Wisconsin advances to national title match by taking down unbeaten Louisville

Louisville is no longer unbeaten.

The Wisconsin volleyball team saw to that with a marathon five-set match Thursday night in Columbus to punch its ticket to the national title game.

Coach Kelly Sheffield’s team never looked overmatched against the 32-0 Cardinals. They took control early, winning the first set 25-23 as both teams came out firing on offense. After Louisville halted Wisconsin’s 19-set winning streak in the second, the Badgers answered in the third 25-21. It gave them a 2-1 advantage, the first time the Cardinals had trailed after three sets this season. It was back-and-forth in the fourth set with Louisville finally ending things with an ace. But the Badgers were resilient in the fifth and eventually pulled away for a 15-9 win and a spot in their fourth national championship game.

Fittingly, it was an Anna Smrek kill that ended things for Wisconsin. It was one of 20 kills for the freshman, who hit a remarkable .704 for the match. She also added three blocks.

All-American Dana Rettke also came through with 14 kills and eight blocks, while Grace Loberg had 13 kills. Lauren Barnes was everywhere, finishing with 19 digs and seven assists. Captain Sydney Hilley was fantastic again, serving up 58 assists and digging out 11 balls.

This is the fourth time Wisconsin has won a national semifinal, but the team hasn’t been able to close the deal in the championship match. The Badgers will get that chance on Saturday against third-seeded Pittsburgh or Big Ten rival Nebraska.