Wisconsin wins first NCAA national semifinal with gripping 5-set win over Louisville


Wisconsin’s Jade Demps hits against Louisville’s Anna Stevenson/Wall Nell photo

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Top-seeded battled Louisville with all it had for almost three hours Thursday night, but the Cardinals are undefeated no more.

Fourth-seeded Wisconsin advanced with a 25-23, 15-25, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9 national-semifinals victory that put the Badgers into the the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship match for the second time in three seasons.

Big Ten-champion Wisconsin (30-3), seeking its first national championship, will play in Saturday’s final against the winner of the very late match Thursday — it started more than an hour later than scheduled — between third-seeded Pittsburgh (30-3) and 10th-seeded Nebraska (25-7).

ACC-champion Louisville, trying to become the first NCAA team to go undefeated since 2009, ended its season 32-1.

Wisconsin freshman Anna Smrek, the 6-foot-9 Canadian,  had 20 kills with one error in 27 attacks including the match-ender. Smrek had 17 kills with no errors in her first 20 swings. Dana Rettke had 14 kills and eight blocks, and Grace Loberg had 13 kills. Sydney Hilley had 58 assists, 11 digs, and four blocks. Her team hit .289. Lauren Barnes has 19 kills and was spectacular in the last two sets.

Anna DeBeer had 20 kills, 10 digs, and four blocks as Louisville ended its best season in program history. Anna Stevenson had 12 kills and eight blocks, and Claire Chaussee had 11 kills. Tori Dilfer had three kills in 10 errorless tries, 49 assists, 10 digs and a block. Her team hit .230 and, like Wisconsin, saw its hitting percentage drop as the match went on.

Louisville advanced to the semifinals with sweeps in the NCAA Tournament over UIC, Ball State, and 16th-seeded Florida, and a four-set win over ACC rival Georgia Tech, the eighth seed.

Wisconsin swept Colgate, FGCU, 13th-seeded UCLA, and 12th-seeded Minnesota, also of the Big Ten.

In previous five-set matches this season, Louisville beat Kentucky and Pitt, while Wisconsin lost to Maryland to open the Big Ten season and then beat Penn State and Maryland.

The last team to go unbeaten was Penn State, which had back-to-back 38-0 seasons in 2009 and 2009. Three other teams went unbeaten before that, Long Beach State in 1998, Nebraska in 2000, and USC in 35-0.

Wisconsin’s Julia Orzol hits against the Louisville block of Anna Stevenson, left, and Tori Dilfer/ Michael Gomez photo



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