(Courtesy: UofL Athletics) The ACC Champion University of Louisville volleyball team will make its 26th NCAA appearance when they face Northern Iowa on Friday, Dec. 1 at 5:30 ET in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Cardinals (24-6, 18-2) hope to extend their 11-match winning streak as they face the Panthers (26-8, 15-3) who have signature wins against Nebraska, USC and Iowa State. The winner of the UNI-Louisville match will take on the winner of the Minnesota vs. North Dakota match on Saturday.
"We are very excited. Winning the ACC was awesome, so that was a huge hurdle," said Dani Busboom Kelly, UofL first year head coach. "Now we reset for what we call the third season after non-conference, conference and now the postseason tournament. We are excited to get in and excited to keep playing. I know this team is having a blast and we don't want the season to end. So we will see how long we can keep it going."
The Cardinals have won 12 first round matches in their 25 years in NCAA play with four Sweet Sixteen appearances and an overall mark of 16-25 including one stretch of 16 straight appearances from 1998-2013. The Cards beat Belmont in 2015 before falling to Illinois in their last appearance. Louisville is one of six ACC teams in the dance, along with co-champion Pitt, Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami and NC State.
"We have a very tough draw. UNI has had some huge wins this year," said Busboom Kelly. "They do a great job in their conference. And if we would advance, Minnesota was in the Final Four the last two years. They have one of the best setters in the country and they will be extremely tough."
The UNI Panthers have posted 14 victories all-time in their previous 20 NCAA Tournament appearances. UNI has advanced to at least the second round 11 times. UNI has made three Sweet 16 appearances (1999, 2001, 2002). UNI's last NCAA appearance came in 2016 when the Panthers dropped a five-set match to Creighton in Lawrence, Kansas, in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
"We won five 5-set matches in the ACC season," said Busboom Kelly. "That says so much about this team's grit and abilities and fight and ability to overcome adversity. It comes down to the fact that this team loves each other and is playing hard for each other and having a blast. They don't want this season to end, so they are doing everything in their power to extend it as long as possible."
The NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball committee announced the 64-team field that will compete with thirty-two conferences being awarded an automatic qualification, while the remaining 32 positions were filled with at-large selections to complete the bracket.
The top 16 teams were seeded nationally and placed within four regions. Penn State earned the top seed followed by No. 2 Florida. Defending national champion Stanford earned the third seed while Kentucky rounded out the top four.
Per the established bracketing principles, the top 16 seeds were provided the opportunity to host. Additionally, team pairings were determined by geographic proximity, with the exception that teams from the same conference were not paired during the first- and second-rounds.
First- and second-round matches will be played November 30 through December 2 at 16 campus sites. Teams winning both matches will move on to regional play December 8 and 9. Regionals for the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship will be held at four non-predetermined campus sites, which will be announced after play concludes, on December 2. At each site, four teams will compete in single-elimination regional semifinal competition.
The regional winners will advance to the national semifinals and championship final co-hosted by the University of Missouri Kansas City, University of Kansas and Kansas City Sports Commission on December 14 and 16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The national semifinal matches will broadcast on ESPN/ESPN2 and the championship match will broadcast on ESPN2.