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Louisville volleyball will play for national title after 5-set win over Pitt

The Cards will battle No. 1 overall seed Texas on Saturday night for all the marbles.

NCAA Womens Volleyball: Louisville vs Pittsburgh Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to a second straight thrilling 5-set victory, the Louisville Cardinals will be the first ACC volleyball team to play for a national championship.

Dani Busboom Kelly’s sensational squad overcame a gut-wrenching loss in the fourth set to dominate the final frame on their way to a 25-18, 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 15-2 win over rival and second-seeded Pittsburgh Friday night in the second national semifinal from Omaha.

The only thing standing between Louisville and the program’s first national championship is now No. 1 overall seed Texas. The Cardinals and Longhorns will play for the title Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Before arriving at the sport’s biggest stage, U of L first had to tangle with the team that has emerged as its primary rival in recent years.

Louisville and Pitt have combined to win the last six ACC championships, they both made their first Final Four appearance a season ago, and they shared the 2022 ACC title with matching 17-1 records and home victories over the other.

The rubber match was a classic.

After storming back to claim the third set and a 2-1 advantage, Louisville appeared on pace to claim the fourth set in relatively drama-free fashion. They led Pitt 16-10 and then 22-20 before an error-plagued stretch allowed the Panthers to win the final five points and seemingly take all the momentum in the world into the fifth.

That was not the case.

Busboom Kelly said after the match that she told the team some “inside jokes” to calm their nerves and get them refocused. It worked.

Anna DeBeer’s serve, which was lethal all evening long, carried the Cards to an 8-0 start in the final frame and ultimately a 15-2 romp to punch their ticket for Saturday night. The regional MVP, DeBeer matched a season high with five aces and also had 15 kills.

ACC Player of the Year Claire Chaussee was also undaunted by the bright lights, finishing with a match-high 25 kills while hitting .429. Elena Scott was equally sensational, serving up five aces of her own and recording 28 of Louisville’s 65 digs. The Cardinals also recorded a season-high 19 blocks (six in the final set alone) thanks in large part to Phekran Kong’s 11.

The question of “which team sport is going to be the first besides men’s basketball to win a national championship for Louisville” has been asked consistently for as long as I’ve been doing this. Women’s basketball, men’s soccer, football, baseball, field hockey and a few others have all flirted with it. Now, volleyball gets the chance to make it happen in two nights.

If they wear that crown, it’ll be fitting. Few Cardinal teams in recent memory have played with as much confidence, passion, enthusiasm and resolve as this group.

They’ve been a joy to follow, and I couldn’t be more excited that we get to watch them compete one more time.

Let’s go win a national title.