Home Love Compatibility Wisconsin knocks off previously unbeaten Louisville to reach NCAA women’s volleyball final

Wisconsin knocks off previously unbeaten Louisville to reach NCAA women’s volleyball final


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Louisville volleyball coach Dani Busboom Kelly was named the national coach of the year and got a contract extension Thursday. What she wanted most — a national semifinal victory and chance to play for the NCAA title Saturday — didn’t happen. In an epic five-setter, the No. 1 seed Cardinals lost their first match of the season, falling to No. 4 seed Wisconsin.

The Badgers will play fellow Big Ten power Nebraska in Saturday’s NCAA final (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET). Had Louisville won, Busboom Kelly would have had a chance to face her alma mater for the championship.

But smiling through tears, Busboom Kelly, who won an NCAA title as a player at Nebraska in 2006, said this almost-perfect season has taught her a lot.

“I always hoped to coach a team that really understood what it took to be in this position,” said Busboom Kelly, who was hoping to become the first female head coach to lead a women’s volleyball team to the Division I championship. “It’s just been really amazing to see this team not only work, but do it the right way and have fun and inspire a community and the university to love this program.

“This season taught me to stay true to myself. That you really can have it all: You can be great, you can win a lot, you can love each other and you can build a program.”

Busboom Kelly has done that quickly at Louisville. In just her fifth season, she led the Cardinals to the program’s first volleyball final four, first NCAA No. 1 seed and first No. 1 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

She also led Louisville to a 3-0 victory at Nebraska on Sept. 18. But there won’t be a rematch Saturday here at Nationwide Arena. No. 10 seed Nebraska will be going for its sixth NCAA title, having last won the championship in 2017. The Huskers were 25-7 this season, at one point losing three matches in a row.

“We’ve kind of figured it out now,” senior Lauren Stivrins said after the Huskers’ 16-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-22 victory over No. 3 seed Pitt in Thursday’s second semifinal. “We’re competing harder than we have in the past few weeks. Another day to play with this team is just everything.”

Wisconsin will play in the NCAA final for the fourth time in program history and the second time in the past three years. The Badgers lost the championship match previously in 2000, 2013 and 2019.

Wisconsin beat Nebraska twice in their regular-season matches: 3-0 Oct. 27 and 3-1 on Nov. 26. The Badgers won their 30th match this season Thursday.

“The level of play by both teams and the heart by both teams was just special,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said of the 25-23, 15-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9 match. “We’re really fortunate to come out on the winning side of that.”

Louisville finished at 32-1, and Busboom Kelly is 115-30 overall and 74-14 in the ACC in her Cardinals tenure.

A Nebraska native, Busboom Kelly played for her home-state school from 2003 to 2006 and then was an assistant coach there during the Huskers’ 2015 national championship season. She came to Louisville starting with the 2017 season with a great pedigree and made an impact right away. Louisville went from 12-18 in 2016 to 24-7 in her first season, and the Cardinals upset then-No. 2 seed Texas in the 2019 Sweet 16.

Busboom Kelly’s new six-year contact, which goes into effect in January, would allow her to leave early without penalty to just one school: Nebraska, who is guided by longtime coach John Cook.

For now, Busboom Kelly seems very happy to be in Louisville. And her players are grateful for how much the program’s growth has elevated them and the sport the past few seasons.

“I remember after my freshman season, Rhamat Alhassan was my favorite player at Florida. I was on my couch watching her play in the final four,” Louisville fifth-year senior Anna Stevenson said of the 2017 season. “And just to think that maybe I’m that for somebody is just crazy to me. I never would have thought that I would be a part of any of this, ever.”

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