If you’re going to be the best, you have to beat the best. And for the Wisconsin Badgers to try and achieve their goal of a first ever volleyball national championship, it makes sense they face their toughest test of the season in the Final Four.
The No. 1 seeded and undefeated 32-0 Louisville Cardinals are the first hurdle that would stand in the way of the Badgers shot at history.
The Cardinals’ undefeated record is not a result of a soft schedule. The Cardinals swept Purdue, defending champion Kentucky and another Final Four team, Nebraska, already this season, and won a tough ACC conference title at a canter.
Louisville, led by head coach Dani Busboom Kelly, was the best team in the country all season, and proved it in the NCAA Tournament by winning every set but one, in their last match against Georgia Tech.
The Cardinals attack is led by Louisivlle-native sophomore Anna DeBeer. The outside hitter leads the team in kills per set with 3.23 and put up 2.47 digs per set defensively. DeBeer is one part of a balanced offense that reads similar stats to Wisconsin’s. Three players — opposite side hitter Aiko Jones, middle blocker Anna Stevenson and Sun Prairie-native Claire Chaussee — average over two kills per set.
One calling card for Louisville has been their serving. The Cardinals posted 185 aces on the season for an average of 1.7 aces per set. Aiko Jones leads the team with 37 aces, but five players have had more than 20.
On the backline, the Cardinals are led by freshman libero Elena Scott. Another Louisville-native, she has 3.87 digs per set. Against Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight, Louisville out-blocked the Yellow Jackets 17-7, which could be a worrying sign for Wisconsin who struggled against Purdue’s block.
As you’d expect at this stage, both of the teams are some of the best in the country and have very similar team statistics throughout the year. I can’t pretend to have more insight into this game, but as many Wisconsin fans know, there was another time recently where a Badgers team played an undefeated team from Kentucky in the Final Four. That one went ok.
Either way, five-time All-American Dana Rettke and the hungry, motivated Badgers will be ready to play. First serve will be Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. CT on ESPN.