Match One: No. 4 BYU vs. No. 1 Stanford, 6 p.m. CST (ESPN)
Match Two: No. 7 Nebraska vs. No. 3 Illinois, 8 p.m. CST (ESPN)
No. 1 Stanford
- Record: 32-1 (17-1 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Kevin Hambly (240-91)
- Key Statistics: 3.39 blocks per set (first), 14.98 kills per set (first), .310 hitting percentage (third), .164 opponent hitting percentage (24th)
- Key Players: Junior OH Kathryn Plummer* (4.76 kills per set, .288 hitting, 2.33 digs per set, 0.30 aces per set), junior RS Audriana Fitzmorris** (2.83 kills per set, .342 hitting, 1.14 blocks per set), sophomore OH Meghan McClure (2.74 kills per set, .280 hitting, 2.42 blocks per set), junior S Jenna Gray* (12.41 assists per set, 1.40 digs per set, 0.37 aces per set), senior MB Tami Alade** (1.99 kills per set, .419 hitting, 1.79 blocks per set)
Analysis: The Cardinal, who fell to Florida in the national semifinals last season, will get a chance to avenge their only loss of the season on Thursday. BYU beat Stanford in five sets on Aug. 31. Kathryn Plummer is one of the best players in the country and leads the way for the Cardinal who also features one of the best setters in the country in Jenna Gray. Stanford dominates at the net both offensively and defensively, leading the nation in both kills and blocks per set.
No. 3 Illinois
- Record: 32-3 (12-3 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Chris Tamas (55-14)
- Key Statistics: .283 hitting percentage (ninth), 14.26 kills per set (15th), 1.63 aces per set (20th), 2.65 blocks per set (25th), .164 opponent hitting percentage (28th)
- Key Players: senior S Jordyn Poulter* (11.61 assists per set, 0.28 aces per set, 2.50 digs per set), senior MB Ali Bastianelli*** (2.30 kills per set, .352 hitting, 1.40 blocks per set), junior OH Jacqueline Quade* (4.19 kills per set, .267 hitting, 1.92 digs per set), Sophomore OH/RS Megan Cooney (2.65 kills per set, .281 hitting), freshman L Taylor Kuper (2.11 digs per set, 0.35 aces per set)
Analysis: Illinois made a huge leap from year one under former Husker assistant Chris Tamas to year two, and now finds itself on the game’s biggest stage. The Illini boast a top-10 offense led by one of the best setters in the country in senior Jordyn Poulter, the co-Setter of the Year in the Big Ten. Her top target is junior Jacqueline Quade, a dynamic 6-foot-2 pin hitter averaging over four kills per set. Illinois is also aggressive at the service line with 1.63 aces per set, good for 20th nationally.
No. 4 BYU
- Record: 31-1 (5-0 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: Heather Olmstead (118-12)
- Key Statistics: .315 hitting percentage (first), .139 opponent hitting percentage (second), 2.95 blocks per set (fifth), 14.35 kills per set (11th)
- Key Players: senior OH Roni Jones-Perry* (4.88 kills per set, .343 hitting, 0.41 aces per set, 1.93 digs per set), senior setter Lyndie Haddock-Eppich* (11.27 assists per set, 2.50 digs per set), junior OH McKenna Miller (3.25 kills per set, .307 hitting), freshman MB Heather Gneiting*** (2.13 kills per set, .393 hitting, 1.53 blocks per set), JR L Mary Lake** (3.91 digs per set)
Analysis: The only blemish on the Cougar’s roster to this point came on the final night of the regular season when the Cougars lost at Loyola Marymount in a baffling sweep. As a member of the West Coast Conference, the Cougars didn’t face near the same kind of competition as the other three semifinalists did, but BYU does have a five-set win over Stanford on its résumé and will look to make it 2-0 this season against the Cardinal on Thursday. BYU dominated the competition on offense (first in hitting) and defense (second in opponent’s hitting) and middle blocker Heather Gneiting was named Freshman of the Year by the AVCA on Wednesday.
No. 7 Nebraska
- Record: 28-6 (10-6 vs. Top 25)
- Coach: John Cook (718-142)
- Key Statistics: .136 opponent hitting percentage (first), 2.79 blocks per set (12th), 1.67 aces per set (16th), .265 hitting percentage (17th)
- Key Players: senior OH Mikaela Foecke* (3.80 kills per set, .319 hitting, 2.69 digs per set, 0.35 aces per set), senior L Kenzie Maloney*** (4.06 digs per set, 0.29 aces per set), sophomore MB Lauren Stivrins* (2.33 kills per set, .409 hitting, 1.22 blocks per set), freshman S Nicklin Hames (10.46 assists per set, 3.33 digs per set, 0.32 aces per set), sophomore OH Lexi Sun (3.17 kills per set, .201 hitting, 2.68 digs per set)
Analysis: Nebraska is the most aggressive serving team in the Final Four and the Huskers are the best defensive team as well. Mikaela Foecke has been a force all season long and seems to step up her game even more in the Final Four, as evidenced by the two NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player awards already under her belt. Foecke and her fellow co-captain Kenzie Maloney are 20-1 in the NCAA Tournament in their careers and are looking to capture their third national title.
*AVCA First-Team All-American; **AVCA Second-Team All-American; ***AVCA Third-Team All-American
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.