton, who hit .107. She had four aces and four digs. Raven Colvin had 10 kills, an assist and three digs, one solo. Grace Cleveland had nine kills, two aces, three blocks and a dig. Jael Johnson had eight kills with two errors in 11 swings and three blocks. Emma Ellis had six kills, three blocks and two digs. Hayley Bush had no kills but 39 assists, 14 digs, and two blocks, one solo. Jena Otec had 25 digs and an assist.

“All credit to Pitt. Pitt just put on an absolute clinic today on all sides of the ball,” Coach Dave Shondell of Purdue said. “We had a hard time keeping up with them.”

Wisconsin makes it 3 for 3

Wisconsin lost in the national-championship match to Stanford in 2019. Last spring, it lost to Texas in the national semifinals. Now, the Badgers get another crack after their 25-18, 26-24, 25-22 victory over Minnesota (22-9). 

Dana Rettke led with 15 kills and hit .520 after having two errors in 25 attacks. She was errorless in her first 21 swings. Rettke also had an ace and four blocks.

Devyn Robinson had 11 kills with two errors in 23 attacks and six blocks. Grace Loberg had eight kills and a block, Jade Demos had seven kills and six digs, and Anna Smrek had five kills, four blocks, and three digs. 

Also, Sydney Hilley had 43 assists, an ace, four blocks, and 12 digs, and Lauren Barnes had 14 digs, three assists, and two aces.

“It was a battle out there,” Coach Kelly Sheffield of Wisconsin said. “I thought we were really good at the end of sets. I thought we made some great plays. I thought it was a balanced effort, and the three up here (Hilley, Rettke and Robinson) I thought were really big, but they weren’t the only three that were really big. 

“I thought we all played our part, and we’re excited that we’re still playing. I’m excited that we get to keep coaching these guys.”

Wisconsin, which has swept its last five matches and has won nine in a row, hit .258.

“I think a lot of the sets could have gone either way, I mean we were in the red zone with them in every set,” Hilley said. “We just did a really good job in closing out in the high-pressure situations and just executing when the game was on the line.

Wisconsin beat Minnesota for the third time this season. The Badgers swept the first meeting and then won in five. 

Minnesota’s Airi Miyabe had 13 kills and four digs, and Stephanie Samedy, the Big Ten player of the year, had 12 kills, two aces, two blocks, and seven digs. Jenna Wenaas had eight kills and 11 digs, and Melani Shaffmaster had a kill, 30 assists, three blocks, and seven digs. Her team hit .193.

“The outcome didn’t go our way, but I’m still proud of how we competed tonight,” Coach Hugh McCutcheon of Minnesota said. “One thing that needs to be celebrated is the career of Stephanie Samedy. She’s just such a special player and person. I can’t tell you how much of a joy it was to coach her and watch her develop into who she is today.”

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      – Brionne Butler, Texas
      – Samantha Drechsel, Washington
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      Most Outstanding Player: Hames

      **No Rodriquez, apparently because as a reporter from the Statesman told me, “nothing special about her… Texas played bad and made her look good…”.


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