Chance-for-revenge NCAA final four set as Baylor plays Wisconsin, Stanford faces Minnesota

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NCAA volleyball 12/15/2019-Kathryn Plummer-Stanford volleyball
Penn State setter Gabby Blossom has no chance on this play against Stanford's Kathryn Plummer/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Welcome to the chance-for-revenge NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.

After a round-of-eight Saturday in which there was more domination than drama, Thursday’s final-four matches in Pittsburgh are set:

Top-seeded Baylor (29-1) plays fourth-seeded Wisconsin (26-6) at 7 p.m. Eastern. 

Baylor, the Big 12 co-champion, beat the Big Ten-champion Badgers in four on their home court on September 6.

And third-seeded Stanford (28-4), the Pac-12 champion, plays No. 8 Minnesota (27-5), one of three teams tied for second in the Big Ten, at about 9:30 p.m.

Stanford’s 37-match winning streak was broken by Minnesota when they played at Penn State on September 14.

Baylor, which beat Washington in four on Saturday, is in the final four for the first time. 

Wisconsin, which swept Nebraska, is back for the first time since 2013.

“I think every little girl, when they start playing volleyball, they always dream of moments like these and I know our whole team has,” Wisconsin’s Molly Haggerty said of her team’s celebration with the fans at a sold-out arena in Madison. “So to experience it is just amazing.”

Defending-champion Stanford, in the national semifinals for the 23rd time, has won eight titles, including two of the last three. The Cardinal swept Penn State in the regional final.

And Minnesota, which swept Louisville, is back in the final four for the first time since 2016.

Penn State got into the round of eight by beating Cincinnati and its star Jordan Thompson on Friday as Thompson had 30 kills. Then Saturday Kathryn Plummer had 24 kills for Stanford.

“Plummer is an incredible talent,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “To play Thompson one night, and Plummer the next night, I’m looking forward to flying home tomorrow.”

Baylor celebrates beating Washington/Baylor Athletics

Baylor, Pressley overpower Washington: This is not a new storyline by now. 

The scouting report is no different for this Baylor team than it was on day one: Setter Hannah Lockin is going to find Yossiana Pressley, a junior outside hitter and the Big 12 player of the year.

And yet there are occasions where all the preparation in the world won’t do much good, which became evident in the middle of the third set of what would become a 25-20, 21-25, 25-19, 25-18 victory. The Bears hit .479.

It was Pressley, in the third set, who scored three of four points to put the Bears up 7-6. Minutes later, it was Pressley whom Lockin found two straight times to extend the lead to 17-12. It was Pressley who, alongside Kara McGhee, blocked Washington’s Avie Niece, pushing the lead further, to 21-16.

Pressley had 18 kills at that point in the match. She had seven kills in her first seven attempts of the match, finished with 24, and hit .512. She had an assist, an ace, two blocks, and five digs.

“Now that we’re going to Pittsburgh — oh, that’s so exciting to say — but now that we’re going to Pittsburgh, we just have to make sure we are treating every team the way we have this whole season,” Pressley said. “Just respecting all of their hitters, making sure we refuel, and basically focusing on our side. I don’t feel like anything is necessarily going to change. I believe we come with the same intensity every time.”

Shelly Stafford added 11 kills and had one error in 15 attacks and hit .667 to go with four assists, two blocks, and five digs. Gia Milana had 10 kills and two blocks, and Marieke van der Mark had nine kills with no errors in 16 swings to hit .563 and had two blocks and three digs. 

All of that opened things up for Lockin. She dumped it six times for six kills. Only three times before had Lockin reached six kills in a single match, and here she had done so in just three sets. Lockin finished with seven kills on seven attempts and 48 assists and had a block and eight digs.

“We kind of had a lull in the second set, but we knew what we had to do,” Lockin said. “We knew 100 percent what we needed to give. That means physically, in our actual skills, and in our mentality and enthusiasm and all that. When we started to give that again, it started to go better for us.”

Washington’s Kara Bajema capped her brilliant career with 20 kills, hitting .302, and had two aces and six digs. It was the 12th time this season that Bajema finished with more than 20 kills, and she ended this season just three shy of 600.

“It’s been a journey every single year. A new group comes in and you learn how to mesh with them, and it’s a new year every single time,” Bajema said. “And this year was special because I think we had a pretty good bond and the other teammates in my class, we took on this leadership role and we were really close, and we just enjoyed our time and that’s what I think is most important: liking where you are and the people that are around you. So that’s why something like this is so hard, because you’re saying goodbye to something that was so big in your life for so long.”

Samantha Drechsel had 15 kills and hit .520 and had two blocks and a dig. Ella May Powell had a kill, 42 assists, a solo block, and five digs. Their team finished 27-7 after hitting .258.

“What a fun match. Washington’s such a great team. Very explosive,” Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said. “They took it to us with their serving. They’re a well-coached team with a lot of weapons. It was a battle that brought the best out of us tonight.”

And that continues Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“We’ve had a good run so far, and Yossi in my humble opinion is the national player of the year. If we didn’t get that performance that we got out of her tonight, it would have been a different story. 

“A lot of other highlights with what our girls were able to do but Yossi brought it to the highest level. I’m proud of her for getting there because we went three matches where she didn’t feel like she was at her best. Champions are at their best when their best is expected and we trusted Yossiana and she pulled through.”

Wisconsin sweeps Nebraska again: It almost sounds made up, that Wisconsin not only swept Nebraska (28-5) with a national semifinal bid on the line, but that the Badgers did it for the third time this season. 

In this case, a 25-18, 25-22, 25-19 victory sent the packed house in Madison and Wisconsin players into a long-awaited celebration.

Haggerty led Wisconsin with 14 kills and had three blocks and a dig. 

“Like (teammate Tiffany) Clark said, it’s hard to put into words, but really, really happy and proud of this team,” Haggerty said.

The other outside, Grace Loberg, had nine kills but hit .094, and added a block and three digs. Dana Rettke had seven kills, two digs, and eight blocks, two solo, and the other middle, Danielle Hart, had four kills in nine errorless swings, three blocks, and a dig.

Setter Sydney Hilley had two kills, 31 assists, three aces, two block, and four digs. Clark had 19 digs, some pretty spectacular.

Both teams hit their worst, percentage-wise, all season.

While Wisconsin hit just .192, Nebraska, which won national titles in 2015 and 2017 and played in last year’s title match, hit .061.

Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield was asked about beating another Big Ten team for the third time.

“It couldn’t have been a more different match than the first time we played in Lincoln. There it was two teams just teeing off on each other offensively, hitting big, huge numbers, and this game was just really gritty, in the dirt, which is how Tiffany enjoys playing, a lot of defense,” Sheffield said. “To hold that team under .100 is pretty cool. I thought that was a really, really gritty performance by us.”

It was the first time in coach John Cook’s 20-year Nebraska tenure that the Huskers hit below .100 in postseason play.

Lexi Sun and Jazz Sweet had 11 kills each for Nebraska. Sun, who hit .023, had a block and 11 digs. Sweet, who didn’t have her jersey and had to switch from her normal No. 12 to No. 7, had two blocks and a dig. 

“I think they just have a lot of attackers and they are a great team,” Sun said. “I’m trying to stay focused on our side of the net and what we can do better next year, but obviously they are a great team and have a lot going for them. I’m excited to see how far they get for the Big Ten.”

Madi Kubik had seven kills, three assists, Nebraska’s only ace, and 12 digs. Kenzie Knuckles had 23 assists.

“I thought it was a really good match. Our team did a great job of defending Wisconsin. We were much improved in that area,” Cook said. “They had the home crowd. They made some big plays when they needed to, and they played great.

“They have proven to us that they are the best team in the Big Ten this year, and so we wish them the best in the final four, and again, I asked my team to come in here and compete and play with courage, and I couldn’t be more proud of the effort they gave tonight.”

Minnesota dominates Louisville: The bubble burst for the ACC’s Louisville (22-10), which got to the regional final in Austin by stunning second-seeded Texas on its home court.

But nothing like that was going to happen Saturday as Minnesota slammed the door 25-21, 25-14, 25-16. 

The Gophers had nine aces and held Louisville to an .067 hitting percentage.

“When you are taking over a match from the service line, it’s going to be hard for anybody to beat you,” Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly said. “They served so tough, and we just could not get in a rhythm and play our game.”

Adanna Rollins had 12 kills and hit .379 to go with an assist, three blocks, and nine digs. Stephanie Samedy had nine kills, three of those aces, two blocks, and seven digs. And Alexis Hart had nine kills, three blocks, and three digs.

“I thought our serve was really the key to the game, and that seemed to be a strength of ours all weekend,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “Offensively we got production from a lot of different people, and that’s also been something that’s been fairly consistent for us.

“Over the last few weeks in particular, (Adanna’s) out-of-system range has really been something that she’s been working on and has improved significantly. (She’s a) six-rotation outside hitter, and I think she just does a really good job.”

Taylor Morgan added five kills on 12 errorless swings to hit .417, and she had six blocks and a dig. Regan Pittman had just one kill but six blocks, one solo, and an ace. And setter Kylie Miller had a kill, 28 assists, two aces, four blocks, and eight digs.

Aiko Jones, who had a breakout freshman season, especially down the stretch, led the Cardinals with 13 kills, hit .310, and an assist, two aces, two blocks, and five digs. 

“What we have done this season is bigger than what we did not accomplish tonight and I think that’s what we take away today,” Jones said. 

Amber Stivrins had eight kills, a block, and three digs.

NCAA volleyball 12/15/2019-Emily Sciorra-Penn State volleyball
Penn State’s Emily Sciorra makes a diving save/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Stanford routs Penn State: The Cardinal, trying to be the first team to repeat as national champs since Penn State did it in 2013-14, made short work of the visiting Nittany Lions 25-22, 25-15, 25-17. Stanford hit .525.

As mentioned, Plummer — who had 29 kills against Cincinnati —  was magnificent again, this time leading with 24 kills as she had two errors in 43 attacks and hit .512. She had an assist, two blocks, and five digs.

Madeleine Gates had 11 kills with no errors in 15 swings and hit .733 to go with an assist and two blocks.

Audriana Fitzmorris had nine kills, hit .368, and had an assist and three blocks. Holly Campbell had eight kills with no errors in 11 swings to hit .727 and had two blocks. Meghan McClure had four kills and 12 digs, while Morgan Hentz had 14 digs. Setter Jenna Gray had a kill, 46 assists, two aces, and five digs.

“Our senior class (Plummer, Fitzmorris, Gray and Hentz) talked about that before the match, having a smile on our face, having fun in Maples, and we kind of wanted to go out with a bang,” Plummer said.

“It was great that our last time was getting to go to the national championship. It was really special because that was the best unit that we’ve had all year, we had leads and sustained it, we just had constant pressure. It’s a great feeling to go out with that win.”

Penn State’s season ended (27-6) despite hitting .347. 

“It took us hitting .500 to beat them,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “That’s a pretty incredible match offensively. Our players had a remarkable night in the way we played, the numbers we put up were outstanding.”

Tori Gorrell led Penn State with 13 kills and hit .667 after having one error in 18 attacks. She also had three digs. Jonni Parker had 10 kills, an assist, an ace, a block, and three digs. Gabby Blossom had two kills in four errorless attempts, 33 assists, an ace, and six digs.

“I thought we started out playing really well for about the first 20 points, and then it slowly got closer and closer, and as a veteran team is capable of doing, they were able to close the gap at the end of the first game, and I think a couple of our younger kids were a little bit deflated after that, so as we got a little deflated, they got a little inflated,” Penn State’s Rose said.

“We had some growth through the year, so I’m not disappointed in the outcome, I thought at the beginning of the year that Wisconsin was the best team in the Big Ten, and Stanford was the best team in the country, and I’m sticking to my thoughts at the beginning of the year. “

He also recognized Stanford’s core four.

“I think their senior class is terrific,” Rose said. ”I respect how they’ve developed, I respect how they play, I respect how they interact with each other, and wish them the best of luck as they head to sunny Pittsburgh next week.”

Rose knows. 

The forecast in Pittsburgh for Thursday’s semifinals is a high of 31, a low of 22, and partly cloudy.

NCAA volleyball 12/15/2019-Holly Campbell-Stanford volleyball
Stanford’s Holly Campbell reaches high for one of her eight kills Saturday/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

NIVC: Two of the last four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament will play for the title Tuesday at South Dakota.

South Dakota (31-2) advanced with a 19-25, 21-25, 25-15, 25-13 victory over visiting Tulsa (18-16). Elizabeth Juhnke had 24 kills and hit .321 for South Dakota and had three assists, two aces, two blocks, and 14 digs. Maddie Wiedenfeld had 10 kills, five blocks, and a dig, and Madison Jurgens had two kills, 46 assists, an ace, a block, and 18 digs. Callie Cook led Tulsa with nine kills, an ace, and three blocks. Tulsa hit .074 …

Georgia Tech (25-8) beat visiting TCU (11-18) 25-20, 19-25, 25-8, 25-23. Mariana Brambilla led with 25 kills and hit .432 and had three aces, six digs, and two blocks. Julia Bergmann had 12 kills, hit .308, and had an assist, six aces, six digs, and three solo blocks. Katie Clark and Julia Adams had 12 kills each for TCU.

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