Volleyball Keeps Dancing
Greeting, Jeff coming at you this Friday morning as we continue to horse trade writing days. Paulie needed coverage for Wednesday for personal matters, and the always-willing-to-help Daryl traded with him, which normally would have Paulie writing today in her spot, but we're making an opportunistic additional switch, here. And you'll never guess why! Never mind the click-bait phrase. Of course it's because Volleyball had a big win over Creighton in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16!
The Cards did take the victory in the matchup of the birds with the Creighton Bluejays, but it was no easy task. Louisville took all five sets to do the deed, 25-21, 14-25, 25-23, 24-26, 15-8. Credit Creighton for their good serving and digging/passing for keeping them competitive and eventually taking the fourth set, but for the second set, there's just no sugar-coating it...that was nothing more than a Cardinal meltdown. Fortunately, Louisville was able to pick up the pieces and get back to playing quality volleyball.
You can clearly see the fortunes of the Cardinals rise and fall in the match just in the team hitting percentages. In the three winning sets, 1, 3, and 5, the Cards hit .400, .405, and .462, while the losing sets, 2 and 4, went -.029, and .250.
The first set got off to a good start for the red site. With Anna DeBeer serving most of this stretch, the Cards benefited from a Bluejay hitting error, and kills from Charitie Luper, Aiko Jones, and Phekran "PK" Kong to take a 4-1 lead. Later in the set, the Cards would get another 3-0 run with Elena Scott at the service line, again benefiting from a Bluejay hitting error, and this time with DeBeer, and Cara Cresse with the kills. The Nebraskans would get a late set run, as the Cards had reached a 19-12 lead, they would shrink the gap to 19-16 with a pair of kills and a pair of Louisville attack errors.
The second set was nothing more than an epic meltdown by the Cards. Basically anything that could go sideways, did. Lack of communication, and execution errors were the biggest bugaboos, frankly it looked like a mediocre high school team out on the court. Creighton didn't do anything particularly better or different in this set, and their hitting percentage in the set wasn't their highest of the match. Early it looked like it was going to be fine as the Cards got out to a 7-4 lead, helped in large part by three Cresse kills. But then the Jays would reel off a 17-2 run (Remember that 15-2 fifth set win over Pitt in the NCAA Semi-Finals last year? Yeah, this was worse, but against us instead of for us). Towards the end of the set, the squad was able to somewhat pull things back together and start getting some side outs, roughly at the same pace as Creighton, at least blunting their momentum before the set break and coming out for set three.
The third set started out with a couple of early runs before settling into a back and forth slugfest. The Cards got the first run, scoring six straight with a block by Luper, a pair of attack errors for Creighton, kills by Luper and Cresse, and a service ace by Jones to reach a 7-2 lead. The Bluejays would get their own run, but smaller, to shorten the Louisville lead. They put three together to get the set back within two at 9-7. Neither team would score more than two in a row after that, and that two point margin would end up being the margin of the whole set, 25-23.
The fourth set was much more of a game of runs. The Cards started out 3-0, a little bit of back and forth, then another three point run to get out to an 8-4 advantage. Creighton got their first, a 4-1 run to shorten the Louisville lead back down to 15-13, but it was only a few points later that they'd get their biggest run of the set, 6-0 to take a 20-17 lead. That was immediately followed by a pair of 3-0 runs by either team to keep the three point lead, but advance it to 23-20. The Cards would then go 4-1 to tie the set at 24 before CU would get the final two to take the set and force the match to five.
The fifth set mostly belongs to the Cards Serving Specialists. It did start out with exchanging side-outs until they reached 3-3. Senior Ayden Barlett was the first to sub into the serving line after a Louisville side-out, shepherding another four points to extend a 7-3 lead. Creighton would get a kill to end Bartlett's appearance, but a subsequent attack error by the Jays saw fellow Senior Ceci Rush enter and head to the service line where she too would groove four straight. Neither Serving Specialist has serves that look like they should be very devastating, but they do seem to give the other team some serious struggles. With the 12-4 lead, the red-wearing parts of the crowd finally started to breath a little easier. CU would get a 3-0 run to narrow the lead a bit to 12-7, but the Cards would cruise the final short bit to take the win 15-8.
So, with a five set match, some of the stats numbers are pretty big, shout out to Charitie Luper for 20 kills and 10 digs, as well as Anna DeBeer for 19 kills and 13 digs, both getting the double-double. Cara Cresse was the only other Card to join in double-digit kills, though Aiko Jones got close with nine. Add in a pair of service aces for Jones, a pair of block assists, and six digs, and she had a solidly positive impact on the match. Overall Louisville hit .277, which isn't spectacular, but obviously got the job done. Add in five kills for undoubtedly one of the future major weapons for Cardinal Volleyball, Reese Robins and, not a bad outing overall of the Cards.
Subjectively, I feel like we're over relying on the middle slide, where PK and Cara Cresse swing around behind the setting Elle Glock and swing from the right side of the net. While I love a really good slide, overdo it and the other team starts expecting it. It also has the effect of taking the middle blockers away from the middle of the net, and they struggle to get back there to block the opponents return shot.
Mostly, however, credit Creighton with some excellent serving and very good defense. Their serve receive and digging kept many plays alive, and CU ended up fairly significantly outblocking UofL, 13-8.
A moment of amusement later, as several of the families gathered for dinner in Pittsburgh at a nearby restaurant and who should walk in after finishing their play-by-play and color commentary duties for the Pitt vs Washington State match, but Paul Sunderland, and Louisville alumna Jen Hoffman. They were, of course, warmly welcomed to the table with the families, where surely plenty of volleyball jargon was to be heard.
In that other match, Pitt swept the Washington State Cougers, to finish setting up the re-re-match against Louisville on Saturday. That will be a four o'clock start, again at the cramped Fitzgerald Fieldhouse. Around the rest of the tournament, chalk is mostly holding with the one and two seeds of all but one of the regionals advancing to the Regional Finals. The only exception was the result of an epic 5-set battle between SEC foes Arkansas and Kentucky where 3-seed Arkansas narrowly edged out the 2-seed Wildcats. Of course, the spoils of that victory will be to likely be absolutely demolished by host Nebraska on Saturday. Nebraska advanced with a sweep over our fellow ACC team, Georgia Tech. Penn State managed to take a set off of Wisconsin before succumbing, Oregon swept Purdue in the other half of that Regional. While out at Stanford, Arizona State took a set off of the trees, but no more, while the real excitement was in the other match where Tennessee push Texas to five sets with three of those sets being the minimum two point margin.
The Regional Finals will all be contested tomorrow starting with the UofL vs Pitt match at 4pm. All four of the regional final matches will be on ESPNU.