Texas, Pitt, Nebraska, Wisconsin advance to NCAA women’s volleyball final four: Who’s the favorite?

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Defending national champion Texas upset Stanford to join three No. 1 seeds headed to Tampa, Fla., for the final four of the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. Pittsburgh, Nebraska and Wisconsin also punched their tickets Saturday with victories in the regional finals.

Nebraska, 32-1 and the No. 1 overall seed, will play Pitt in the first semifinal Thursday at Amalie Arena. Texas and Wisconsin will play in the other match Thursday. The winners will meet Sunday.

Pitt (27-5) is headed to the final four for a third consecutive season. The Panthers lost to Louisville last year — but won a postseason rematch Saturday against the Cardinals. Pitt came back from two sets down in the regional final, winning the decisive fifth set 15-7 against its ACC rival.

Nebraska beat Arkansas on Saturday in four sets; Wisconsin (30-3) topped Oregon in four; Texas (26-4), seeded second in its regional, won at No. 1 seed Stanford in four sets.

Nebraska will make its 17th appearance in the final four. The Huskers have won five titles. Texas is making its 16th trip in search of a fifth championship after it beat Louisville in the title match a year ago. This final four for Wisconsin is its sixth. The Badgers won their lone title in 2021. Pitt has not won a championship in three semifinal appearances.

Who’s the favorite?

Wisconsin, the No. 3 overall seed, has won seven consecutive matches since it lost last month on the road against Purdue and Penn State without Anna Smrek. Smrek, a 6-foot-9 outside hitter, is back in control at the net for the Badgers, who are perhaps the most physical team in the nation.

The Badgers’ only other loss came in October in five sets at Nebraska, a defeat that Wisconsin avenged with a sweep against the Big Ten champion Huskers on Nov. 24. Sarah Franklin, the Big Ten player of the year, delivers firepower for Wisconsin.

Who are the other players to watch?

Nebraska starts four decorated freshmen, but it’s paced by libero Lexi Rodriguez and outside hitter Merritt Beason. The Huskers have no seniors on the roster. For Pitt, Rachel Fairbanks was named ACC setter of the year, and right-side hitter Olivia Babcock earned Freshman of the Year honors in the league.

Texas outside hitter Madisen Skinner is the Big 12 player of the year and has won national championships with Kentucky and with the Longhorns. Middle blocker Asjia O’Neal is a three-time All-Big 12 selection for Texas and led the Big 12 in blocks per set.

Required reading

  • ‘We’re scientists right now’: Wisconsin volleyball’s unconventional path to success
  • Caroline Jurevicius, daughter of former NFL receiver, ‘playing the long game’ with Nebraska volleyball

(Photo of Texas Longhorns players: David Buono / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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