The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (29-3 overall, 17-3 Big Ten) play the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (32-0 overall, 18-0 ACC) on Thursday night in the national semifinal of the NCAA volleyball tournament. This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest matches in the history of Wisconsin’s program and, since it is their first trip to the Final Four, the biggest in Louisville’s history.
The winner takes on the winner of No. 3 Pitt and No. 10 Nebraska in the championship match on Saturday, but we’ll (hopefully) worry about them later.
This Badgers team has been on a mission all season. Multiple players came back for an extra year to get to this exact spot. They wanted to be one of the four remaining teams in the country and this time, they don’t want to leave without a trophy.
It won’t be easy though. The Cardinals are battle-tested as well. So far this season they have swept Purdue (who beat Wisconsin twice), swept Nebraska (which Wisconsin does regularly), beaten a top-15 Georgia Tech team three times, beaten a top-five Pitt team twice and beat defending national champion Kentucky.
They have only lost 12 sets (!!!) all season and have only been taken to five sets three times. For comparison, the Badgers have lost 21 sets and have been taken to five sets twice, while also losing three matches.
The Cardinals have three All-Americans on their roster, just like Wisconsin. Hell, they even have two Wisconsin natives on their roster, which is twice as many as the Badgers have! While Louisville is definitely the shorter team they are also the better blocking team (similar to Purdue who, as noted, gave Wisconsin fits this year).
Great question! They are similar in that their opposite (Jones) & 2 middles (Stevenson & Tillman) are absolute blocking MACHINES!— Emily Ehman (@emilyehman) December 13, 2021
Wisconsin has to exploit those other matchups (setter & outsides) & spread things out -- especially with Rettke & Robinson which they already do. https://t.co/kGXi2sXrmg
This is going to be an awesome match from a neutral standpoint and an edge-of-your-seat, pacing-around-the-room, bite-your-fingernails match for the rest of us. Frankly, I can’t wait for it to start.
How to watch/listen
First serve: Thursday 12/16, 6 p.m. CT
TV: ESPN, Paul Sunderland, Salima Rockwell, Christine Williamson
Streaming: ESPN app; Watch ESPN
Radio: WIBA 1310 AM, Jon Arias
Live stats: Here!
Arena: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Fun facts (according to the media guides)
- Wisconsin is 3-1 in NCAA national semifinals, including a 2-1 mark under head coach Kelly Sheffield.
- The Badgers have improved to 58-24 (.707) in NCAA tournament play.
- UW is 30-8 (.789) under Sheffield in his ninth year in the championship, advancing to at least the Sweet 16 round of play each season.
- Wisconsin is 2-1 against No. 1 teams in the final four. In 2019, the Badgers defeated No. 1 Baylor, 3-1, in the semifinals. In 2013, UW downed No. 1 Texas, 3-1, in the semifinals. In 2000, Wisconsin fell to No. 1 Nebraska, 3-2, in the championship match.
- The Badgers are the only team making their third-straight appearance in the final four. In 2019, Wisconsin fell to Stanford, 3-0, in the championship match while in 2020, UW fell to Texas, 3-0, in the semifinals.
- Wisconsin has not lost a set in NCAA tournament play and has won its last 18 sets, its longest set-winning streak of the season. The Badgers have also won the last nine matches in a row.
- Wisconsin has a balanced offensive attack in NCAA play, with five hitters averaging 2.0-or-more kills per set.
- In NCAA play, opponents are hitting just .149. Twenty-eight out of 32 opponents have hit below .200 against Wisconsin this season and five have hit less than .100, including two with negative hitting percentages.
- Setter Sydney Hilley was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Wisconsin Regional, running the Badger offense. Hilley averaged 12.17 assists, 4.33 digs and 0.83 blocks per set while setting UW to a .301 team hitting percentage, averaging 15.67 kills per set.
- Dane Rettke made the all-region team while averaging 3.83 kills per set while hitting .476 and added 0.83 blocks per set.
- Libero Lauren Barnes has also been aced only once in 31 receptions in tournament play.
- Devyn Robinson did too, averaging 3.17 kills and 1.67 blocks per set while hitting .375.
- Robinson has a team-best 1.42 blocks per set while freshman Anna Smrek adds 1.00 blocks per set.
- Junior Izzy Ashburn broke her own season record for service aces under 25-point rally scoring. The 5-foot-11 serving specialist has 48 aces this season, besting her mark of 47 set in 2019.
- In the series history between the Badgers and the Cardinals, Wisconsin leads 7-1 and has won the last seven meetings between the two teams. Wisconsin leads 4-1 at neutral sites, however they haven’t met since 2017.
- The Cardinals continue the best season in program history, advancing to the Final Four for the first time ever. UofL has earned a 32-0 record this season, the third most wins in a single season.
- Louisville’s offense features five players with 200-plus kills, four of which are over 230. Anna DeBeer is the Cards top hitter with 323 kills and is hitting .262 on the year with 247 digs, 44 blocks and 29 aces.
- Anna Stevenson is second on the team with 298 kills and 142 blocks and is hitting .430 for the year.
- Tori Dilfer leads the team with 1,165 assists while adding 191 digs, 28 aces and 60 blocks.
- Stevenson and Dilfer were named first team All-Americans while DeBeer was a third team honoree.
- Claire Chaussee, a native of Sun Prairie, has recorded 281 kills this season and is hitting .274 with 107 digs and 24 blocks.
Potential Wisconsin starters
- Lauren Barnes, 5-foot-6, super senior, libero, No. 1
- Sydney Hilley, 6-foot, super senior, setter, No. 2
- Devyn Robinson, 6-foot-2, sophomore, middle blocker, No. 10
- Anna Smrek, 6-foot-9, freshman, right side, No. 14
- Dana Rettke, 6-foot-8, super senior, middle blocker, No. 16
- Grace Loberg, 6-foot-3, super senior, outside hitter, No. 21
- Julia Orzoł, 6-foot, freshman, outside hitter, No. 22
Potential Louisville starters
- Claire Chaussee, 6-foot, senior, outside hitter, No. 9
- Anna Stevenson, 6-foot-2, super senior, middle blocker, No. 11
- Tori Dilfer, 5-foot-11, super senior, setter, No. 12
- Anna DeBeer, 6-foot, sophomore, outside hitter, No. 14
- Aiko Jones, 6-foot-2, redshirt junior, opposite, No. 15
- Elena Scott, 5-foot-9, freshman, libero, No. 19
- Amaya Tillman, 6-foot-3, junior, middle blocker, No. 25