Wisconsin, Kentucky, Texas, and Washington will compete for the national championship after a hard-fought quarterfinal round.
By Alex Holmes
The NCAA Division I Volleyball Tournament Final Four is set and top-seeded Wisconsin, No. 2 Kentucky, No. 4 Texas, and No. 6 Washington will play in the national semifinals this Thursday.
The second-seeded Kentucky Wildcats (22–1) will make their Final Four debut against sixth-seeded Washington (20–-3) on April 22 at 7 P.M. ET on ESPN. The No. 1 overall seed Wisconsin (16–0) will play No. 4 Texas (26–1) in the second national semifinal match at 9:30 P.M. ET.
All four teams advanced from their regionals on Monday. Wisconsin defeated No. 8 Florida 3–2 behind Dana Rettke’s .333 kill percentage and 28 digs from Lauren Barnes. The regional final was the first time all season that the Badgers lost two sets.
The Kentucky Wildcats booked the program’s first trip to the Final Four by defeating No. 7 Purdue 3–0. Alli Stumler’s 16 kills and Madison Lilley’s 38 assists led the Wildcats in the win.
Fourth-seeded Texas knocked off No. 5 Nebraska 3–1 behind 18 kills from Skylar Fields and Logan Eggleston. Jhenna Gabriel dished 46 assists in the Longhorn win.
Washington came from behind to beat unseeded Pittsburgh 3–2. The Huskies found themselves down 0–2 before a balanced offensive performance led by Samantha Drechsel (17 kills), Claire Hoffman (17 kills), Madi Endsley (16 kills), and Ella May Powell (48 assists) completed the come-from-behind victory.
Wisconsin enters the Final Four as the only remaining undefeated team. The Badgers sit atop the rankings even after a three-week hiatus in the middle of the season due to COVID-19 protocol. In total, the Badgers missed nine games in the regular season, but that has not kept the team from a perfect season so far, and now they are two wins away from accomplishing the feat.
Head coach Kelly Sheffield has a plethora of talent on his roster. The 6-foot-8 powerhouse and All-BIG 10 First Team selection Dana Rettke has guided the Badgers to the national semifinals. Rettke, along with fellow upperclassmen Molly Haggerty, Grace Loberg, Big 10 Setter of the Year Sydney Hilley, and freshman sensation Devyn Robinson are seeking to make history and bring the first volleyball national championship back to Madison.
Standing in Wisconsin’s way are the fourth-seeded Texas Longhorns. The team earned its spot in the program’s 13th Final Four by defeating Wright St. (3–0), No. 13 Penn St. (3–1), and No. 5 Nebraska (3–1). The program is seeking its third national championship.
Big 12 Player of the Year Logan Eggleston leads the team with 430 kills on the season. Eggleston and fellow All-Big 12 First Team performer Skylar Fields have steadied the Longhorns offense in the tournament and will give the Wisconsin defense all they can handle in the semifinals. Jhenna Gabriel, the Big 12 Setter of the Year, has notched over 1,000 assists on the season.
The No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats are in new territory—this is the program’s first Final Four appearance. The Wildcats have looked unstoppable in the postseason, and have yet to drop a set in the NCAA Tournament after cruising past UNLV (3–0), Western Kentucky (3–0), and No. 7 Purdue (3–0) to earn a berth in the Final Four.
On the season, junior Alli Stumler (325 kills) and senior Avery Skinner (241 kills) have paced the Wildcat attack. The motor to Kentucky’s offense is senior setter Madison Lilley, who was named the SEC Player of the Year. Lilley has posted 911 assists on the season and owns a team-best 29 service aces. Kentucky also has the SEC Libero of the Year in Gabby Curry. Although it’s the program’s first outing in the Final Four, head coach Craig Skinner has high expectations for his team to win the program’s first national title.
Of all the four teams remaining, No. 6 Washington has played the most volleyball in the NCAA Tournament. Each of the Huskies’ three matches went to five sets, including a come-from-behind thriller against Pittsburgh in the regional final.
All-Pac 12 performers Samantha Drechsel, Claire Hoffman, and Ella May Powell have been the key to Washington’s fifth Final Four appearance. Drechsel owns 316 kills on the season, followed by Claire Hoffman with 304 kills. Powell, the Pac 12 Setter of the Year, has made 931 assists this season. Washington is in its first Final Four since 2013.
The 2020 Division I NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament began with 48 teams and now the field is down to the Final Four. The city of Omaha has hosted the entire tournament, which began on April 14 and will conclude with the championship game on April 24.
The Final Four begins Thursday, April 22, with the first national semifinal between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 6 Washington at 7 P.M. ET on ESPN. The second national semifinal will feature a matchup between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 4 Texas, and is slated for 9:30 P.M. ET on ESPN. The winners will advance to the national championship game on Saturday, April 24, with the first serve scheduled for 8 P.M. ET on ESPN2.