Then, as they say, things got gnarly the rest of Friday.
The SEC went 0-3.
And when Friday’s last ball hit the floor in Palo Alto, Saturday’s four NCAA regional finals were set. All four matches will be shown on ESPNU (all times Eastern):
Baylor (28-1) vs. Washington (27-6), 4 p.m.
Wisconsin (25-6) vs. Nebraska (28-4), 6 p.m.
Louisville (22-9) vs. Minnesota (26-5), 8 p.m.
Penn State (26-5) vs. Stanford (27-4), 10 p.m.
“It’s exciting. We’re going to show up ready to play,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “It’s one more step to get us to somewhere special. We’re going to be in the moment, and we’re also going to try to cherish it as we work into it, and hope we’re on the positive end of it again.”
His team won its 12th match in a row as the Bears hit .339. Marieke van der Mark continued her late-season improvement as the 6-foot-6 lefty from The Netherlands led with 16 kills and hit .464.
“I think I’ve just been playing like it could be my last match. I want to play the best I can for the seniors, like I don’t want to go out and it be my fault for us leaving, van der Mark said. “I don’t want the season to end. We want it to keep going. We want to play those last three matches, so I just want to play the best I can every single time and just play like I can and glorify the Lord with how I play.”
Yossiana Pressley had 15 kills and hit .194. She had six digs and three blocks, one solo. Gia Milana had 13 kills and hit .500 and had two digs. Shelly Stafford had nine kills, hit .421, and had an assist, an ace, a dig and three blocks, two solo. Kara McGhee added three kills and six blocks, two solo. And setter Hannah Lockin had a kill, 49 assists, three blocks and four digs.
“We really just don’t want the season to end,” McGuyre said. “We love being together, we love training, we look forward to the challenges and difficulties that training brings, and good competition. When the season’s over, we’ll sit back and reflect on what’s changed, what’s shifted. But right now, for the next 30 seconds, we’re just thinking about how we can love one another and get better and prepare for the next match.”
Baylor improved to 16-0 at home this season and 8-4-12 for the year in sets.
Purdue’s season ended 24-8. The Boilermakers got 19 kills from Caitlyn Newton, who had four digs and a block. Blake Mohler, who had five blocks — one solo — and Jael Johnson had eight kills apiece. Johnson had an assist, three blocks and a dig.
Washington coach Keegan Cook got to watch the match before his eighth-seeded Huskies beat No. 9 Kentucky 25-16, 26-24, 15-25, 25-22.
“They’re every bit as good as I thought they’d be,” Cook said of the Baylor. “In person, some things are even more impressive than they are on film. Great environment, but we took our team on the road for the first six weeks of the season. We played in some big venues. Everything was designed for this moment.”
Baylor and Washington have never met.
Kara Bajema, as she’s done all season, led Washington, this time with 24 kills while hitting .400. She also broke the school record for kills in a season along the way and has 577. Bajema had an assist, two blocks and 13 digs. Avie Niece and Claire Hoffman had eight kills each. Niece hit .538 and had a dig and five blocks. Hoffman had an assist, two blocks and nine digs. Samantha Drechsel had six kills, an ace, two blocks and a dig. Setter Ella May Powell had four kills in five errorless attempts, 37 assists, three aces, a block and six digs.
Kentucky ended its season 25-7. Leah Edmond put a punctuation on her tremendous career with 17 kills, an assist, an ace, seven digs and three blocks, one solo. Leah Meyer had 10 kills, hit .571, and had an ace, five blocks — one solo — and two digs. Alli Stumler and Caitlyn Cooper also had 10 kills. Kendyl Paris had seven and hit .545 and had two blocks, Gabby Curry had 19 digs, four assists and an ace, and Madison Lilley had a kill, 47 assists, three aces, two blocks and nine digs.
At Wisconsin: The fourth-seeded Badgers (25-6) put an end to Texas A&M’s season with a 25-20, 25-17, 25-23 sweep before sixth-seeded Nebraska did the same to 12th-seeded Hawai’i (26-4) 29-27, 25-22, 25-19.
The first time Wisconsin and Nebraska played this season, the Badgers swept the Big Ten match in Lincoln on October 5. And they did it again in Madison on November 24.
Against Texas A&M, Wisconsin hit .394 as Dana Rettke had 14 kills and hit .667. She had two digs and five blocks, one solo.
Molly Haggerty had 12 kills, a block and a dig, and the other outside, Grace Loberg, had 10 kills with no errors in 25 attacks and hit .400 to go with six digs. Madison Duello had six kills and three blocks, and Danielle Hart had six kills, hit .333, and had four blocks. Sydney Hilley had kills in both her attempts, 44 assists, four blocks and eight digs.
Hollann Hans led the Aggies with 20 kills and had two assists, two aces and five digs as she finished her terrific career at A&M..
“(A&M) can stress you out in so many different ways,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “Hollann’s serve, it’s crazy. Their setter and her ability to attack is more frequent than anybody in the country, and you know how fast they are running that quick, so you’re constantly kind of stressed a little bit by what they are doing, because they are just a very different-looking team than anybody else we’ve seen.
“I thought our team did a really good job of managing that, playing with confidence, knowing that they are going to do some things that are awfully special. Staying in there and not riding that emotional roller coaster, we didn’t flinch. And when you’re playing in these types of matches, you’re going to play some teams that do some special things, and you’ve got to know that you do some special things yourself and just kind of manage. I thought we did a great job of that.”
Wisconsin is in its 10th regional final and fifth in seven years.
Makena Patterson had seven kills for Texas A&M with no errors in 13 swings and hit .538. She had two blocks, one solo. Camille Conner had six kills, hit .364, and had 33 assists and five digs.
“I’m proud of this group. Heck of a season,” A&M coach Bird Kuhn said. “They fought. This was the environment we expected for sure, and Wisconsin is a great team. They were consistent tonight and we executed, but it just wasn’t consistent enough all the time.
“The battle in the third set and the way they started playing like themselves and really settling in, that’s who we really are and that’s who this team has been this season and evolved and developed into and I’m proud of them.”
Nebraska is in a regional final for the 29th time overall and eighth year in a row.
Lexi Sun led the Huskers with 14 kills and hit .619 after having one error in 21 attacks. She had an ace, two blocks and nine digs. Jazz Sweet had 12 kills, hit .345, and had three blocks and a dig. Lauren Stivrins (whose younger sister Amber is still in the round of eight with Louisville) had seven kills and three blocks, and Madi Kubik had seven kills, three assist, an ace, two blocks and four digs. Nicklin Hames had three kills in six errorless attempts, 36 assists, two aces, a block and eight digs. Kenzie Knuckles had 14 digs and four assists.
“I thought our team made some great adjustments as the match went on. And I think winning the close game in game one gave us a lot of momentum that got us game two, and then it was a battle in game three,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “But I thought we made really good adjustments as the match went on and we’re really, really happy to get out of that 3-0.”
Nebraska hit .312 while holding Hawai’i to a .192 attack percentage.
Brooke Van Sickle led the Rainbow Wahine with 14 kills and hit .370. She had an assist, an ace, a block and five digs. McKenna Ross had 10 kills, an assist, an ace, a block and seven digs.
Norene Iosia had six kills and hit .385 to go with 19 assists, a block and 13 digs, and Hanna Helvig had six kills, an assist, three blocks and four digs.
“Hats off to Nebraska, they played a great game,” Hawai’i coach Robyn Ah Mow said. “And to my team, they came out, and they played their hearts out and, obviously, there’s got to be a winner and a loser tonight. It doesn’t feel great, but hats off to my team. They played great.”
Louisville will play Minnesota after the seventh-seeded Gophers ousted 10th-seeded Florida (27-5) 23-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-15, 15-11.
“As we would expect at this stage of the tournament, it was a heck of a battle,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “We’re certainly happy with the result.
“I thought Florida played a really good match. They had a good plan, it took everything we had to find a way to win, but I was really proud of the team for hanging in there. I thought we maintained our composure at a really solid level throughout the match, even when it wasn’t going our way, I thought our athletes were still present and in it and engaged and working hard, and at the end of the day that paid some dividends. Happy with the team and happy to be advancing.”
Minnesota, into a regional final for the first time since 2016, got 16 kills from Alexis Hart, who hit .342 and had two blocks and two digs. Adanna Rollins had 15 kills, an assist, an ace, a block and seven digs. Regan Pittman had 14 kills, hit .458, and had an ace, six blocks and four digs. Taylor Morgan had 10 kills, hit .533, and had seven blocks and a dig. Stephanie Samedy had seven kills, six blocks and 17 digs. Kylie Miller had two kills in two attempts, 49 assists, an ace, four blocks and 10 digs.
Minnesota hit .331, while Florida hit .247.
Thayer Hall, who sat out Florida’s last match, led the Gators with 17 kills and had an assist, an ace, two blocks and nine digs. Rachael Kramer had 15 kills and hit .364 in her last match and had four blocks, one solo. Holly Carlton had nine kills and two aces. Marlie Monserez had two kills, 53 assists, two aces and 10 digs.
In the nightcap, Utah (24-10) and Stanford went toe-to-toe before the Cardinal pulled away in the fifth set as well for a 22-25, 25-14, 25-10, 12-25, 15-11 victory.