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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Cardinal Couple -- Let's call this upset weekend in volleyball



( We're pleased to give you a "twin spin" on articles today...first up, you'll find JEFF McADAMS very good review and commentary on the weekend Volleyball triumphs . Following this, Paulie's piece on volleyball, field hockey and football. Two for the price of one today...and we don't even charge you for the one! )

What a weekend for volleyball

A quick look around the NCAA

#14 Minnesota beats #4 Texas
Unranked Western Kentucky beats #10 Dayton
Unranked Oregon State beats #2 Penn State
Unranked Marquette beats #23 Michigan
Unranked Miami (Fla.) beats #6 Florida State

And of course, why we're here:
#24 Louisville beats #11 Purdue
#24 Louisville beats #20 Illinois

Big East, meet one of the powerhouse conferences

Of the 12 Big 10 teams in volleyball, half of them are ranked, with Michigan State also receiving votes. That makes them the conference with the most ranked teams (6, compared to also-perennial-powerhouse the PAC-12...with 5).  The Big East only has one...we managed to make it in at 24 (sorry, Paulie, it was a nice turn of phrase, but we're not unranked).

You can imagine, then, that in the Big East/Big Ten challenge, the Big Ten tends to be rather heavily favored.  This year was no different with Louisville and Cincinnati representing the Big East, and #11 Purdue and #20 Illinois representing the Big Ten.  Also remember that UofL was a combined 3-18 against these teams all time with all of those wins coming against Illinois (0-10 vs Purdue, although Purdue's media guide calls it 0-11, apparently they beat us in 1977, the first season of UofL play which is only listed as "no records kept" in the media guide, regardless of who's records you believe, Louisville has never prevailed over the Boilermakers before this weekend).

Friday evening

With spirits high, the Cards take the floor and decide that they aren't going to take "no" for an answer and not only beat Purdue, they did so in solid fashion with a 3-0 sweep. I don't think I can do justice to the feeling of the UofL fans in attendance.  Most were family and good friends of players on the team, with a leavening of us "unaffiliated" fans (I had several family members ask who I was related to on the team over the course of the evening), but the small number didn't dampen the spirits and enough decibels were produced to fill Fifth Third Arena with C-A-R-D-S when Purdue took a timeout.

This was a true team effort, with no one player completely dominating.  Lola put up her typical, quite impressive, stats (20 kills, 11 digs). Tanya Lukyanenko hit a quite impressive .500 with 5 kills on 10 attempts and no errors.  Gwen Rucker and Brooke Mattingly continued to play solidly in the middle. Alas Brooke apparently didn't get credited with the assist off of her head that Lola killed to seal the match.

Emily Juhl is probably the most noteworthy of players in this match as she is working her way back into playing form after off-season surgery.  With 7 of 12 hitting with no mistakes (for a very good .583), I'd say she's well on her way back to being a great weapon.

In the first two sets, Louisville pulled out solid leads and then held on as Purdue started to claw their way back into the games, but ran out of time in both sets.  The third set was a back and forth affair, but the Cards were able finish out the match for a huge win.

This wasn't a huge win just because it was an upset over a higher ranked team.  It was a huge win because there seemed to be such a mental block in playing against 0-10 (or 0-11) record will do that to you.  There were smiles all around after the match (and via Twitter) as players, family, friends, (and alumnae) almost unanimously exclaimed, "Finally!"

Saturday evening

Let down?  Not this time.  Facing #20 Illinois, the VolleyCards came out strong and needed that strength and determination to take the win in 5 sets.

In winning the first, third, and fifth sets, the Cards looked the better team. In losing the second and fourth sets, Illinois showed they could match, just barely, the Louisville play.

Illinois is a good blocking team, but their digging and passing is a bit suspect. That sounds a lot like a traditional Louisville team.

Again, a roll call of individual efforts; Lola, Tanya, Gwen, Brooke, Emily with good hitting and blocking numbers, Katie and Hannah evenly splitting setting duties, and a committee of players, (led by Lola in this case) hoovering up many shots otherwise headed to the hardwood.


I said after the Penn State match that this was a team that at the end of the season might be able to beat the Nittany Lions.  If you had told me, though, that we'd be 3-1 against Top 20 teams just two weeks later, I would've said, "You're crazy." and yet, here we are.  This team has come together to play as a unit much faster than I ever would have expected.  Credit to the determination and cohesive spirit of the team, as well as to the coaching staff, for getting this group of women settled in to playing together so quickly.

The team that played this weekend against Purdue and Illinois could play competitively with any team in the country.  Now the challenge will be to maintain this level of play for the rest of the season.  And, of course, there's always room for improvement.

Coming up next is the Louisville Invitational, another 3-matches-in-2-days affair at the KFC Yum! Center this weekend.  Middle Tennessee, UNLV, and Miami (Fla.) come to visit.  Miami is getting votes for rankings, but not enough to make it into the Top 25 yet.  Though with that win over #6 Florida State, might they crack their way into the rankings tomorrow?  We'll see.  After that, the Cards launch the conference slate.

With so many fall sports doing so well at UofL, its hard to support them all, spread the love around, if you like.  I'm going to try to make it out to the women's soccer game against Toledo this afternoon, but you can count on me being in my seat in row K come Friday and Saturday.

(Update: I'm not sure why I kept thinking Purdue was 10th ranked...they are 11th...until tomorrow)

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