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Michella Chester | NCAA.com | December 15, 2021

Everything you need to know about the 2021 NCAA volleyball national semifinals

Michella Chester previews all four teams in the NCAA volleyball national semifinals

The 2021 DI women's volleyball national semifinals are looming — four teams remain with one goal in mind. From the 64-team tournament field, we are down to the No. 1 seeded Louisville Cardinals, No. 3 Pittsburgh, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 10 Nebraska following its big win over Texas. 

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I don't know about any of you, but I think this is one of the most exciting national semifinals. We have had a unique year filled with star-studded teams, largely in part due to the fact that we had so many super-seniors return for one last go-around. So this year's semifinals are as jam-packed with talent as it gets. 

Here is everything you need to know about our national semifinals: 

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 4 Wisconsin | 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN

Wisconsin volleyball

In our first semifinal matchup, we have the top-ranked Cards taking on Wisconsin in Columbus. The Cardinals are looking to continue their historic and magical year and finish off the season with a perfect and unblemished record. This will be their first national semifinals appearance in program history. The Cardinals have been a huge part of the ACC's ascension to power over the past few years, and now they will be taking on a veteran group in Wisconsin. I said this mid-way through the regular season, but I think Louisville's 2019 upset over Texas has propelled them to this very moment — they have been climbing ever since taking down the Longhorns a couple of years back. 

The key to the Cards' success this season has been consistency, incredible players, depth and coaching. It is hard to beat them in any one part of the game because they’ve really got it all. If you take out one player, three more step up in her place. Louisville has the four A's — Anna Stevenson, Amaya Tillman, Anna DeBeer and Aiko Jones. Then on top of that, you have Claire Chaussee who led the team with 18 kills at a .348 clip against Georgia Tech. Tori Dilfer as well, as she is an elite setter, spreading the ball out across the court.

So that covers their impressive offense, but this is also one of the best blocking teams in the country — they rank second in blocks per set in the NCAA. And it's not just because of one incredible blocker, it is multiple. Then they have an incredible defense with Elena Scott anchoring the backcourt. This team ranks fifth in the nation in opponent hitting percentage. 

Now let’s look at the other side of the net, and you’ve got a Wisconsin team that has been knocking on the door of a national title for the past three seasons. This is an experienced group with a group of seniors that have been playing with and for each other for five years. I think the heart of Dana Rettke and Sydney Hilley is going to be tough to beat alone this year. They want it. 

This team has not been as consistent all year, unlike Louisville, but boy have they been lately in the tournament. And when they have all of their pieces working, they are incredibly dangerous. Rettke could be in player of the year conversations — she is an elite volleyball player and playing in her last go-around. Her chemistry with not only her setter but her best friend and roommate, Sydney Hilley, is just out of this world. We saw that Hilley to Rettke slide in the regional finals and it was lethal. Not only Rettke, but Grace Loberg, Devyn Robinson, Julia Orzol, Jade Demps and Anna Smrek have all been incredible. This could be an amazing offensive matchup, a battle at the net, and a matter of serve and pass. Wisconsin can be scary from the service line as we have seen many times.

Here is how they matchup, statistically: 

Louisville STAT WIsconsin
32-0 Record  29-3
Def. Georgia Tech, 3-1 Regional final outcome Def. Minnesota, 3-0
.300 Hitting percentage .296
13.7 Kills per set 14.7
.137 Opponent hitting .159
3 Blocks per set 2.6
13 Digs per set 14.9
185/245 Aces/Service errors 167/230
Anna DeBeer, 323 (3.23 k/s) Kills leader Dana Rettke, 384 (3.49 k/s)
Tori Dilfer, 1165 (10.79 a/s) Assist leader Sydney Hilley, 1349 (12.04 a/s)
Elena Scott, 302 (3.87 d/s) Digs leader Lauren Barnes, 481 (4.29 d/s)

No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 10 Nebraska | 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

Pitt Volleyball

For some reason, I think the matchup between Pitt and Nebraska is going to be a full-out battle. I can just picture it happening.

Pitt is in the national semifinals for the first time in program history. I was so incredibly impressed with their performance over Purdue to get here. The depth they bring to the table is phenomenal. Leketor Member-Meneh is 5’8, but she practically flies out of the gym. The firepower she brings is quite frankly absurd — she had 21 kills and three aces on .383 hitting in the Panthers' regional final matchup. They pulled off the win over Purdue without big numbers from Kayla Lund or Chinaza Ndee, their two star players. Serena Gray and freshman Rachel Fairbanks rose to the occasion instead. 

But wow, they will be taking on a gritty Nebraska team that at one point in the regular season not many would have thought they would be here. I’ll be honest, I didn't either. But this team has grown and gotten better every single game. This John Cook-coached squad just took down one of the best all-around teams in Texas. 

The Huskers brought in probably the best incoming freshman class in the nation, and after a flurry of lineup changes to see who would rise to the occasion, three freshmen helped lead this team past the 2020 runner-ups. Lexi Rodriguez is one of the best liberos in the country right now and she leads a gritty, tenacious floor defense that gives this Husker offense chance after chance to put the ball away. It made all the difference against Texas. 

Then offensively, Ally Batenhorst and Lindsay Krause are looking like freshmen no more. We will be hearing these names for years to come, but they are doing it already in their first year. They each posted 15 and 13 kills at a .406 and .500 clip, respectively in the Texas upset. Then on top of that, you have the consistency of Madi Kubik, All-American Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey out of the middle. Once they got into their groove, this team was bound to make some noise. 

Oh and I forgot one thing, they beat Texas at their own game — at the service line. They had nine service aces on the match and seven of those belonged to Keonilei Akana. 

Both teams are going to come out swinging with a lot to prove. I am so excited about this matchup. 

Here is how they matchup, statistically: 

Pittsburgh STAT Nebraska
30-3 Record  25-7
Def. Purdue, 3-1 Regional final outcome Def. Texas, 3-1
.286 Hitting percentage .225
14.3 Kills per set 13.9
.187 Opponent hitting .144
2.4 Blocks per set 2.5
13.2 Digs per set 17.1
179/238 Aces/Service errors 171/226
Leketor Member-Meneh, 351 (3.22 k/s) Kills leader Madi Kubik, 380 (3.49 k/s)
Lexis Akeo, 626 (5.13 a/s) Assist leader Nicklin Hames, 1125(10.71 a/s)
Ashley Browske, 357 (3.03 d/s) Digs leader Lexi Rodriguez, 498 (4.45 d/s)

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