The University of Louisville volleyball team defeated Pittsburgh in a five set thriller (25-18, 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-2) in an all ACC semi-final to advance to the NCAA National Championship for the first time in school history on Thursday night at the CHI Health Arena.
The Cardinals, with a season-high 19 blocks, move to 31-2 (17-1 ACC) on the season defeating the Co-ACC Champions for the second time this season. As a team, the Cards finished with 62 kills hitting .273, 60 assists, 10 aces, and 65 digs, while the Panthers ended with 54 kills hitting .145, 51 assists, 5 aces, 61 digs, and eight blocks.
Three Cardinals had season-best performances. Elena Scott led the way with a new career high in digs, finishing the match with 28 digs. Scott also tied her career best in aces (5) and assists (8). Phekran Kong set a career record with 11 blocks, including four in the fifth set, and had five kills hitting .333. Anna DeBeer added to the season-best performances with a career best with five aces. DeBeer also recorded 15 kills, seven digs, and three blocks. Amaya Tillman notched four kills with seven blocks. Aiko Jones had double-digit kills with 12 hitting .310 and had five digs and six blocks. Raquel Lazaro tallied 49 assists, 11 digs, and five blocks. Claire Chaussee led the team with 25 kills, including four in the fifth set, hitting .429 and added three kills and three blocks.
Courtney Buzzerio led the Panthers with 13 kills hitting .133, one ace, three digs, and one block in the loss. Serena Gray tallied 10 kills hitting .238 with two aces and four blocks.
Louisville will play the Texas Longhorns in the National Championship in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
Set by Set Recap
DeBeer served for six straight points to start the first set, forcing Pitt to burn an early timeout to adjust. After the timeout, Pitt answered with a 6-1 run to tie at eight. The Cardinals were energized by a solo block by setter Raquel Lazaro and that sparked a 7-2 run that included two more blocks, this time by Aiko Jones and Phekran Kong. After a flukey kill by Jones, Pitt coach Dan Fisher used his last timeout of the set trailing 16-10. Louisville spread the lead to 21-13 on a block by Amaya Tillman and Claire Chaussee and then rolled to a 25-16 win. UofL outhit the Panthers .310 to .056 and registered five blocks and three aces to UP’s one ace and two blocks. DeBeer and Jones each had three kills and no errors with DeBeer notching three aces.
After Louisville popped out to a 4-1 lead early in the second set but Pitt ran off five straight to take the first lead of the match at 5-4 on an ace by Cam Ennis. The teams traded points and Pitt had a 15-12 lead at the media timeout as Pitt scored two consecutive points, the last a block on Tillman. Down 17-16, the Cards were unable to block Buzzerio and were called in the net as Pitt took a 19-16 lead and Dani Busboom Kelly called timeout. Louisville closed the margin to two on DeBeer’s fourth ace of the match. After Fisher called timeout leading 21-19 and Pitt was able to score before kills by Jones and Chaussee cut the lead to one at 22-21. After Pitt scored again, Chaussee scored off the block to move the scored to 23-22. Buzzerio notched her sixth kill to get to set point at 24-22. Busboom Kelly called timeout and DeBeer was able to score from the left side to put the score at 24-23 and spark a Pitt timeout. Serena Gray got the set winning kill from the middle to give the Panthers a 25-23 win.
Coming out after the break, UofL went up 3-0 on the strength of DeBeer’s serving as she started the set on an ace. A block by Jones and Tillman and then a kill by Tillman took the Cards up 6-2 and Pitt called timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Panthers scored four straight and the teams were tied. Louisville regained the lead at 8-7 on a kill by Chaussee. The conference rivals traded points and Louisville tied at 14 on a kill by Jones. Pitt managed to spread the lead to three when UofL was called in the net to go up 19-16, causing the Cardinals to call timeout. A kill by DeBeer and a block by Kong closed the gap to one at 19-18. A ball handling error on Pitt was then followed by a Cardinal serving error gave Pitt a 22-20 lead but two straight kills by Chaussee knotted the score at 22, forcing Pitt to call timeout. Elena Scott zinged two straight serves by Pitt for aces to get to set point at 24-22 and Chaussee parked a set from Lazaro to give Louisville the 25-22 win and a 2-1 set lead.
The Cardinals went out to a 3-0 lead in the third and spread the margin to four at 7-3 after Chaussee had a kill from the left side. Pitt coach Dan Fisher called timeout down 7-4 and the Panthers were able to erase a good portion of the Cardinal lead with a 3-1 run to put them down just one at 9-8. Two straight kills by Aiko Jones and an ace by Scott gave UofL a 15-10 lead and Pitt had to use its final timeout of the set. Pitt scored three straight to cut the lead to three at 16-13 which led to a Louisville timeout. But Pitt took advantage of a two Louisville errors and an ace by Buzzerio to tie at 17. A kill by Chaussee and a pair of blocks by Tillman took the Cards up three at 20-17. A Cardinal service error and another kill by Buzzerio pulled UP within one at 20-19. Pitt tied at 22 on a Card miscue and then got a kill from Buzzerio and a Gray kill gave Pitt set point. Anna DeBeer was blocked by Buzzerio and Gray to give UP the 25-22 lead.
Louisville powered out to a 3-0 lead and Pitt called a quick timeout. A kill by Chaussee and a pair of blocks by Kong took UofL to 6-0 and Pitt burned its final timeout of the match. Kong got another block to keep Pitt off the board, down 7-0. The Cards were up 8-0 after changing side after Pitt lost a challenge. But the Cards ran out the points to take the final set 15-2.
WHAT THEY SAID
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: Clearly, very proud of this team. An historic moment for our program. But, man, going into this match, we knew we were going to have to work really hard. Pitt is an incredibly hard team to beat. And even when you feel like you have them beat, they will always find a way back in the match.
I’m just proud of how we came out in game five and finally we didn’t let them back in that set. So just really gritty performance by our players.
Q. Anna, you’re at the service line to start that fifth set. What’s going through your mind? And as you keep serving and serving how is it feeling back there?
ANNA DEBEER: Always think start strong, first one’s in and then getting my rhythm and just trusting my training. We serve every day. It’s all mental. I knew if I could be aggressive and get them out of system at the beginning of that match it would help us a lot defensively and offensively.
I wanted get a nice serve going and ended up being more than I expected but I’m okay with that.
Q. Claire, you competed with the Collegiate National Team this summer. How did that experience prepare you for this moment and for this season?
CLAIRE CHAUSSEE: Well, while I was there in California I learned a lot, especially on the passing aspect. But the coaches that were there just — I don’t know, they just taught me so much. With my passing, I do, like, a three-step shuffle now. I learned that. And to just go after it. Like big moments, you’ve just got to go for it.
Q. A very emotional moment for everybody after this one. What does it mean to you to take this team to the final?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: It’s something you hope you have the opportunity to do as a coach. So it’s like we want to make a difference in young women’s lives and we want to compete to win. And you hope that you’re on this stage. And just to be able to capitalize on the opportunity and to be able to take advantage of the moment is just incredibly special.
We talk about out-teaming, outworking everybody. And in that game five, I just heard them say we will not lose, we will out-team Pitt. And it was definitely a special moment.
Q. After that fourth set, was anything you said — I mean, it’s sort of incredible to go on the run you guys did in the fifth set. Have you seen anything quite like that at a match at this level?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: It wasn’t anything that I said. Honestly, we have some inside jokes on this team that will remain inside. And we talked about that after game four. And I just felt them all loosen up. And I knew they were ready for the moment.
I haven’t seen it in a match like this. Felt we could have done that. But Pitt is so good, and we could have gone on runs in that match, and thank God, we finally we did it in game five.
Q. Anna, after falling in this exact round last year, what was this whole year like? And what’s the feeling now after going through that for one year?
ANNA DEBEER: We’ve been there before, last year. We know that feeling. We know how hard it is to get there and how much it hurts after that loss. So I think this whole year that’s been our goal. And the team has been on the same page since the very beginning and made it known that we want to win a national championship.
And it’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of hard work to get there. Seeing the team come out tonight, it’s one game at a time. It’s taken so many hard matches. We’ve had some adversity. We’ve had a lot this whole tournament. And just to be able to take it one step further and be the first ACC school in the final, I mean, I literally don’t even know what to say. It’s a dream.
Q. Dani, talk about the block, is it PK, No. 10 put up early on in that fifth set?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: Yeah, we were teasing her in the locker room. When she tipped that ball behind herself, I was a little worried how she would come out in game five. But she just got her hands over.
She just trusted it and followed the scout perfectly. And she executed. So it was a pretty incredible comeback after a couple of really bonehead plays in game four.
That’s what a great player does. And somebody who is really confident in themselves. And it was a great moment for her.
Q. Coach, just want you to talk to the state of the ACC. Obviously two consecutive years where two teams make it to the Final Four. Now first team ever going to a national championship. What does it say about the quality of the conference? And do you think it’s here to stay?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: Yeah, the ACC keeps getting better and better and is attracting really great athletes and keeping really great coaches in the conference. And I think last year, we hear all the noise that, oh, the ACC isn’t as good and that was a fluke.
For us and Pitt to make it back again is really impressive. And of course I think it’s here to stay. And hopefully some other teams will keep getting better.
Q. I wanted to know, what does this rivalry mean to you as a head coach? And what’s your relationship like with Dan Fisher? He told me before it’s a friendly rivalry. Would you agree with that?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: I would. I like Dan off the court, but I don’t like coaching against him, though. I think that’s pretty friendly.
But we were texting a little bit after Pitt beat Wisconsin and we just said congrats on the ACC. And I said, you know what we call it? We call it the Absolutely Crush Conference because us and Pitt, we go at it. We know both of us are going to be swinging away.
But this rivalry means a lot. And I think it’s made both of our programs so much stronger. And there’s just a lot of respect between our programs. And that’s what makes it fun. It’s fun to know that we’re going to play them twice a year and it’s going to be a battle and we’re going to get pushed every time.
Q. Claire, talk about the end of the third set. What happened there to allow y’all to come back and kind of close that out and put you in a position to eventually win the match?
CLAIRE CHAUSSEE: In the third set, I feel like something that we don’t talk about a lot but is much appreciated and respected on our team is the depth in our lineup. We can put anyone out there. And I think having Ayden come in in big moments and Ceci Rush, without them, we wouldn’t be in this position.
And also Elena and DeBeer going on their runs with aces and stuff like that, I think that’s what pushed us to win.
Q. Dani, as expected, you guys had a lot of the crowd behind your team tonight. What does it mean to you, all the love that was expressed toward you and your players tonight, especially in a match that went five?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: It means a lot. And I saw a quote from somebody, probably on Twitter, said, Nebraska doesn’t forget their own. And I was hoping they’d be behind us.
And it just feels good to know that it’s not just the people of Louisville that love this team. And we can go out of state and still gain a lot of love. I’m pretty excited because I will be really surprised if any Nebraskans are cheering for Texas on Sunday.
Q. Coach, I know that you have the potential to be the first woman to win, a coach to win a national championship. Talk about what that means to get that milestone and be able to have a run at that, obviously that extra added motivation for Saturday?
COACH BUSBOOM KELLY: I’m going to repeat a little bit what I said when I’ve been asked this question a lot. I got asked it a lot last year. Just last year, I didn’t really want to talk about it — I just wanted to be a coach — why are we talking about a female coach?
Then this year, I think my mindset has switched and it’s, like, yeah, why are we talking about a female coach being the first one to win it? And that’s got to change.
And I think having a kid and just doing this again and being able to be successful with a child, it just means a lot to me. And what’s really special is to see how supportive this team is. So if I need to leave earlier than usual or if I have to give. More load to my assistants, they understand. And they are supportive of that.
And I don’t know, I’ve said it, too — there’s plenty of love and time for these teams and my family. So it means a lot.
Q. Anna, on that same note, what does that mean to you and your team that you’re playing for a female coach who has a chance to make history?
ANNA DEBEER: I mean, Dani has done so much for this program. When I first committed to Louisville, under her, I trusted in her and knew that she could take this program to new heights.
And just to see the growth that she’s done in all she’s done for us, she’s a badass. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, she knows what she wants. She makes us work hard. We want to work hard for her. And just to see how well we’re doing, and we give credit to the coaches and her, and it’s going to be special in that final. And we want to do it for the coaches, do it for Dani, and do it for each other.
|Nancy Allison Worley|
Associate Sports Information Director | Louisville Athletics