News, photos, notes, quotes before Louisville plays Wisconsin, Pitt faces Nebraska

No. 1 Louisville (32-0) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (29-3)

COLUMBUS, OHIO, Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
COACHES — Louisville, Dani Busboom Kelly (fifth season); Wisconsin, Kelly Sheffield (ninth season)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Louisville: defeated UIC 3-0, Ball State 3-0, No. 16 Florida 3-0, and No. 8 Georgia Tech 3-1. Wisconsin: defeated Colgate 3-0, Florida Gulf Coast 3-0 No. 13 UCLA 3-0 and No. 12 Minnesota 3-0
HISTORY — Wisconsin holds a 7-1 lead in the all-time series, which dates to 1985. Louisville’s only win came in 2017.

Wisconsin’s Giorgia Civita passes as Grace Loberg, left, and Julia Orzol look on/Michael Gomez photo

OF NOTE — Louisville is trying to become the first NCAA champion to finish a season undefeated since Penn State in 2009. It was the second of back-to-back undefeated titles for the Nittany Lions … Each program is seeking its first national title. A win by Louisville (or Pittsburgh) would be the first title for the ACC … This is the first time the ACC has had two teams reach the final four …
Wisconsin was the national runner-up two years ago to Stanford … Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly is the first female coach in NCAA Division I volleyball history to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. She also is trying to become the first female coach to lead a women’s volleyball team to the Division I national title …Wisconsin has been to at least the Sweet 16 every year during Kelly Sheffield’s coaching tenure … Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke led the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.447) and was third in blocks (1.37) …

Nena Mbonu hits for Louisville/Michael Gomez photo

Wisconsin led the Big Ten in hitting (.296) and also in opponent’s hitting percentage (.159) … Louisville is the first team to finish the regular season unbeaten since Missouri in 2013 … As a player at Nebraska, Busboom Kelly faced Louisville in the 2004 NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 and had 39 assists and seven digs as the Huskers swept … Busboom Kelly also could make another bit of history with a national championship: It would give her titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

Wisconsin’s Liz Gregorski, left, and Joslyn Boyer/Michael Gomez photo

QUOTABLE — Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield on the final four: “I think these are four teams that all have distinct styles of play. And all four teams are peaking at the right time. … I think when you get to this point in the season … a big key is you’ve got to stay true to yourself.”
Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly on the prospect of a long-term contract at Louisville: “I love Louisville. My husband loves it here. We want to stay for a long time, for sure. Certainly we have talked about that with the administration and how we can make this a win-win for our family and the University of Louisville.”
usboom Kelly on the ACC’s progress: “We hear a lot about how the ACC is not as good, and we don’t compete with the Big Ten. But I saw the ACC do some amazing things this tournament and some players that couldn’t be stopped by anybody, whether what conference they’re in. … I’m really excited about the future of the ACC.”
Busboom Kelly on the prospect of being the first female coach to win the Division I national title: “I know a lot of my female peers have said it would be amazing to be the first female to win the national championship. But it would also be amazing to just have a female win the national championship. … But at the end of the day, I hate that it comes down to gender. And on Saturday, if we win, I want it to be because I’m the best coach this year, not because I’m a female.”
Anna Stevenson on Louisville’s culture: “I think our team does a good job of holding each other accountable. I think there’s a whole lot of trust from the staff with us. We know that they’ve got our backs.”
Louisville setter Tori Dilfer, on her upbringing with former NFL QB Trent Dilfer: “I was raised in a really competitive household. My sisters are great competitors and my mom and dad obviously instilled that in us, which I think has been huge for me. I think the support he has given me throughout my career and not always needing to be a ‘coach’ or give advice from his past experiences. He’s been a great ‘dad’ through it all. … He’s dad first.”
Sheffield on permanently giving players the option to play five years in college: “I really think we are at a point or getting to a point where every single player in every sport has the opportunity to play five years. You do away with the redshirt rule. You do away with the conference or NCAA waivers. To me, that’s a bigger deal than NIL. It’s a way bigger deal than NIL. You have every single college athlete be able to graduate debt-free – scholarship athletes – debt-free and have a graduate degree. I man, holy cow. You think of how many people are paying off graduate degrees for 20-30 years after school, we could wipe that free.”
Wisconsin setter Sydney Hilley on talk of national championships being the norm around the program: “I think it’s kind of like an unsaid goal. Everyone who comes to Wisconsin, that’s one of the reasons they come here is to make history and win a national championship. … This is our ‘why.’ This is why we work so hard.”
Wisconsin senior outside hitter Grace Loberg on how her game has picked up in the second half of the season: “I feel like I’m playing with a different mindset. I’ve been working a lot on incorporating new shots into my play, and I think that’s been really helping me. But I feel like one of the biggest things for me is staying focused in the present in every single scenario I’m in.”

Nebraska’s John Cook during Wednesday’s practice/Michael Gomez

No. 3 Pitt (30-3) vs. No. 10 Nebraska (25-7)

COLUMBUS, OHIO, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
COACHES — Pitt, Dan Fisher (ninth season); Nebraska, John Cook (22nd season)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Pitt: defeated UMBC 3-0, Penn State 3-1, Kansas 3-0, and No. 6 Purdue 3-1. Nebraska: defeated Campbell 3-0, Florida State 3-0, Illinois 3-0, and No. 2 Texas 3-1.
HISTORY — Nebraska has won all 12 meetings in the series, including three in the NCAA Tournament, the last time in 1990. The most recent meeting was 2015, a four-set Huskers victory in Lincoln. Pitt has taken only four sets in those 12 meetings.
OF NOTE — Pittsburgh is making its first appearance in the Final Four. It is the first women’s program in school history to reach an NCAA semifinal and just the third program overall … Over the past five seasons, the Panthers are 135-19 with three seasons of at least 30 wins … Nebraska has lost to the other two semifinalists, Wisconsin and Louisville, this season … Louisville handed Pittsburgh two of its three losses this season (the other loss was to Georgia Tech) …
John Cook has coached the Cornhuskers to four national titles, the most recent in 2017. Fifth-year senior Lauren Stivrins, a first-team All-Big Ten outside hitter, is the only remaining player from that team. Three others — senior setter Nicklin Hames, senior outside hitter Lexi Sun and senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach — joined Stivrins on Nebraska’s 2018 national runner-up team … Nebraska is making its 40th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, second only to Penn State’s 41 … At No. 10, Nebraska is the lowest seed among the Final Four teams and the lowest seed to make the final four since 2014 … Nebraska freshman Lexi Rodriguez was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten … Fifth-year senior Kayla Lund of Pitt earned her fourth first-team All-ACC honor this season … When she was at Penn State, Pitt’s Serena Gray faced Nebraska three times, accumulating 17 kills in those matches …The final four is a homecoming for Pitt’s Chiamaka Nwokolo. She attended Bishop Hartley High School in Columbus …
Pitt’s Kayla Lund has been limited by an upper-body injury, but she doesn’t expect it to hinder her during the final four … Senior middle blocker Sabrina Starks of Pitt hails from Springfield, Nebraska,

QUOTABLE — Pitt outside hitter Kayla Lund, on the injury that has dogged her since mid-November: “No comment. I can practice, and every day closer to game time, I get to do a little bit more.”
Coach Dan Fisher of Pitt, on the matchup with Nebraska: “I think both teams are strong in serve-pass. That will be an interesting battle. And in transition, we’re a little more aggressive than they are. They play it a little safe, so it should be fun to watch.”
Pitt right side Chinaza Ndee, on being at the final four: “Mostly just grateful … And just staying present. Those are the main two things. And then just feeling confident. We know we’re good enough to be here.”
Fisher, on the late-season contributions of freshman Rachel Fairbanks: “When I recruited her, she told me she touched 10 feet. I don’t think I really believed it. I didn’t think she could be a hitter. And then at one point in the year, I think she touched 10-3½. She has a pretty good arm, and she was getting stronger. She is physically more mature than when she showed up this summer. And she was becoming a more technical setter. Combine that with some injuries to (fifth-year setter) Kylee (Levers), and she was thrust in a role and has really done great.”
Fisher on how to attack the Nebraska defense: “We plan on doing what we always do. We’ll try to hit the ball as hard as we can as many times as we possibly can.”
Fisher on Nwokolo playing in front of her hometown Columbus fans: “Sometimes she needs some encouragement in practice to bring it all. She does not need encouragement at all when the stage gets bigger. She loves to compete.”
Coach John Cook of Nebraska on what getting to the final four means: “It’s a big deal in Nebraska. The texts I get, the emails I get, people are in tears, and they are writing me these emails, and they’re crying as we won and got to this final four. That what makes it really cool, and I’ll never take that for granted.”
Cook, on Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly, a former player and assistant of his at Nebraska: “I’m very proud of Dani. She’s done an amazing job … To go undefeated to this point is really, really hard. You could say, ‘Well, they played in the ACC.’ Well, we know how tough the ACC is this year, which makes it even more. And they came in, and they kicked our butt in Devaney.”

Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher visits with his team during Wednesday’s practice/Michael Gomez photo

Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins on having final four experience: “Experience is always helpful. But when it comes time for the game, it’s just going to be the team that’s better prepared and wants it more and fights harder. Hopefully, that will be us.”
Nebraska’s Madi Kubik on Pitt: “We know that they have a really fast offense. And they have a lot of weapons we’re going to have to pay attention to. But we’re just excited for the challenge.”
Cook: “You can’t be a fake team and get here.”

Louisville takes a break during practice Wednesday/Michael Gomez photo
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1 COMMENT

  1. Quick note after triple checking, I believe Nebraska actually leads the B1G in opponent hitting percentage in conference play (.145) and also over the entire season (.144), not Wisconsin Nebraska also leads all Power 5 teams in this statistical category. Pretty impressive!

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