Match One: No. 5 Nebraska vs. No. 1 Penn State, 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)
Match Two: No. 3 Stanford vs. No 2 Florida, 8 p.m. CT (ESPN)
No. 1 Penn State
- Record: 33-1 (8-1 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Russ Rose (1,246-197)
- Key Statistics: .345 hitting percentage (first nationally), 3.08 blocks per set (fifth), 14.33 kills per set (16th)
- Key Players: Senior MB Haleigh Washington (3.06 kps, .512 hitting, 1.47 bps), Senior OH Simone Lee (3.90 kps, .321 hitting, 2.24 dps), Senior OH Ali Frantti (2.50 kps, .262 hitting)
- Average Height of Main Rotation Players: MB = 6-2.5, OH = 6-1.7, S = 6-0, DS/L = 5-5
Analysis: The Nittany Lions have only lost one match all season long, and it came all the way back on Sept. 22 – against the Huskers. Penn State has terrific athletes up and down its lineup and that manifests itself with the most efficent offense in the country and a top-five blocking defense. Big Ten Player of the Year Simone Lee, Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti are all seniors now and making one last run.
No. 2 Florida
- Record: 29-1 (7-1 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Mary Wise (904-163)
- Key Statistics: .136 opponent hitting percentage (second), 3.01 blocks per set (sixth), .286 hitting percentage (12th)
- Key Players: Senior OH Carli Snyder (3.44 kps, .231 hitting, 3.31 dps), Sophomore MB Rachel Kramer (2.75 kps, .429 hitting, 1.06 bps), Senior MB Rhamat Alhassan (2.69 kps, .399 hitting, 1.75 bps), Senior L Caroline Knop (4.53 dps)
- Average Height of Main Rotation Players: MB = 6-6, OH = 6-1, S = 5-11.5, DS/L = 5-7
Analysis: Florida features two players with max verticls north of 37 inches in middle blocker Rhamat Alhassan and outside hitter Shaina Joseph and a 6-foot-8 middle in Rachel Kramer, yet it is outside hitter Carli Snyder who leads the way for the Gators at 3.44 kills and 3.31 digs per set. All of that height and athleticism make the Gators one of the best defensive teams in the country in large part because of their blocking. Like Penn State, Florida has only lost one match all season – a 3-1 defeat to Kentucky, who the Huskers knocked out in the Regional Final.
No. 3 Stanford
- Record: 30-3 (12-3 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Kevin Hambly (208-89)
- Key Statistics: .322 hitting percentage (third), 3.10 blocks per set (fourth), 14.46 kills per set (12th)
- Key Players: Sophomore OH Kathryn Plummer (4.73 kps, .323 hitting, 1.93 dps, 0.36 saps), Senior OH Merete Lutz (2.94 kps, .316 hitting, 1.01 bps), Sophomore MB Audriana Fitzmorris (2.34 kps, .386 hitting, 1.51 bps), Sophomore L Morgan Hentz (4.04 dps)
- Average Height of Main Rotation Players: MB = 6-4, OH = 6-4.7, S = 6-1, DS/L = 5-9
Analysis: Stanford features two of the tallest hitters in the country in 6-foot-6 sophomore Kathryn Plummer and 6-foot-8 senior Merete Lutz as well as a 6-foot-6 middle in sophomore Audriana Fitzmorris. Stanford is third in the country in hitting percentage, fourth in blocking and 12th in kills, but the Cardinal's floor defense is not as strong as Stanford allows opponents to hit .178, significantly higher than the other three semifinalists.
No. 5 Nebraska
- Record: 30-4 (10-3 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: John Cook (690-142)
- Key Statistics: .151 opponent hitting percentage (ninth), .285 hitting percentage (14th), 14.27 kills per set (20th)
- Kep Players: Junior OH Mikaela Foecke (3.47 kps, .293 hitting, 2.26 dps, 0.32 saps), Senior S Kelly Hunter (10.84 aps, 2.67 dps), Senior OH Annika Albrecht (3.08 kps, .266 hitting, 2.74 dps, 0.28 saps), Senior MB Briana Holman (2.42 kps, .355 hitting, 1.17 bps)
- Average Height of Main Rotation Players: MB = 6-2.5, OH = 6-2, S = 5-11, DS/L = 5-8.7
Analysis: The Huskers don't necessarily stand out physically, nor do they do any one thing incredibly well. Instead, the Huskers are just solid all-around. Nebraska is a top-15 hitting offense because of its abaility to hit accurately for kills thanks in large part to great set-ups by All-American setter Kelly Hunter, and Nebraska is very stout defensively thanks to great teamwork between the blockers and the back row. The Huskers don't necessarily get a ton of aces, but they still manage to control matches with tough serving, which is another big part of holding opponents to .151 hitting.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.