National semifinals to feature Stanford vs. BYU and Illinois vs. Nebraska
MINNEAPOLIS -- For one day, Maturi Pavilion at the University of Minnesota seemed like home for the Nebraska volleyball team.
With more than half the crowd clad in Huskers colors and intermittently chanting, "Go Big Red," seventh-seeded Nebraska, the defending national champion, swept No. 15 seed Oregon, 25-22, 25-23, 25-17 to qualify for its fourth consecutive final four. Nebraska prevailed in the first two sets by winning big points late, then turned up its blocking in the third to put the scrappy Ducks away. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, named the regional's most outstanding player, had 16 kills and 13 digs and hit .400.
"They were hitting huge numbers against us until the end there," said Nebraska coach John Cook, referring to Oregon's .294 and .316 hitting percentages in the first two sets. "Our team started stretching them with our serve, and found a way to win some close games and some big points."
Oregon (23-11), the only team outside the top eight seeds to reach a regional final, got there by upsetting regional host and No. 2 seed Minnesota in four sets on Friday. But the Ducks fell short of reaching their first final four since 2012. Four late attack and service errors cost them the first set, and the second set was tied 23-23 until a Foecke kill and a tip by Lauren Stivrins (11 kills and four assisted blocks) swung it for the Huskers.
"It was tight the first two, and then I thought we came out in the third set and were doing just fine," Oregon coach Matt Ulmer said. "Then they got a little bit of a lead, and you could kind of feel it slipping a bit."
Nebraska (28-6) returns to the final four with seven players who have never participated in one, including freshman setter Nicklin Hames, who had her 23rd double-double of the season with 41 assists and 15 digs. Cook repeatedly calls his team, now on a 12-match winning streak, the most improved in the country. The Huskers haven't dropped a set in the tournament. Next up will be No. 3 Illinois, the last team to beat Nebraska, in Thursday's national semifinals. Nebraska and Illinois split their season series.
Foecke, a two-time most outstanding player at the final four, and libero Kenzie Maloney are headed to their fourth national semifinals.
-- Pat Borzi
Palo Alto Regional: Stanford 3, Penn State 1
Volleyball's most decorated programs met in a regional final that lived up to its billing.
Stanford and Penn State each own seven NCAA titles, tied for most in the sport, but it's the Cardinal that will return to the final four for the third consecutive year.
The top seed rallied past No. 8 Penn State 3-1 at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal (32-1) earned a rematch with BYU, which handed Stanford its only loss of the season, 3-2, on Aug. 31. The teams will meet at Target Center in Minneapolis on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
Stanford trailed by a set and looked out of sorts early in the second until reigning national player of the year Kathryn Plummer heated up. The Cardinal junior showcased her growing arsenal of skills in a dominant performance punctuated by a kill on match point.
Plummer finished with a double-double, 23 kills and 10 digs, and hit .383.
Senior Tami Alade finished with eight kills and just one hitting error. Sophomore Meghan McClure added a double-double with 12 kills and 14 digs.
Stanford's block produced its own highlight reel. Morgan Hentz was brilliant at libero with 18 digs. Setter Jenna Gray had 52 assists.
Stanford hadn't lost a first set on its home court all season until the Nittany Lions started out with a near-flawless opener, hitting .310 with 12 kills and three attacking errors. Stanford hit .176 and had four service errors.
Stanford trailed almost the entire second set until a Gray block for 23-22. Plummer's monster kill produced the Cardinal's first set point. Penn State saved one, but the junior All-American secured it with her 14th kill of the match. Stanford hit .389 in the set.
The Cardinal opened up a 20-12 advantage in the third set, dominating with more powerful play from Plummer, who showed off her power and finesse with cross-court angles that cut through the Nittany Lions' blocks. Penn State trimmed it to 22-18, but Audriana Fitzmorris closed out the set with a kill, 25-20, giving the Cardinal a 2-1 edge.
Stanford is in the final four for the 22nd time in its history. The Cardinal won the 2016 national championship and lost a year ago in the semifinals to Florida.
Penn State, which starts three freshmen, ends its season at 26-8. The Nittany Lions hold a 5-3 advantage in the national tournament, but have not won in Maples Pavilion since 2004. It was Stanford's first tournament victory over Penn State since 1997.
-- Vicki L. Friedman
Provo Regional: BYU 3, Texas 0
BYU is in the final four for the second time in its history.
The No. 4 Cougars survived three close sets to defeat No. 5 Texas, 3-0, in a thrilling regional final played out in front of a deafening crowd at Smith Fieldhouse. BYU was last in the final four as an unseeded team in 2014 when the Cougars reached the national championship game and lost to Penn State.
Heather Olmstead, associate head coach on that team to her brother, Shawn Olmstead, took over as head coach in 2015 and is 118-12 since.
The Cougars will play Stanford on Thursday.
While this was the 25th sweep for BYU, it was anything but routine, with Texas testing the Cougars deep into each set. BYU survived 25-23, 25-23, 25-21, finishing off the match by winning the final five points. A net violation by Texas clinched it for the Cougars, winners of their 24th straight match at home.
Senior All-American Roni Jones-Perry finished with 25 of BYU's 51 kills, hitting .367. Libero Mary Lake had 17 digs for BYU.
"It feels so good. I'm just really proud of my team. I'm proud of the fight tonight," Jones-Perry said.
These Cougars, the only team to defeat No. 1 seed Stanford, are 31-1 and were ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of the season. Although BYU lost starting outside hitter McKenna Miller to a torn ACL last month, the Cougars have regrouped and are 6-1 without her in the lineup. Their lone loss was a sweep in the last match of the regular season at Loyola Marymount.
BYU trailed most of the opening set against the Longhorns, but evened it at 20-20 behind a Lyndie Haddock-Eppich block. Texas freshman Logan Eggleston saved one set point, but Kennedy Eschenberg ripped a kill on the next one to clinch it.
The second set featured 10 ties, the last one at 19-19, and Texas saved three set points before Jones-Perry's 16th kill secured the 2-0 lead going into intermission.
Eggleston led the Longhorns with 15 kills. Big 12 champion Texas (23-5) was making its 13th straight appearance in the regional final.
BYU is 21-0 in the tournament games played in Provo dating back to 1994.
-- Vicki L. Friedman
Champaign Regional: Illinois 3, Wisconsin 1
The Big Ten Co-Setter of the Year and the all-time Illinois blocks leader played their final games at Huff Hall on Saturday. A junior had a big hand in ensuring it wouldn't be the final game in their Illini careers.
Senior Jordyn Poulter had 51 assists, senior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli had 11 kills and four blocks, and junior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade had 25 kills and seven digs to send Illinois to its first final four since 2011.
No. 3 Illinois was pushed to four sets by No. 6 Wisconsin, but the Illini pulled away at the end for a 25-19, 15-25, 25-22, 25-23 win at a sold-out Huff Hall.
Illinois will take a 17-game winning streak to Minneapolis, where the Illini will play defending national champion and Big Ten rival Nebraska in the national semifinals on Thursday.
Quade set the tone early for Illinois with eight kills in the first set, when the Illini hit .515.
Dana Rettke led the Badgers (25-7) with 21 kills.
The Big Ten rivals had split their two matches during the regular season.
Illinois, which will be making its fourth trip to the national semifinals, finished runner-up to UCLA in 2011.
Thursday's national semifinal schedule
No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 4 BYU, 7 ET, ESPN
No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 7 Nebraska, 9 ET, ESPN
Friday's regional semifinals
MINNEAPOLIS -- Next week's volleyball final four at the Target Center will proceed without the hometown team.
No. 15 seed Oregon won a marathon second set it appeared to have lost Friday, then went on to oust No. 2 seed Minnesota on the Gophers' home court 21-25, 41-39, 25-14, 26-24 in the Minneapolis Regional semifinals. The Ducks (23-10), who also dealt the 27-4 Gophers their first loss back in September, meet defending national champion Nebraska (27-6) in Saturday's regional final at Maturi Pavilion.
The Ducks quieted a near sellout crowd of 5,187 that expected the Gophers, who came in 16-0 at home this season, to advance. On the bus heading to the arena Friday morning, Oregon coach Matt Ulmer told his players to "make great memories." They certainly did, reaching a regional final for the second time in program history and the first since an NCAA finals run in 2012.
"An unforgettable one, honestly," said senior setter/hitter August Raskie, who contributed 10 kills, 60 assists and 11 digs to the Oregon attack.
It didn't start out that way. Minnesota hit .465 in winning the first set, with Alexis Hart contributing six of Minnesota's 22 kills.
"I thought we served great," Ulmer said. "Then I looked at the stats -- they hit .465, and I was like, 'This is going to be fun.' They're so physical. But they came down a little bit."
An exhausting second set featured 26 ties, 11 lead changes and 17 set points before Oregon prevailed, though not without controversy. Minnesota led 38-37 when Minnesota senior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson appeared to dig a Lauren Page attack right as it hit the court, leading to a Hart kill. The celebrating Gophers walked off as Ulmer challenged the call. It was overturned after a lengthy review. From 39-39, Oregon won the set on consecutive kills by Brooke Van Sickle.
"Sam was pretty confident she pancaked that ball, and we got it," Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said. "We thought we won it. A little bit of a bait and switch there. But that's the way it works out, and we got our hearts broken a little bit. It took us a while to recover."
Page opened the third set with one solo block and two block assists as Oregon raced to 5-0 and 10-2 leads in winning handily. Minnesota recovered at the start of the fourth, scoring the first four points, two on Regan Pittman kills. After some back and forth, Minnesota forged ahead 22-19. But Oregon drew even at 23-23 and took the lead on a Pittman attack that sailed long.
A kill by Minnesota's Adanna Rollins evened the set. But then Rollins served long, and a kill by Ronika Stone -- her team-leading 20th of the match -- set off a Ducks celebration. In the final two sets Minnesota struggled to put balls away, hitting .111 and .109, respectively, while making 14 attack errors.
"This group worked incredibly hard and deserved a chance to compete at the end of this thing," McCutcheon said. "But that's not going to be our lot in life, so we've got to deal with what is and move on. It's disappointing. I know it's not the end all of us wanted, but when you compete for a living, sometimes it doesn't work out the way you want."
-- Pat Borzi
Nebraska 3, Kentucky 0
Nebraska coach John Cook calls his team the most improved in the country, an intriguing notion about a defending national champion. But as Cook weaved seven new players into the lineup, four freshmen among them, it took time to develop the toughness and resiliency demanded in a Big Ten Conference that sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament and six into the final 16.
The Huskers exhibited some of those qualities Friday in the third set while finishing off an NCAA Regional semifinal sweep of SEC champion Kentucky. After breezing 25-17 in the first set and holding off the Wildcats 25-20 in the second, the Huskers trailed 17-10 and 23-20 in the third before rallying to win 25-23.
Nebraska (27-6) will face Oregon in Saturday's regional final, with a berth to the final four on the line. The Wildcats (26-5) had won 23 straight, one short of the school record.
"The area we've improved the most probably is playing together as a team, understanding their roles, who's got to do what, working out those kinks," Cook said. "Over half our team is new, and it's taken a while to develop all that. I just think their development and their growth and their maturity, learning how to play as a team, has been our biggest improvement."
Nebraska, the nation's top defensive team, limited Kentucky to .119 hitting the first two sets and .165 for the match -- the 26th time this season an opponent hit below .200.
"If you hold a team under .240 hitting percentage, you're going to have a great chance, [especially] knowing the type of offense we have and the ability to put the ball away," said Kentucky coach Craig Skinner, a former assistant to Cook at Nebraska and Wisconsin. Nine Wildcats service errors, four in the first set, didn't help.
Kentucky began the third set more in system, grabbing that seven-point lead. Skinner called timeout when Nebraska rallied to 22-20, triggering a "Go, Big Red!" chant from Huskers fans at the University of Minnesota's Maturi Pavilion.
"They played really hard in Game 3, and we didn't necessarily show the resiliency that we should have in the beginning," said senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, who led Nebraska with 14 kills. "They took advantage of that. About halfway through the set, we really started to fight and show that we wanted to win."
A cross-court kill by Brooke Morgan put Kentucky two points from victory. But Nebraska answered with the final five points of the match, a run that began with back-to-back kills by sophomore outside hitter Jazz Sweet. Kentucky's Leah Edmond appeared to stop the run with a kill for an apparent 24-23 Wildcats lead, but she touched the net on her follow-through. Cook challenged the point and won a reversal.
"Everybody's yelling at me, and I'm trying to ask Jazz if it was Leah Edmond [on the] net, and she said, 'I didn't net. I didn't net!'" Cook said with a chuckle. "The communication wasn't very good. But [assistant coach] Jaylen [Reyes] was all over it. That's why I hire these young guys, because they can see all that better than I can."
What's next? Minneapolis Regional final: No. 7 Nebraska vs. No. 15 Oregon, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
-- Pat Borzi
Palo Alto Regional: Stanford 3, Washington State 1
The No. 1 overall seed was pushed to four sets, but Stanford topped Washington State for the third time this season to advance to the Palo Alto Regional final against No. 8 Penn State.
Saturday's final will feature volleyball royalty. Stanford has won seven national titles, most recently in 2016, and Penn State has also won seven, most recently in 2014. No team has won more. Penn State leads the all-time series 12-10, but Stanford swept the lone matchup this season on Sept. 7. Saturday's winner books a spot in the final four in Minneapolis.
Kathryn Plummer, the 2017 espnW player of the year, led Stanford on Friday with 24 kills and 12 digs, while Tami Alade added 12 kills and nine blocks. Alade hit .632 and did not have a hitting error.
Stanford looked dominant in the first set and opened with a 25-17 win. The Cougars rallied in the second for a 26-24 victory. But it was all Cardinal in the third (25-14) and fourth (25-19). Washington State (23-10) was led by Taylor Mims with 17 kills and 10 digs.
Stanford (31-1) has won 29 straight and is 16-0 at home this season.
Penn State 3, Washington 0
All along they've said it's a rebuilding year at Penn State. But the seven-time national champions rolled by Washington in straight sets Friday to advance to the final of the Palo Alto Regional. The Nittany Lions have yet to drop a set in the tournament.
The Penn State win means four of the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament are from the Big Ten.
Senior Nia Reed, who had 13 kills to lead Penn State, ended it with an ace to give her team the 25-21 victory in the third. Graduate transfer Taylor Leath had 12 kills for the Nittany Lions (26-7), and freshman Jonni Parker had 10.
Washington (20-13) was led by Kara Bajema, who had 13 kills but hit just .139.
What's next? Palo Alto Regional final: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 8 Penn State, Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
Provo Regional: BYU 3, Florida 1
No. 4 seed BYU rallied from a set down to Florida to reach the final eight for the first time since 2014.
West Coast Conference player of the year Roni Jones-Perry continued her brilliant season by smacking 17 kills to go with nine digs. Her two aces in the match gave her 41 this season.
Cougars middle blockers Kennedy Eschenberg and Heather Gneiting combined for 19 kills and 14 blocks.
"They were so solid tonight; it was really cool to see," BYU coach Heather Olmstead said.
Three Cougars, Lyndie Haddock-Eppich, Mary Lake and Sydnie Martindale, each had 10 digs.
Unseeded Florida ran out to a 5-0 lead and held the best hitting team in the nation to .070 in winning the first set 25-23. It was just the fourth time this season BYU has dropped a set at home. The Cougars, 20-0 in NCAA tournament matches played in Provo, won their 23rd consecutive match at Smith Fieldhouse.
In the final three sets, it was all Cougars in front of a wired crowd of 5,104, the third largest to watch a match at Smith Fieldhouse. BYU hit .448 in the second frame en route to a 25-13 win, and took the third 25-17, limiting the Gators to sub-.200 hitting.
BYU nabbed the fourth 25-19. The Cougars are 5-1 since losing starting outside hitter McKenna Miller for the season to a knee injury.
Holly Carlton led Florida with 16 kills, hitting .483.
-- Vicki L. Friedman
Texas 3, Michigan 1
Texas won the first 10 points of the match, Yaazie Bedart-Ghani and Micaya White combined for 12 kills and Texas cruised to a 25-10 first-set win over Michigan in the first game of the Provo Regional.
But nothing is as easy as it seems.
After the lopsided start in which the Wolverines hit minus-.111 to the Longhorns' .526, Michigan turned it all upside down for a 29-27 win in the second set and had three set points in the third.
But then it was Texas' turn to rally for the 29-27 win.
The fourth set allowed the Longhorns some breathing room, and the No. 5 seed prevailed 25-19.
White, a junior, finished with 21 kills and 10 digs, freshman outside hitter Logan Eggleston had 17 kills and nine digs and Bedart-Ghani, a senior, finished with 15 kills. Freshman setter Jhenna Gabriel had 53 assists.
Carly Skjodt led the way for Michigan (24-10) with 16 kills and nine digs. The Wolverines had upset No. 11 Pittsburgh to reach the regional semifinal.
Texas (23-4) advanced to a regional final for the 13th straight year.
What's next? Provo Regional final: No. 4 BYU vs. No. 5 Texas, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
Champaign Regional: Illinois 3, Marquette 0
The student section rocked in Huff Hall for a matinee match in the Champaign Regional when No. 3 seed Illinois (31-3) advanced to its first regional final since 2011 with a sweep of No. 14 Marquette.
Golden Eagles junior Allie Barber led all players with 14 kills, but Illini senior Ali Bastianelli finished with seven kills and one error, hitting .600. Her final kill was on match point to clinch the match at 25-16 in the third set.
Illinois junior middle blocker Ashlyn Fleming hit .467 with 10 kills. Jordyn Poulter, the co-setter of the year in the Big Ten, had 38 assists. Junior Jacqueline Quade finished with a team-best 12 kills.
Quade set the tone early, with eight kills in a 25-19 first set when the Illini hit .552. The Golden Eagles rallied to tie the second set at 20-20 before the Illini rattled off five of the final six points for a 25-21 win.
Illinois plays No. 6 Wisconsin, which swept San Diego, in Saturday's 4 p.m. ET regional final. The Illini and Badgers split their two matches this season with each team winning on the other's court.
-- Vicki L. Friedman
Wisconsin 3, San Diego 0
Sophomore Dana Rettke came up big for No. 6 Wisconsin, which swept unseeded San Diego to set up an all-Big Ten regional final with host Illinois.
The 6-foot-8 outside hitter finished with a flawless performance of nine kills and no errors, hitting .692. The first-team All-Big Ten middle blocker came into the match ranked fourth in the NCAA in hitting (4.15) and sixth nationally in blocking (1.53 blocks/set).
Rettke's teammate, Molly Haggerty, had eight kills with one error, and middle blocker Tionna Williams had eight kills and two errors.
Wisconsin (25-6) hit .515 for the match and held San Diego below .100 in sets two and three. The Badgers closed out the match on a 12-2 run, winning the final set 25-10. The first two sets were 25-13 and 25-16.
San Diego lost Lauren Fuller trailing 11-5 in the third set. The senior hitter landed awkwardly on her left knee and crumbled on the floor, crying in pain. Starting Toreros libero Kelli Barry suffered an injury in practice and did not play.
The Toreros (18-13) upset No. 11 USC to reach the round of 16 for the fourth time in their history.
Wisconsin and Illinois split their series this season. The Badgers won 3-1 in Champaign on Oct. 3, and 10 days later lost to the Illini by the same score. Wisconsin is in the regional final for the first time since 2016.
What's next? Champaign Regional final: No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 6 Wisconsin, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPNU/WatchESPN
-- Vicki L. Friedman
No. 3 Illinois 3, No. 14 Marquette 0
No. 7 Nebraska 3, No. 10 Kentucky 0
No. 6 Wisconsin 3, San Diego 0
No. 5 Texas 3, Michigan 1
No. 15 Oregon 3, No. 2 Minnesota 1
No. 8 Penn State 3, Washington 0
No. 4 BYU 3, Florida 1
No. 1 Stanford 3, No. 16 Washington State 1