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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | December 10, 2021

Everything you need to know for the DI women's volleyball regional finals

Purdue defeats BYU 3-2 in dramatic fashion

Eight teams remain in the 2021 DI women's volleyball tournament, and after what I expect to be four incredible matchups on Saturday, we will be down to just four — the national semifinals. 

As for those eight teams, we have No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Pittsburgh, No. 4 Wisconsin, No. 6 Purdue, No. 9 Georgia Tech, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 12 Minnesota still in the race for a national title. In a wild Thursday night of regional semifinal action, Purdue dropped two sets to one before forcing a fifth set and fighting off four BYU match points to advance to the finals, and Texas escaped a wild upset attempt from Washington. The Longhorns started out flat and dug themselves into 2-0 hole before coming alive in the third and fourth set and then winning it in five. 

Here is a preview of our four incredibly good regional final matchups: 

No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Purdue | 4 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Pittsburgh Volleyball

For our first regional final of the day, we have a good one. I am so excited to see a Pittsburgh vs. Purdue matchup, and for many reasons. First off, both teams made it as far as the regional finals last tournament, but that was as far as they both made it. Purdue fell in the regional finals to the eventual champions, Kentucky. The Panthers were unseeded in the tournament and pulled off a big upset over No. 14 Utah and and even bigger upset over No. 3 Minnesota. They were one set away from taking down Washington as well in the regional finals, before the Huskies pulled off their THIRD come-from-behind victory of the tournament to secure the reverse sweep and advance to the national semifinals. This season, the Panthers are the No. 3 seed in the tournament, so they won't be looking to upset Purdue, but the Boilermakers' 2021 tournament resume so far is feeling awfully similar to Washington's last tournament. 

The Boilermakers have already secured two come-from-behind wins this year. First, they fell 2-0 to Dayton in the second round before sparking a comeback and winning the next three, and then they came back to beat BYU on Thursday night after trailing 14-10 in the fifth set. Do we have the come-back Boilermakers instead of the come-back Huskies this year? 

On top of that storyline, I also like the actual matchup. Pitt is a lot of depth on its roster. The offense ranks in the top 10 in hitting percentage, kills per set and assists per set. They have Kayla Lund, Chinaza Ndee, Leketor Member-Meneh and Serena Gray as strong options offensively, with no single player carrying the load. If one of them has a great night, it is just an added bonus. The Panthers looked so strong over a good Penn State team and then cruised to victory against Kansas, but now they will have a gritty Purdue team. 

The Boilermakers on the other hand, are third best blocking team in the nation ... going up against a strong offense. Reason No. 800 why I am excited for this matchup. I know the Boilermakers have had a few slow starts, but when they turn it on, they look incredible. I don't think they can afford to have a slow start against a team as good as Pittsburgh, but they seem to have figured it out against BYU. And, they clearly have some heart. Caitlyn Newton and Grace Cleveland pretty much always show up offensively. Newton posted 20 kills against BYU and Cleveland added 14 with three blocks. Raven Colvin, though, came up big with not only 11 kills but eight blocks to her name. If Purdue shows up from the start, this is going to be a crazy close game.

HOW WE GOT HERE: The 2021 NCAA women's volleyball tournament bracket

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 8 Georgia Tech | 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Louisville Volleyball

For our second matchup of the day, we have an incredible ACC battle on our hands between the top-ranked Louisville Cardinals and the on-the-rise Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. These two teams will be facing for the THIRD time this season. But this time, there is a lot on the line, as in a trip to Columbus for the national semifinals. In the first two matchups, Louisville not only won but swept the Yellow Jackets twice. This might lead you to think it could be another easy go-around for the Cardinals, and that could always be the case, but Georgia Tech continues to get better and better, and has been playing it best volleyball all season in the tournament. 

One huge factor has been the emergence of Mariana Brambilla. Brambilla has always been good, as she chipped in 10 kills in the first loss to Louisville and eight in the second. But she has been a star as of late. In the win over Ohio State, she was everywhere the Buckeyes turned as she led the match with both 18 kills at an impressive .444 clip and 18 digs. I mean those are crazy good numbers, and a huge difference from her two performances against Louisville. 

The Cards, as you might already know, have it all. Offense, defense, serving and blocking. They also play with so much poise and confidence, and they never seem to falter. They have yet to lose a match this season, and have swept every opponent in the tournament. Anna DeBeer, Anna Stevenson, Amaya Tillman and Aiko Jones seem to be a four-headed monster over there, and all their names start with A. Plus, Tori Dilfer is just an elite setter, and Elena Scott has mastered the passing game in the backcourt. These are all reasons why they are the No. 1 seed, but I don't think Georgia Tech will be an easy out this time around. 

The Yellow Jackets will be playing with a lot of heart, and both teams are trying to make program history advancing to the national semifinals. Excited for the outcome. 

Louisville volleyball sweeps Florida to advance to the regional finals

No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Minnesota | 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Wisconsin volleyball

After we see Louisville and Georgia Tech battle it out in the ACC, we move on to a similar scenario out of the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Minnesota will square off for a Big Ten meeting for again, the THIRD time this season. And similarly to above, Wisconsin won both matchups, but Minnesota keeps getting better. This is as if they copy and pasted the situation in the previous game into the Big Ten conference. 

Let's talk about Wisconsin and Minnesota's previous matchup. The first go-around, Wisconsin dominated. It was a clean sweep and just no chance for the Gophers. Julia Orzol had the game of her life with 17 kills, they hit .372 as a team, and it was just too much for Minnesota at the time, The Gophers played one of the toughest schedules this season, and they got really hot as a team towards the end. They reached a consistent model offensively with Stephanie Samedy getting some much needed help from Jenna Wenaas and Airi Miyabe. So the second matchup against Wisconsin was a slightly different story. 

Minnesota almost won it in the fourth, and even had THREE match points that Wisconsin was able to fight off. This time, it was Dana Rettke who showed out for the Badgers with 21 kills and eight blocks to her name, and Jade Demps who posted 18 kills and sparked the big comeback in the fourth. Sydney Hilley put up 65 assists and five Badger players had double-digit kills. Minnesota was right on the brink of winning when Wisconsin came up big when it mattered most. 

My point is though: It was close then, and I expect it to be close now. It is hard to beat a team like that twice, let alone three times, and the Gophers have some mojo. This team played a tough schedule for a reason, and if anyone is ready for this moment, I think it is them. They just took down No. 5 Baylor in a five-set battle, which shows me that they too can come up big when it matters most and perform well under pressure at crunch time. Miyabe led with 18 kills and two blocks, Samedy posted 16 kills and four blocks, and Wenaas added 13 kills and five blocks. This trio has got it figured out. 

Get ready for a good one out of the Big Ten. 

Minnesota vs. Baylor: Full final set

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 Nebraska | 10 p.m. ET on ESPNU

Texas Volleyball

And for the night cap, we will get the spectacular matchup of Texas vs. Nebraska. Two of the most dedicated, loyal fanbases in the nation, and two storied volleyball programs facing off for a spot in the national semifinals. What more can we ask for this year? 

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, we almost didn't have this matchup when Texas was down two sets against Washington on Thursday night. They started off slow and off of their game until the wake up call kicked in in the third win it or go home set. Logan Eggleston was consistent early in the match but needed some help from Skylar Fields, and Jhenna Gabriel needed her passers to amp it up a bit. Well, they all did just that. Fields turned on the jets and was a massive part of the comeback, and the serve and pass game improved drastically for Texas. The Longhorns won the third and then came out in the fourth with a 9-0 lead. That one wasn't even close, 25-9, and then they wouldn't be denied in the fifth. 

The fire it sparked in them was scary. It was crazy just how good they got when it was all on the line. They did not want to go home and they clearly did not let it happen. Now, they have the Huskers. 

Nebraska's story in the regional finals was a bit different with a three-set win over Illinois. Also different than Texas, this is a team that struggled often early in the regular season. They have a lot of freshman talent, and had a difficult time figuring out their lineup. Even now, a different freshman seems to step up and make the difference each game. Madi Kubik, Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey are the constants, and the rest is variable offensively. One thing though that is always there is their backcourt defense. This is just a gritty team back there with Lexi Rodriguez and Kenzie Knuckles. In Stivrins' post-game interview after the regional semis, she said she was most looking forward to the Texas matchup because they are so strong offensively, and the Huskers are so strong defensively. 

I am pumped up to see which side will come out victorious. 

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