News, photos, notes, quotes before Louisville plays Wisconsin, Pitt faces Nebraska

The Pitt Panthers had some light moments during practice Wednesday/Michael Gomez photo

No. 1 Louisville (32-0) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (29-3)

COLUMBUS, OHIO, Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
COACHES — Louisville, Dani Busboom Kelly (fifth season); Wisconsin, Kelly Sheffield (ninth season)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Louisville: Defeated UIC, 3-0; defeated Ball State, 3-0; defeated No. 16 Florida, 3-0; defeated No. 8 Georgia Tech, 3-1
Wisconsin: Defeated Colgate, 3-0; defeated Florida Gulf Coast 3-0; defeated No. 13 UCLA, 3-0; defeated No. 12 Minnesota, 3-0
HISTORY — Wisconsin holds a 7-1 lead in the all-time series, which dates to 1985. Louisville’s only win came in 2017.

Wisconsin’s Giorgia Civita passes as Grace Loberg, left, and Julia Orzol look on/Michael Gomez photo

OF NOTE — Louisville is looking to become the first NCAA champion to finish a season undefeated since Penn State in 2009. It was the second of back-to-back undefeated titles for the Nittany Lions … Both programs are seeking their first national title. A win by Louisville (or Pittsburgh) would be the first title for the ACC … This is the first time the ACC has had two teams reach the final four …
Wisconsin was the national runner-up two years ago to Stanford … Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly is the first female coach in NCAA Division I volleyball history to finish the regular season with an undefeated record. She also is looking to become the first female coach to lead a women’s volleyball team to a Division I national title …Wisconsin has been to at least the Sweet 16 every year during Kelly Sheffield’s coaching tenure … Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke led the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.447) and was third in blocks (1.37) …

Nena Mbonu hits for Louisville/Michael Gomez photo

Wisconsin led the Big Ten in hitting (.296) and also led the conference in opponent hitting percentage (.159) … Louisville is the first team to finish the regular season unbeaten since Missouri in 2013 … As a player at Nebraska, Busboom Kelly faced Louisville in the 2004 NCAA Tournament round of 16. Busboom had 39 assists and seven digs as the Huskers swept … Busboom Kelly also could make another bit of history with a national championship: It would give her titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

Wisconsin’s Liz Gregorski left and Joslyn Boyer/Michael Gomez photo

QUOTABLE — Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield on the final four: “I think these are four teams that all have distinct styles of play. And all four teams are peaking at the right time. … I think when you get to this point in the season … a big key is you’ve got to stay true to yourself.”
Louisville coach Dani Busboom Kelly on the prospect of a long-term contract at Louisville: “I love Louisville. My husband loves it here. We want to stay for a long time, for sure. Certainly we have talked about that with the administration and how we can make this a win win for our family and the University of Louisville.”

Nebraska’s John Cook during Wednesday’s practice/Michael Gomez

No. 3 Pitt (30-3) vs. No. 10 Nebraska (25-7)

COLUMBUS, OHIO, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN
COACHES — Pitt, Dan Fisher (ninth season); John Cook (22nd season)
HOW THEY GOT HERE — Pitt: Defeated UMBC, 3-0; defeated Penn State, 3-1, defeated Kansas, 3-0, defeated No. 6 Purdue, 3-1. Wisconsin: Defeated Campbell, 3-0; defeated Florida State, 3-0; defeated Illinois, 3-0; defeated No. 2 Texas, 3-1
HISTORY — Nebraska has won all 12 meetings between the schools, 3-0 in the NCAA Tournament and the last in 1990. The most recent meeting was 2015, a four-set Huskers victory in Lincoln. Pitt has taken only four sets those 12 meetings.
OF NOTE — Pittsburgh is making its first appearance in the Final Four. It is the first women’s program in school history to reach an NCAA semifinal and just the school’s third program overall … Over the past five seasons, the Panthers are 135-19 with three seasons of at least 30 wins … Nebraska has lost to both of the other semifinalists, Wisconsin and Louisville, this season … Louisville handed Pittsburgh two of its three losses this season (the other loss was to Georgia Tech) …
John Cook has coached the Cornhuskers to four national titles, the most recent in 2017. First-team All-Big Ten outside hitter Lauren Stivrins, a fifth-year senior, is the only remaining player from that team. Three others — senior setter Nicklin Hames, senior outside hitter Lexi Sun and senior middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach — joined Stivrins on Nebraska’s 2018 national runner-up team … Nebraska is making its 40th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, second only to Penn State’s 41 … At No. 10, Nebraska is the lowest seed among the Final Four teams … Nebraska freshman Lexi Rodriguez was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten … Pitt fifth-year senior Kayla Lund earned her fourth first-team All-ACC honor this season … When she was at Penn State, Pitt’s Serena Gray faced Nebraska three times, accumulating 17 kills in those matches …The Final Four is a homecoming for Pitt’s Chiamaka Nwokolo. She attended Bishop Hartley High School in Columbus …
Pitt’s Kayla Lund has been limited by an upper-body injury, but she doesn’t expect it to hinder her during the final four … Pitt senior middle blocker Sabrina Starks hails from Springfield, Nebraska … Nebraska is the lowest-seeded team to make the Final Four since 2014.
QUOTABLE — Pitt outside hitter Kayla Lund, on the injury that has dogged her since mid-November: “No comment. I can practice, and every day closer to game time, I get to do a little bit more.”
Fisher, on the matchup with Nebraska: “I think both teams are strong in serve-pass,” said Pitt coach Dan Fisher. “That will be an interesting battle. And in transition, we’re a little more aggressive than they are. They play it a little safe, so it should be fun to watch.”
Pitt right side Chinaza Ndee, on being at the Final Four: “Mostly just grateful … And just staying present. Those are the main two things. And then just feeling confident. We know we’re good enough to be here.”
Fisher, on the late-season contributions of freshman Rachel Fairbanks: “When I recruited her, she told me she touched 10 feet. I don’t think I really believed it. I didn’t think she could be a hitter. And then at one point in the year I think she touched 10 3 ½. She has a pretty good arm, and she was getting stronger. She is physically more mature than when she showed up this summer. And she was becoming a more technical setter. Combine that with some injuries to (fifth-year setter) Kylee (Levers), and she was thrust in a role and has really done great.”
Fisher on how to attack the Nebraska defense: “We plan on doing what we always do. We’ll try to hit the ball as hard as we can as many times as we possibly can.”
Fisher on Nwokolo playing in front of her hometown Columbus fans: “Sometimes she needs some encouragement in practice to bring it all. She does not need encouragement at all when the stage gets bigger. She loves to compete.”
John Cook on what getting to the Final Four means: “It’s a big deal in Nebraska. The texts I get, the emails I get, people are in tears and they are writing me these emails and they’re crying as we won and got to this Final Four. That what makes it really cool, and I’ll never take that for granted.”
Cook, on Louisville coach Dani Busboom, his former player and assistant at Nebraska: “I’m very proud of Dani. She’s done an amazing job … To go undefeated to this point is really, really hard. You could say, ‘Well, they played in the ACC.’ Well, we know how tough the ACC is this year, which makes it even more. And they came in and they kicked our butt in Devaney.”

Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher visits with his team during Wednesday’s practice/Michael Gomez photo

Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins on having final four experience: “Experience is always helpful. But when it comes time for the game, it’s just going to be the team that’s better prepared and wants it more and fights harder. Hopefully, that will be us.”
Nebraska’s Madi Kubik, on Pitt: “We know that they have a really fast offense. And they have a lot of weapons we’re going to have to pay attention to. But we’re just excited for the challenge.”

Louisville takes a break during practice Wednesday/Michael Gomez photo
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