It seems to have been a season of near misses for the Louisville women's sports teams so far. Going back to the fall...neither women's Soccer nor Volleyball made the NCAA Tournament and Field Hockey bowed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Delaware. Women's basketball got to host the first and second rounds of the tournament and did get to the Sweet Sixteen...but was unable to go any further in "The Dance"...getting sent home in a somewhat demoralizing loss to Baylor.
Springtime brings hope and optimism...Louisville Lacrosse made the NCAA Tournament but left after the first round loss to James Madison. Louisville Softball failed to receive an at-large bid to the 64-team field and we found out yesterday that Louisville Rowing won't be one of the 22 teams competing in New Jersey for the NCAA Championships.
So, for the "Magnificent Seven" we devote that vast majority of our coverage here to...three teams complied an NCAA record of 2-4...four of the squads not making the NCAA Championships. No ACC Championships nor regular season titles in the bunch.
What do these teams need to do to get to the next level? We knew that going into the ACC would mean stronger competition and more established programs.
The question is, how do the Cards become one of those?
Women's basketball consistently receives a preseason top 20 (or better) each year, it seems....under the Jeff Walz regime. He has taken the Cards to two NCAA Championship games, but it's been four years since the WBB Cards have participated in a Final Four. None of the Cards on the current roster have experienced a trip to the Final Four as a player. The recruits each year continue to be impressive and Walz's recruiting classes are consistently in the top 10. When do the Cards go to the final weekend of women's college basketball again? What do they need to do to get there?
I'll offer three things. The emergence of 1) a strong dominating center and 2) consistent guard play. The UConn squads had both in their title runs. South Carolina did, too. Control the board, control the pace. 3) A leader. A Shoni, an Angel. Someone willing to step up, take over and be "that girl".
Volleyball was dominant in the Big East and AAC. The ACC era saw a gradual decline in Louisville's successes, though, and now the Cards find themselves with a new head coach and a lot of question marks for next year. How do they rise up and compete with the Penn States and Nebraska's of volleyball?
Front lines that are tall and aggressive seem to do well in college volleyball. Witness UK's consistent height advantage and ability to beat Louisville each year. A dominant, take charge player also bode well for the success of your squad. Remember Katie George? Lola Arslanbekova? Will new coach Dani Busboom Kelly be able to cultivate these aspects in the next couple of years? The move to Cardinal Arena should provide a nice home-court advantage with the cozy surroundings instead of the cavernous KFC YUM! Center.
Field Hockey has an excellent chance to advance to the Final Four in terms of hosting the event the next two years. The key is surviving a conference that is far and away the most talented and dominant in the sport. Justine Sowry has established a team mentality that is to be admired. She has brought in one of the best goalies in the world in Northern Ireland's Ayeshia McFerran and an exciting scorer in Minout "I score goals, that's what I do" Mink.
The next step is to be one of those "Great Eight" teams that consistently gets the best players. To join or replace a Duke, UNC, Virginia, Syracuse, Maryland, UConn, Delaware or Penn State. The talent train needs to continue to roll onto the Belknap campus. One or two more key players. Game changers.
Lacrosse is another program that is walking up the steps to knock on that "Great Eight" door. The key word for them, though...is "Finish". Over the last several years, Kellie Young has had just as good, if not better, talent that most of the teams in the ACC. A conference that dominates college women's lacrosse. Morissette, Daley, Boltja, Read, Koloski, Brust and Foley all phenomenal athletes that could have started anywhere in the nation.
LAX has to learn how to end a game and a season though. More times than I care to remember over the last couple of years...first half leads by Louisville turned into second half drubbings from the opponent. They build the foundation but fail to put the roof on the building.
Heart? Pride? Determination? Something is missing. We hope Coach can find it and install it. Finish the project.
How do you tap the talent base that the SEC and PAC 12 draw from? How do you get the kids that Florida, Oregon and LSU seem to have an open door and invitation to? Talent wins games.
For Rowing...the task also evolves around talent. In a sport where not a lot of scholarship money is available....you find rosters that have a lot of walk-on's or that are new to the sport. The west coast and Ivy League do well in this sport most years and half the NCAA field is made up of those two areas again this year.
Not having a "home field" or body or water to consistently practice on hurts. The Ohio River isn't an ideal venue. There are no lakes in our area that are suited for a meet/competition/practice area. Tom Jurich has been behind building some beautiful state-of-the-art facilities for Cardinal sports squads to participate in. Maybe he could have a lake constructed somewhere near campus.
Derek Copeland recruits with intensity. Six different nations besides the USA and 16 different states. But, nothing from the west coast and very few from the east coast. You get the best you can, obviously...but...in a sport that seems to be "coast" dominating...maybe players from the coasts might be an idea. THe question is, how do you get them to come to Kentucky?
Women's Soccer has been a mid-pack or lower program in whatever conference they've been since 2011. A great bunch of athletes, excellent coaching staffs and players who have gone on to play in professional leagues here and abroad. Some huge upsets over the years.
But a middle class program in a great facility and top conference.
Women's soccer is one of the sports I enjoy covering the most...from a player, coach and environment aspects. Being in a conference where six of the teams are in the top 15 nationally, though, puts the Cards in a position where the talent has to get better. Defense has always been better than average for Karen Ferguson Dayes squad but they haven't had a dynamic scorer since the days of Charlyn Corral and games at Cardinal Park.
They've had a loss in the first round and advancement to the third round of the NCAA Tournament in the last decade. Sadly, that's probably going to be the same for the next couple of years until Ferguson-Dayes can build a few scoring threats.
I did not include swimming in our "Magnificent Seven" review. No complaints there from us. Keep up the good work. They may be the best women's sports program on campus these days...a testament to the brilliance, leadership and style of Arthur Albiero.
We welcome your ideas, comments and views on these "Magnificent Seven" squads and how they can get better. We watch the successes of men's basketball, soccer and baseball and wonder "how long" until we can boast about those same numbers and stats that they are putting up start to show up on the women's side of sports?
There are many times we embrace and report on the joy and excitement of Louisville women's sports. We're greedy...we want more great news to report, more times to get excited and top-of-the-league contenders across the board.