Purdue, after surviving 5-setter with BYU, will play Pitt, which swept Kansas

BYU’s Heather Gneiting hits against the Purdue block of Grace Cleveland, left, and Jael Johnson/BYU photo

Sixth-seeded Purdue was down 14-10 and a point away from calling it a season but staged an unlikely rally Thursday for a 25-12, 13-25, 25-21, 25-13, 18-16 victory over No. 11 BYU in an NCAA volleyball regional semifinal.

Purdue will now play host and No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, which swept Kansas 25-19, 25-21, 25-18, on Saturday in the regional final.

This will be the second time in this NCAA Tournament that Pitt, of the ACC, plays a team from the Big Ten. The Panthers beat Penn State in the second round.

Purdue, swept by ACC champion Louisville in September, has advanced to a regional final just twice before, in 2010 and last spring when it was swept by eventual champion Kentucky.

Purdue (26-6) hit .275 against BYU. Caitlyn Newton led the way with 20 kills and added two aces, seven digs, and three blocks, one solo. Grace Cleveland had 14 kills, hit .379, and had an assist, two aces, seven digs, and three blocks, two solo. Raven Colvin had 11 kills with three errors in 18 attacks to hit .444 and had a dig and eight blocks, one solo. Jael Johnson had 10 kills with no errors in 17 attacks to hit .588 and added two blocks and a dig. Hayley Bush had a kill, 54 assists, eight digs, and six blocks. Jena Otec, whose back-to-back aces when Purdue was down 14-11 turned around the match, had three aces in all, 18 digs and an assist. 

Purdue has lived on the edge in this tournament. It got all it could handle in a first-round sweep of Illinois State and then came back to beat Dayton after losing the first two sets. 

BYU, the West Coast Conference champion, advance to the regional semis with wins over Boise State and Utah. The Cougars had won 23 in a row, and their only other loss, interestingly enough, was at Pitt in September.

“I’m proud of our team for our fight,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “I thought our serving helped us stay in the match. 

“I’m super disappointed for this group and for our seniors. There’s not much more that you could ask for, but we just couldn’t finish it. That was not our best volleyball. It was probably our worst offensive match of the year. Yet, we still had an opportunity to win. That’s what is so painful. We wanted to be as good as we could, even on our worst day.”

Kenzie Koerber led BYU with 16 kills and had two assists, two aces, five blocks, and 12 digs. Taylen Ballard-Nixon had 10 kills, five aces, and a dig. Erin Livingston had nine kills and a dig. Heather Gneiting had seven kills, two assists, three digs and four blocks, two solo. Whitney Bower had two kills, 37 assists, two blocks, and nine digs. Her team hit .151,

Koerber, who transferred from Utah for her final season, was the WCC player of the year.

“I didn’t want this to be my last game of my college career,” she said. “It stings, and it is tough. This year has been a blessing, and I’m grateful for the experiences that I have had with these girls and coaches. 

“It hurts, and it’s frustrating. This has been the best year of my college career, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.”

Pittsburgh, which finished second in the ACC this season, improved to 29-3, and Kansas of the Big 12 finished 18-12. Pitt beat UMBC and Penn State to reach the regional semis, and  Kansas was coming off upsets of Oregon and No. 14 Creighton.

Pitt hit .356. Chinaza Ndee led with 14 kills and had two errors in 19 attacks to hit .632 and added an assist, two digs and four blocks. Leketor Member-Meneh had 11 kills, an ace and three digs. Serena Gray had seven kills in 11 errorless attacks, three aces, three digs, and three blocks. Rachel Fairbanks had three kills, 19 assists, eight digs and a block.

Kansas, which hit .277, had five players with five or more kills, including Caroline Crawford with eight. Crawford had no errors in 13 attacks and added two blocks. Caroline Bien and Jenny Mosser had seven kills each. Camryn Turner had five kills in seven errorless tries, 19 assists, four digs, and a block.

Pitt played in the regional final last spring and lost to Washington in five after winning the first two sets.

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