Dani Busboom Kelly-led Louisville punch ticket to first national final in program history

Louisville left no doubt Thursday night that it deserved a shot at its first volleyball championship.

The Cardinals dominated the final set of their semifinals against Pittsburgh to take on leaders Texas at 7:00 p.m. Saturday. Louisville prevailed at the CHI Health Center 25-18 23-25 ​​25-22 22-25 15-2 in front of 16,735.

It will also give Nebraska native Dani Busboom Kelly the opportunity to become the first woman to coach a Division I volleyball champion.

“Obviously I’m very proud of this team,” she said. “This is a historic moment for our program.”

The fourth-seeded Cardinals (31-2) twice held a one-set lead over sixth-seeded Pitt, but the Panthers rallied both times to level the match. Pitt recovered from a 16-10 deficit in the fourth and sent the match into a fifth set.

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But from that point on, everything was Louisville.

The Cardinals went 8-0 in the 15-point final set behind Anna DeBeer’s powerful serve and PK Kong big block. DeBeer had five aces in the match with 15 kills while Kong had four blocks in the first seven points of the fifth.

“I was a little worried about how (Kong) would come out in Game 5,” said Busboom Kelly. “She executed, so it was a pretty incredible comeback after some really stupid plays in Game 4.”

There were no bonehead games from the Cardinals in that final set as they continued to pour on it. After the Panthers scored their first point, Louisville rattled four in a row to secure a 12-1 lead.

The Cardinals finished the win with a kill from Claire Chaussee, a block from Amaya Tillman, and a kill from Tillman.

Busboom Kelly credited the Panthers, who shared two games with her team during the season, for their Thursday night performance.

“Going into this game we knew we had to work really hard,” she said. “Pitt is an incredibly difficult team to beat.”

Chaussee, a 6-foot outside hitter, led Louisville with 25 kills. She hit an eight in the third set as the Cardinals rebounded from a 22-20 deficit to win 25-22.

“I think what helped us with this set was the depth in our lineup,” she said. “We can place anyone out there and I think that helped push us.”

Aiko Jones added 10 kills for Louisville while setter Raquel Lazaro dished out 49 assists.

Courtney Buzzerio had 13 kills for the Panthers, who finished 31-4.

“We weren’t quite at our level in the fifth set and our passing game was mixed,” said Pitt coach Dan Fisher. “But I was just so proud of our hearts, especially in that fourth set.”

Now it’s on to the finals for Louisville, who will take on the Longhorns. Texas defeated San Diego in four sets in Thursday’s early semifinals.

Busboom, who played at Freeman High and Nebraska, said she welcomed the support many Husker fans have shown their Cardinals.

“It’s not just the people of Louisville who love this team,” she said. “I’ll be really surprised if any Nebraskans cheer for Texas on Saturday.”

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