No. 2 Pitt faces off against ACC rival No. 1 Louisville in the Final Four in Omaha, Neb. Thursday night in the biggest matchup ever between the two programs.
The Panthers (31-3) defeated the Cardinals (30-2) in their first matchup on Oct. 23 at Fitzgerald Field House. The Panthers took a 2-0 lead in the match, before the Cardinals stormed back to force the match into a fifth set. Despite the lost lead, the Panthers hung on for an important victory.
Louisville then swept Pitt on their home court, L&N Federal Credit Union Arena, in dominant fashion on Nov. 18. Louisville outhit Pitt .309 to .088, the lowest Pitt has hit in 2022.
The two programs have dominated the ACC since the start of the 2017 season. Pitt won the 2018 and 2019 ACC Titles outright, Louisville won the 2020 and 2021 ACC Titles outright and both teams shared the conference title in 2017 and 2022.
Cardinals head coach Dani Busboom Kelly started with the program in 2017 after leaving her assistant job at Nebraska. Busboom Kelly also won ACC Coach of the Year for the third straight season this year, coinciding with the Cardinals winning at least a share of the ACC Title.
It isn’t a surprise to see both her and Panthers head coach Dan Fisher as the two top coaches in the conference and in Division I as well. Busboom Kelly holds a 145-32 win-loss record and Fisher holds a 166-23 win-loss record since 2017.
Louisville graduate outside hitter Claire Chaussee won ACC Player of the Year for 2022. She finished with a team-high in kills with 415 and points with 454.5. Her 3.74 kills per set ranked sixth in the ACC and her 4.09 points per set ranked eighth in the conference. Her 197 digs ranked third on Louisville.
The Cardinals also have the ACC Defensive Player of the year in senior middle blocker Amaya Tillman. Tillman ranks first in the ACC with 1.48 blocks per set, which is also ninth best in Division I. She is also holds a solid .352 hitting percentage, which ranks sixth highest in the conference.
Graduate setter Raquel Lozaro is another top player for Louisville, as she won ACC Setter of the Year, with her 10.05 assists per set ranking fifth in the ACC.
Redshirt senior opposite hitter Aiko Jones and sophomore libero Elena Scott also made First-Team All-ACC.
Jones has the second highest kills on the Cardinals with 280 and points with 377.0. She is also an excellent server, as her 0.40 service aces per set ranks third in the ACC. Scott ranks fifth in the conference with 3.90 digs per set.
One player to absolutely keep track of is junior outside hitter Anna DeBeer. DeBeer spent the latter half of September and all of October out injured, missing the loss in five sets to Pitt on the road. Still, she is great threat to Pitt in this matchup and is solid at serving, with her 0.34 service aces per set ranking ninth in the ACC.
Junior middle blocker Phekran Kong is another great piece for the Cardinals. She uses her 6-foot-4 height and long wingspan to dominate at the net and ranked third in the ACC with 1.26 blocks per set.
Unlike Pitt, Louisville earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. They swept Samford, No. 7 Purdue and No. 4 Baylor in the first three rounds of the tournament and came up against No. 2 Oregon in the Elite Eight.
Oregon pushed Louisville to five sets and almost took it close in the fourth set. Louisville managed to rally and take the fifth set, 15-6. DeBeer played a fantastic game with a team-high 17 kills and made 10 digs for a double-double.
The Panthers will face a great challenge in the Cardinals Thursday night. They’ll need to play their best volleyball of the season in order to take down their rival and make it to their first NCAA Championship game in program history.