Last Updated 12:17 AM, December 19, 2021

Wisconsin wins the 2021 DI women's volleyball national title for the first time in program history

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Wisconsin wins the 2021 women's volleyball championship in a five-set thriller
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3:28 am, December 19, 2021

Wisconsins wins the 2021 DI women's volleyball national championship

NCAA Photos Wisconsin wins the 2021 DI women's volleyball national championship

The Wisconsin Badgers just won their first national championship in program history. Dana Rettke ended her unbelievable career on top, hoisting the trophy over her head, as not only the best player in the nation but on the best team in the nation. 

The Badgers pulled off the win in a five-set thriller over Nebraska. They executed their game plan at such a high level against a tough, hot, Nebraska team that just wouldn't go away. As a team, the Badgers posted 24 blocks, the most in a national championship game ever. Rettke notched 11 kills and had 13 blocks to her name. She had some big help, though, as the freshman Anna Smrek led offensively with 14 kills on .429 hitting, Jade Demps had a magnificent game with 12 kills on .396 hitting and Grace Loberg finished off her career with 10 kills. Sydney Hilley dished out 51 assists and ended the match with a perfect set, all net, to her roommate Rettke. This offense was able to get it done against an incredible Nebraska defense that posted 91 digs. It was so hard to put the ball away, but they got it done with great blocking and an amazing all-around effort. Lauren Barnes, again, put on a show in the backcourt with 31 digs. 

The Badgers came out to a 7-0 start in the fifth. Absolutely everything went Wisconsin's way, but Nebraska re-grouped in a timeout with the mindset of "it's not over until its over." They chipped away at the deficit and got within three at 10-7, then 12-9, but Rettke and Demps gave the Badgers match point. Nebraska fought off two match points, and you could hear Madi Kubik encouraging her teammates "we can do this." Kubik then sent one out of bounds and Wisconsin rushed the court to celebrate its first-ever national title when John Cook flashed the challenge card for a touch. The call was overturned and Nebraska had a glimmer of hope, but Rettke, the National Player of the Year, finished it off. The most fitting end to her unbelievable career. She came back for her fifth year, and she finished on top. 

Congratulations to Nebraska on an incredible turnaround season, making it to the title game and giving the Badgers the fight of their life after a season full of adversity. Lauren Stivrins had a phenomenal career as a Husker and a great match tonight with 10 kills and five blocks.

Final point: Wisconsin wins 2021 NCAA volleyball championship
3:12 am, December 19, 2021

We are headed to five! Nebraska wins fourth set

The Huskers won the fourth set 25-23 to stay alive. The championship will be decided in the fifth set with the race to 15. This has been a fun one, and a championship matchup to say the least. 

In an all tied up set, Nebraska went on a 5-0 run with the title on the line. They took advantage of multiple Wisconsin mistakes and took a 21-17 lead. The Badgers fought off three set points to get within one, 24-23, but Keonilei Akana made a huge save and the freshman, Ally Batenhorst finished it off in one of the biggest moments all match. John Cook continues to show so much trust in his freshman players and Lindsay Krause is up to 11 kills and Batenhorst has nine. 

This match is as even as it gets, and it will come down to the wire in the fifth. Check out the rally that sent this match to five ⬇️

2:32 am, December 19, 2021

Wisconsin takes a 2-1 lead on the match

The Badgers are now up two sets to one over Nebraska following a slow start to the match. They took down Nebraska 25-23 in the third in a tightly contested set. 

After pulling out the win the second, the Badgers started to figure it out in the third and kept a slight edge most of the way. They improved all aspects of the game, but especially their passing and transitions. You could immediately tell the difference with Anna Smrek and Rettke getting more touches, and Grace Loberg provided an important spark for her team as well. 

The Nebraska freshman have been pretty quiet in the second and third, with Madi Kubik and Kayla Caffey leading the way. But, they each posted a kill apiece to get within one at 23-22 and the Badgers took a timeout. A Wisconsin error tied it up, but then Devyn Robinson came up in the biggest way possible with two back-to-back kills to win the third set. Robinson loves the big moments. 

The Wisconsin block is still coming up big for them with a lot of extra points coming their way, but they really figured out how to get their offense going. Demps is still leading with eight kills on .333 hitting, and Smrek is up to seven kills on .538 hitting. Robinson and Rettke have six kills apiece as well. 

1:35 am, December 19, 2021

Wisconsin takes a critical second set, 31-29

Wisconsin just battled after trailing almost the entire set to win a pivotal second set 31-29 and tie this match up at a set a piece. 

The Huskers came out strong to start the second as well, and picked up a decent lead early and then maintained it most of the way. Wisconsin, though, went on a 9-3 run to get within one, 17-16. Grace Loberg picked up just her third kill, but it was a spark for the Badgers. She came up with a big block on the next play and then Dana Rettke tucked one in to take their first lead of the set since the very first point, 21-20. Jade Demps came up big with a couple of kills out of system for Wisconsin to keep up that upward trend for the Badgers, but Nebraska was right there with them. 

After that we ended up seeing NINE ties as Nebraska and Wisconsin alternated points. You could see it in all of Wisconsin's player's eyes. They were determined, dialed in, and clearly aware of how important this set was. Nebraska picked up set point 29-28, but Dana Rettke, the NPOY, came alive when the Badgers needed her. She put up three consecutive points with a kill and back-to-back solo blocks to win the set for Wisconsin. The fist bump, of course, ensued. 

Nebraska is still playing really well, but Kayla Caffey is almost carrying her team on her back right now, and they need more players to play like that. She is up to 11 kills on .667 hitting. Wisconsin will need to slow down Caffey with some better serving. For the Badgers, Demps is up to six kills on .600 hitting, but Wisconsin needs Rettke and Anna Smrek to get some more touches. Rettke ensured the set two win, but only has three kills on the match. Wisconsin's block has been coming up big as of late, they have 14 blocks to Nebraska's five and the Huskers have a high 22 attacking errors. But, the Badgers also have eight service errors.

Either way, we clearly have a national championship battle on our hands, and a battle of attrition here. 

 

12:43 am, December 19, 2021

Nebraska wins set one in title match

The Nebraska Huskers take set one 25-22 to take a 1-0 lead on the match and set the tone for the match. 

The hot streak for Nebraska lives on. We have seen these two teams play twice already but Nebraska has never looked like this. Right out of the gates the Huskers started applying service pressure. The Badgers struggled early with their passing and defensive transition. In turn, Nebraska got a lot of free balls over the net and terminated balls. The Huskers stayed in the drivers seat with a lead the entire set. Wisconsin was able to fight off three set points, but out of a time out Lauren Stivrins hammered one down to take a 1-0 lead on the match. 

So far, the two middles for Nebraska are absolutely dominating. They are able to stay in system and Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey are burying balls. Caffey has been lethal so far with just three kills but on .750 hitting and with enough power to burn a hole in the gym. Stivrins has four kills on .300 hitting, and the hot start for the senior leader is a great sign for the Huskers. Madi Kubik is leading the way with five kills. 

Nebraska's transitioning has been great, and that all starts with good first touches in the backcourt. They hit under .200 on the set but also held Wisconsin to .171 hitting, a really low clip for the Badgers. Devyn Robinson, Jade Demps and Julia Orzol have two kills apiece, but they are struggling to get it going out of the middle. 

10:39 pm, December 18, 2021

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, pregame

Nebraska Volleyball

First serve for the 2021 DI women's volleyball championship is at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The Wisconsin Badgers are facing Nebraska for the title in an all Big Ten matchup. These two teams have played in the title match before, when Nebraska coach John Cook won his first national title as a Husker in 2000 in a five-set win over Wisconsin. The Huskers are now looking for their sixth ever national championship, and the Badgers are looking to notch their first title. 

For Wisconsin, we will see the 2021 AVCA National Player of the Year Dana Rettke in her fifth year looking to end her collegiate career on top. She is joined by first-team All American setter Sydney Hilley, and second-team All American libero Lauren Barnes. Nebraska has the 2021 AVCA Freshman of the Year Lexi Rodriguez in the backcourt, and All-Americans Kayla Caffey and Madi Kubik. Lauren Stivrins returned for her fifth-year and missed out on the beginning of the season recovering from an injury but would 100 percent be an All-American had she played the whole season. 

For a full preview on the match, click or tap here. We will provide live updates and analysis here during the match, and you can click or tap here for play-by-play. 

8:50 pm, December 17, 2021

The 2021 DI women's volleyball national championship, previewed

Wisconsin Athletics Wisconsin volleyball

We have our 2021 DI women's volleyball national championship matchup, and its an all Big Ten battle. The four-seeded Wisconsin Badgers will take on 10-seed Nebraska for the trophy on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The Huskers are looking for their sixth ever national title, after advancing to the championship following a season full of adversity. The Wisconsin program is looking for its first-ever national championship in its third trip to the finals. They are back in the championship game after losing to Stanford in 2019. 

We will see an abundance of talent Saturday night with so many super seniors looking for a fairytale ending to their collegiate careers. Dana Rettke, the 2021 AVCA National Player of the Year, and Lexi Rodriguez, the 2021 AVCA National Freshman of the Year, will face off in this match.

We will be covering the championship live here with updates, stats and analysis during the match, and you can stream the game here. Click the video below for everything you need to know ahead of the title game: 

Women's volleyball championship preview: Wisconsin vs. Nebraska

For an in-depth preview of the matchup, including how each team fared in the semifinals, how they will matchup statistically and more, click or tap here.  

5:47 am, December 17, 2021

Nebraska will play Wisconsin in the national championship

NCAA Photos Nebraska women's volleyball will play for the 2021 national championship

The No. 10 Nebraska Huskers are headed to the national championship, and we have an all Big Ten final on Saturday night. The Huskers will take on Wisconsin for the third time this season for the trophy. Nebraska's historic win ended yet another historic season for an ACC team, as Pitt was eliminated. Hats off to the Panthers on a remarkable season and tournament run. 

The Huskers are HOT at the right time, and it got them all the way to the national title game. This Nebraska team went through so much adversity this season, lineup changes, then some more changes, loss after loss, and now they are amongst the top two teams in the NCAA with three freshman in their rotation. Lauren Stivrins returned from injury and came back to play her very last season for this reason. 

After a slow first set for Nebraska, they turned on the jets to win the next three and advance in four sets. The Huskers name of the game tonight was blocking, defense and serving. They hit just .246 on the match, but this is pretty typical for Nebraska this season.... they get it done in other ways. The Huskers put up 10 blocks and six service aces, and applied pressure on the Panthers all night long from the service line. In doing so, they slowed down Pitt's speedy offense and controlled Leketor Member-Meneh's game a bit. 

Madi Kubik led with 13 kills on .226 hitting and 13 digs, followed by Kayla Caffey, who added 10 kills and four blocks. Lindsay Krause ended up having a great night with nine kills at a .368 clip and then Stivrins, the heart of this team, posted nine on .529 hitting and six blocks. She was so impressive and came alive late in the match to ensure her team was moving on. 

Nebraska controlled most of the fourth set, but Pitt was able to tie it up at 20. The Panthers were within one when Stivrins went off with two back-to-back kills to give Nebraska match point. Then, we had another match that ended fittingly, as Stivrins picked up the game-winning block. 

Member-Meneh and Serena Gray led the Panthers with 13 and 11 kills, respectively. 

5:09 am, December 17, 2021

Nebraska takes 2-1 lead

Nebraska kept the momentum going into the third set and took a 2-1 lead on the match with a 25-20 win in set three. Now, the five-time national champs and 10th ranked Huskers are just one set away from the title game. 

We had an even set on our hands, tied up at 18 when Lauren Stivrins stepped back to the service line. As a middle blocker we haven't been used to seeing Stivrins serving, but she has been so successful in the tournament from the line. The Huskers went on a 6-0 run, including an ace from Stivrins, and took a 23-18 lead. They ultimately closed out the set on an 8-2 run, and Lindsay Krause hammered down the last kill. Kayla Caffey has come alive offensively with seven kills at a .462 clip. 

Nebraska also amped up their blocking game in that last set, they are now up to eight blocks compared to Pitt's five. Pitt has been suffering from a lot of service errors as well with 10 so far on the match. 

Nebraska seems to have picked up the momentum and they are running with it. Pitt now faces a win-it-or-go-home fourth set. 

4:26 am, December 17, 2021

Nebraska ties up the match 1-1

Nebraska has evened the match at a set apiece with a 25-17 win in the second set. The Huskers turned it around in the second and flipped the narrative. This time around, the Huskers hit .440 and held Pitt to a low .161 compared to their .483 clip in the first set. Nebraska was able to slow down Pitt's offense a bit, and in turn their offense flourished. 

Lauren Stivrins started heating up a bit early in the second set to give the Huskers a much needed spark, and she along with Kayla Caffey were able to get some things going out of the middle. Stivrins, Caffey and Lindsay Krause each have three kills, and Ally Batenhorst is up to four kills but hitting at a low percentage. Kubik still leads the offense with eight kills at a .316 clip. 

It was all Pitt in the first and all Nebraska in the second. Consistency now will be key. 

3:55 am, December 17, 2021

Pitt takes set one over Nebraska

The Pittsburgh Panthers took set one 25-16, without a doubt to set the tone of this match. The Panthers hit an impressive .483 as a team and held the Huskers to a .167 clip. Chinaza Ndee came out swinging with four kills at a .800 clip and Leketor Member-Meneh already has four kills on .429 hitting. Yet again, she is hitting around the block and all over the court. You can tell early this is going to be a Member-Meneh highlight game. 

Madki Kubik has four kills for Nebraska early but unlike their win against Texas, they are lacking balance offensively. The Huskers will need their two middles and the two freshman to step up and step up fast. 

3:22 am, December 17, 2021

No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 10 Nebraska, underway

The No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 10 Nebraska has begun. The Panthers are in their first national semifinal appearance and they are taking on a powerhouse volleyball program in Nebraska. 

Pittsburgh's 'Fab Four' ready to take center stage
Nebraska's Stivrins overcame back surgery this year and is looking to lead the Cornhuskers to another title

 

2:37 am, December 17, 2021

Wisconsin is headed to the national championship

Lauren Barnes

The Wisconsin Badgers are headed back to the national championship with a four-set win over Louisville. The Badgers ended Louisville's perfect season with the win. WHAT A MATCH! This game was really all you could ask for. It felt like a national championship matchup. Congratulations to the Louisville Cardinals on a historic season. 

Anna Smrek had an absolutely insane night and performance to lead the Badgers to the title game. The freshman looked like a seasoned vet out there, and not just because of her 6'9 stature. Smrek posted 20 kills at a .741 clip against one of the best teams in the nation and some of the best blockers in the nation. She had just ONE error. Dana Rettke posted 14 kills at a .200 clip with eight blocks and Grace Loberg chipped in 13 kills. Devyn Robinson played a big role towards the end of the match — she is always such a big spark for this Badgers team, and came up with a monumental block in the fifth. This offense was led by Sydney Hilley, who dished out a great game and posted 58 assists. 

Enough about the offense, though, I cannot say enough about Lauren Barnes. She led Wisconsin's defense and she alone made all the difference for Wisconsin. She was all over the court — digging, setting, passing, launching her body all over the floor to keep the ball alive. Barnes posted 19 digs on the match. She is more than a difference maker, she deserves every kudo there is. A lot of those Wisconsin points would have never happened if not for her.

Late in the fifth, the Badgers went on a 4-0 scoring run to take a 9-6 lead. Louisville chipped away at the deficit but Robinson came out with a monster block on Claire Chaussee to go up 11-8. With the momentum on their side of the net they took a 12-8 lead and Dani Busboom-Kelly took a timeout. Loberg hammered one down out of the timeout to get the Badgers within two, and then Aiko Jones sent one out of bounds to give Wisconsin match point. The Cards fought off one match point, but the match ended in the most fitting way, with a Smrek kill. 

Anna DeBeer was dialed in all match for Louisville, she led the Cards with 20 kills, and Anna Stevenson posted 14 kills on .360 hitting. 

The Badgers and their phenomenal group of super seniors are headed to the national title game on Saturday. 

2:09 am, December 17, 2021

Louisville stays alive! Forces a fifth set against Wisconsin

The Cards will play on. Louisville won the fourth set 25-23 off of an ace from Cece Rush to force a fifth set and keep their perfect season alive. Anna Stevenson was called for reaching over the net to tie the match up at 23, angering the Cardinals fanbase, but they came out fired up and notched two back-to-back to win the fourth. We are headed to five in Columbus. 

There is no other way I would expect this match to go. It is only fair that this thing is going to five sets with how well both these teams are playing. There is not one particular stat line to point out here, because this is high-caliber volleyball in every aspect of the game.  This fifth set is going to come down to composure and momentum. 

1:16 am, December 17, 2021

Wisconsin takes 2-1 lead with 25-21 win in set three

Smrek

Wisconsin just took set three 25-21 to take a 2-1 lead on the match. Anna Smrek is rolling. Absolutely rolling. 17 kills with zero errors at an .850 clip. When the Badgers are in system and get it to Smrek out of the middle, they are lethal. After hitting a low .167 in the second set, the Badgers hit .375 in the third and held the Cards to .222. That doesn't seem like a low percentage, but the Cards hit .400 and .393 in the first and second set. 

Louisville is blocking really well, with nine blocks to Wisconsin's six, but the Badgers are doing better and better hitting around the block as the match goes on. Rettke and Loberg are heating up a bit, and the Cards are now facing a win-it-or-go-home fourth set with their perfect and historic season on the line.