Anna DeBeer recorded a season-high 20 kills, adding 10 digs as No. 1 University of Louisville volleyball fell in the Final Four semifinals 3-2 to No. 4 Wisconsin on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.
“I’m proud of the way we battled tonight,” Louisville head coach Dani Busboom Kelly said of her team’s effort in the loss. “This is a team that you could be with forever. It’s one of those really special groups that you just never want it to end.”
Louisville ends its memorable season 32-1 after advancing to its first Final Four in program history. As a team, the Cardinals had 63 kills, hitting .230 with five aces, 69 digs and 11 blocks. Anna Stevenson was second on the team, recording 12 kills on 25 swings to hit .360 with one ace and two solo blocks. Claire Chaussee turned in 11 kills with Aiko Jones add nine and a team-high two aces and Amaya Tillman recording eight on 17 swings to hit a team-high .412. Tori Dilfer paced the offense with 49 assists and 10 digs.
Wisconsin improves to 30-3, advancing to the championship match after recording 71 kills and hitting .289 with four aces, 63 digs and 11 blocks. Anna Smrek led the Badgers’ offense with 20 kills on 27 swings to hit a match-high .704.
A tight contest to start, the Cardinals and Badgers traded points back-and-forth to start. Anna Stevenson gave UofL a 7-5 lead after landing a kill and an ace on consecutive plays. Wisconsin evened the set 10-10 before the teams traded points, unable to find an advantage. With the match still in a deadlock, the Badgers took a small 15-14 lead into the media timeout. Wisconsin scored four of the six points following the break to push its lead to three at 19-16 as Louisville used its first timeout of the set. The Cardinals came out of the timeout on the attack, ripping off three straight points to overcome the Wisconsin lead and tie the set 19-19 and force the Badgers to call their first timeout of the set. Wisconsin’s timeout paid off, leading to a 3-0 run of its own for a 22-20 as the Cardinals used their second and final timeout of the set. Anna Stevenson landed a big swing to get the cards back within one at 22-21, but a block from the Badgers put the Cards down 23-21 late. A service error from Wisconsin gave Louisville life but the Badgers would go on to score two of the next three points to take the first set 25-23.
Another tightly contested start, the second set went back-and-forth as the teams continued to battle. UofL put together three straight points, scored by kills from three different Cardinals, to pop out to an early 8-5 lead. After siding out, the Cards strung together another 3-0 run, led by Anna DeBeer with back-to-back kills, to extend their lead to five at 11-6. Wisconsin fought to stay within five, but Louisville continued to push the pace, feeding its hitters from all angles to rail off three more points, taking a 15-8 lead into the media timeout. Following the break, the Cardinals their aggressive play as Tori Dilfer set Aiko Jones for another big kill to force Wisconsin to call a quick timeout down 16-8. Louisville would take one more point of the timeout to cap off a huge five-point run for a 17-8. From there, the teams traded points as Louisville controlled the set. The Badgers would close the gap to six at 21-15 but it wouldn’t be enough as UofL went on another run, scoring four straight points, to win the second set in convincing fashion 25-15 and even the match 1-1.
Wisconsin got off a to a quick start, putting together the first four points of the set to take and early 4-0 lead. Louisville rallied, putting together a three-point run of their own to get back within one at 5-4. The set was tightly contested from there as neither team could hold on to an advantage. The Cards evened the set at 7-7 and eventually took their first lead at 9-8 before the Badgers tied things again 9-9. Wisconsin scratched away and put together a three-point run to go up 12-10, but the lead wouldn’t last long as the Cardinals offense heated up, putting together a 5-1 run to erase the Badgers’ lead and take a 15-13 lead of their own heading into the media timeout. Wisconsin took three of the first four points following the break to even the score 16-16 but UofL jumped right back in front 18-16 after Anna Stevenson and Tori Dilfer combined for a block and force the Badgers to use their first timeout of the set. Wisconsin’s timeout paid off as the Badgers rallied for four of the five points following the break to take a one-point lead at 20-19 as Louisville called its first timeout of the set. The Badgers scored the first point out of the timeout, but a massive block from Amaya Tillman put the Cards right back within one at 21-20. The teams traded points to get to 22-21 but back-to-back points from the Badgers saw the Cardinals down 24-21 late as they used their final timeout of the set. Wisconsin would take the first point after the timeout to win the third set 25-21.
UofL got off to a quick start, popping out to an early 3-1 lead. Wisconsin turned in a three-point run to take a 4-3 lead before a kill from Anna DeBeer tied the set 4-4 and gave the serve back to the Cardinals. Both teams continued to battle as the set went back-and-forth. The Cardinals finally broke the stalemate after back-to-back kills from Claire Chaussee and Anna DeBeer gave them a 10-8 lead. Another pair of kills from Aiko Jones and Anna DeBeer gave UofL a three-point lead at 12-9 with Anna Stevenson joining the action a point later followed by and ace from Aiko Jones to give the Cards a 14-10 lead. Another kill from Anna Stevenson put Louisville up 15-11 heading into the media timeout. The Badgers took the four of the first points out of the break to get back within one at 16-15, but back-to-back points from the Cardinals forced Wisconsin to call its first timeout of the set down 18-15. The Badgers rallied again following the timeout, taking the first two points to get back within one at 18-17. Louisville went up two at 20-18, but another rally from Wisconsin saw the Badgers take a 21-20 lead as the Cardinals used their first timeout of the set. UofL came out of the timeout on the attack, scoring off a big swing from Anna DeBeer and a block by Anna Stevenson to take a 22-21 lead and force the Badgers to use their final timeout of the set. The hard-fought set continued as the teams traded points with the score locked 23-23. Louisville used its final timeout late and come out of the break hungry, getting a big swing from Claire Chaussee to land followed by an ace from Ceci Rush to take the fourth set 25-23 and force a fifth set.
Much like fourth set, UofL got off to a quick start, using a three-point run to jump out to a 3-1 lead, forcing Wisconsin to use its first timeout early in the set. The Badgers’ timeout paid off as they scored the first two points after the break to even the score 3-3. Both teams continued to fight, trading points back-and-forth. With the Cardinals up one at 6-5, Wisconsin put together a three-point run to take an 8-6 lead as Louisville called its first timeout of the set. The Badgers took two of the first three points out of the break to extend their lead to three at 10-7. UofL scored one to get back within two at 10-8 but called its final timeout of the set after Wisconsin took two more points to go up 12-8 late. The Cards would rally for one more point, but the Badgers lead would prove too much to overcome as they would go on to win the set 15-9 and take the match 3-2.
For the latest on Louisville volleyball, visit GoCards.com, follow the team’s Twitter account at @UofLVolleyball or on Facebook at facebook.com/UniversityofLouisvilleVolleyball.
Full Transcripts of the postmatch press conference:
COACH BUSBOOM: I’m really proud of this team and the way we battled tonight. And this is really a tough moment. This is just a team that you could be with forever. And there’s no burnout. There’s nobody tired of each other. It’s just one of those really special groups that you just can’t — you just never want it to end.
So it’s hard to know that it’s come to an end. And we owe a lot to the seniors. And we had an amazing senior class. And they’re really the ones who got us here.
But hats off to Wisconsin. They played really well in Game 5. And they really leaned on us. And I thought they broke us a little bit. So hopefully we can learn from that. And just really proud of this team and where they took this program. It’s sad to see these guys go.
Q. Coach Sheffield was complimenting you heavily in the game in general, two teams playing at a very high level. Did this feel almost like a championship match, just the way it went.
COACH BUSBOOM: I think every game in the Final Four is going to feel like a championship match. But some of the rallies were pretty incredible and people making big plays when it mattered. And you had All-Americans going up against All-Americans. So definitely felt as high level as it gets.
Q. Anna, what did the fifth set — what kind of changed in the fifth set after you guys kind of come back and all the adrenaline is with you after that fourth set?
ANNA DEBEER: I think ending that fourth set on such a high-momentum service ace, I think it was just really hard for our team to just calm back down and get focused. I think we did a good job of starting it off. And came down just to us making a few uncharacteristic errors that gave them some momentum and they carried that.
I think it just taught us a little bit about ourselves and how we need to go after it against a really good team.
Q. Tori, I may be imagining something, but it appeared that you were trying to set your teammates a little further from the net to give them better angles. Is that accurate or not?
TORI DILFER: Honestly, no. I didn’t try to change anything. I trust them. I wasn’t scared of that block. I don’t think they were. So, no.
Q. For Anna Stevenson, could you reflect on the season as a whole, 32 wins and it ends on a — kind of abruptly. What’s the emotion?
ANNA STEVENSON: It’s the best season I’ve been a part of by far. But this group has just been the best. And it’s just kind of sad to think that I’m done playing college volleyball, but having played at Louisville makes it that much harder to leave because it’s the best of anything I’ve ever been a part of — team-wise, program, best staff ever. I’ve just really loved every minute of being with this team. And I think I’m just sad it’s over.
I would have liked to win a national championship, but just the thought that it’s over, it’s just kind of crazy.
Q. Tori and Anna Stevenson, what does it mean to be part of what you’re creating what you have at Louisville and the impact you’ve had on the sport, not just this season, but the seasons going forward with this program?
ANNA STEVENSON: I just feel incredibly honored to have been part of it. I remember after my freshman season, Rhamat Alhassan was my favorite player at Florida — I don’t know what year it was, but I was on my couch watching her play in the Final Four.
And just to think that maybe I’m that for somebody is just crazy to me. I never would have thought that I would be a part of any of this, ever.
TORI DILFER: I’m just incredibly grateful, grateful for the opportunity to join this program. Dani, Dan and Todd, I can’t thank them enough. Coming to Louisville was the best decision I’ve ever made. And that was only possible because of them and them taking a chance on me.
So, I’m just incredibly grateful. And, like Anna said, honored to be part of the history that Louisville volleyball has made in the last couple of seasons.
But I’m knows excited to see people like Anna DeBeer and everybody else carry it on. We said it in the locker room: The greatest gift they can give us seniors is taking this and taking it to the next level next year and the year after. That will be the greatest feeling ever is seeing this program do things that we didn’t do.
Q. Anna and Tori, COVID was such a crap year for everything. And a lot of people would have just moved on, and you didn’t have to come back. But doing it, how much do you think that kind of impacts your lives and all that happened this year?
ANNA STEVENSON: I mean, just another year to be part of Louisville was just a blessing. I transferred here and I thought I’d only get two years with this team. And I am so happy it didn’t end after two years and that I got a third.
TORI DILFER: Yeah, I can’t say much more other than this last year has changed me as a person, as a player. These people have changed me, I hope, all for the better. I hope I’m coming out as a much better person than I came in.
Just having that extra year was an incredible blessing. Obviously COVID, no one expected it, nobody wanted it, nobody wants it. But I’m just grateful that that opportunity was extended to us.
I can’t imagine leaving here without this last year. I mean, last year, when our season ended, it was the easiest decision to come back because that loss sucked. This one sucks a lot more, but that one sucked. And I was ready to be part of something awesome. And I knew this team had it in them just because of the people that they are.
Never could I have imagined what this year would have brought, but I was just excited to be part of this team for another year. These people are 100 percent the reason why I still absolutely am in love with the game of volleyball. And I love competing. It’s because of them.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about how everything you’ve learned about yourself as a coach over these last four or five years building the program, you know how hard it is to get here and then sustain it. What are some of the things you’ve learned and taken away from the season? Even though it ended now this has been a pretty spectacular year.
COACH BUSBOOM: Good question. I always hoped to coach a team that really understood what it took to be in this position and the hard work. But more importantly, it’s just been really amazing to see this team not only work hard but do it the right way and have fun and inspire a community and the university to love this program.
I guess this team has taught me to stay true to myself and that we don’t have to have — like the role acceptance, like I was talking with my assistants a couple of days ago, just we are all very comfortable in our roles and that’s really special. And that blends into the team. And I think that’s something that’s really tough and why we’ve been so successful.
Yeah, this team has taught me that you really can have it all. You can be great and you can win a lot. You can have fun. You can love each other and you can build a program. And that’s been pretty incredible to do that all in one year.
Q. Dani, I think you’ve lost five first sets this year but you’ve never lost the second one or two in a row. What is it about the resilience of this team that enabled you to come back twice tonight and actually lead briefly in the fifth set?
COACH BUSBOOM: They know what they want. They don’t want to lose. And I think the things that make us great are all intangibles. So it’s easy to look back on those and say these are things we can control; it’s nothing we can’t control.
And so just really, like I’ve been saying, just looking back at what makes us great and being able to talk about that and go to that when there’s a lot of pressure.
Q. Just talk about this game and what maybe you felt like you wish you had done better in this game or differently in this game than maybe we saw the rest of the season?
COACH BUSBOOM: Man, I don’t know if there’s a lot that I would have done differently from, like, a game-plan or a tactical standpoint. I thought we did a really good job.
We held Dana Rettke to one of her lowest hitting percentages of the year, which is no easy task. We made a freshman step up. Sometimes you roll the dice and you think, hopefully this freshman doesn’t have as amazing a game as they do.
So I don’t know if I would change anything. I wanted our team to be a little tougher down the stretch in game five and a little more aggressive. That’s what we’ve been so great at all year. And so we started tipping a little bit and making some uncharacteristic errors. And that wasn’t us. But when it comes to this match, I don’t think there’s much I would change.
Q. How would you guys in the next two or three years look back on your career as far as you guys going undefeated until this point, how would you guys look at this?
ANNA STEVENSON: I’m not sure that a season will ever top it again. I guess I would just look back with gratitude that they let me be a part of it as a transfer. Best decision I ever made.
TORI DILFER: I think kind of the same thing. I don’t know how I’ll feel down the stretch. But I know I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life for this opportunity. I can’t really tell you much other than that. I’m just incredibly grateful. I’m really excited to see where this program goes.
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