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Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday CARDINAL COUPLE -- Volleyball... the Big East Champs...Again...This Season


( The VolleyCards have captured the BIG EAST Tournament title in convincing fashion...not giving up a single game against three opponents during their march through the brackets. CARDINAL COUPLE columnist Jeff McAdams breaks it down for us. )

UofL Volleyball got the job done in a solid fashion.  In Milwaukee WI for the Big East Championship Tournament, Louisville swept through the competition, though Marquette mounted a challenge.

Big East Dominance

Louisville has been dominant in the Big East since joining the conference, winning either the regular season title or a conference tournament just about every year, though this is the first time the Cards have managed to bring home both trophies in the same year.

Much of the run through the conference, and all of the tournament run was sweeps of their opponents.  The Cards haven't dropped a set in 8 matches now, going back to the first matchup against Marquette when they took a set off of us in Milwaukee, through Marquette visiting Louisville, and through all three tournament matches.

Championship Match

The coverage on ESPNU focused heavily on Lola Arslanbeckova and Gwen Rucker...which is certainly understandable in their effort to make it good for TV...but the Cards weapons just don't stop there, and that's a big part of the UofL success.  Marquette tried to shut down Lola by putting double blocks on her as many teams have, but all that does is leave Gwen and Brooke Mattingly open in the middle, along with Emily Juhl and Tanya Lukyanenko on the opposite side.  You could see this in action during the match a number of times, when Lola struggled to get through the double blocks, you started to see sets going to some of the other offensive weapons.

Gwen had another absolutely fantastic match.  She hit "only" .400 vs Marquette...compared to her hitting percentage for the whole tournament where she was hitting in the .800 range, that is a pretty big drop, but still ridiculously strong.  Add to that, 5 blocks, and you have a player that gets awarded the tournament MVP honors.

I made the oversight of not mentioning Caitlin Welch in yesterday's article.  I won't make that mistake twice. Welch tallied 21 impressive total in a 3 set match...keeping the team in the action and with great passing allowing Katie George and Hannah Kvitle to have all of the offensive options available to them on the sets.  The primary goal of digging and passing is to get the ball up in the air to let the play progress, but ideally you want the pass to go just to the right side of the center of the net where the setter should be waiting.  The more the setter has to run to get the pass, the fewer options they have to set up the hitters, and particularly middle hitters like Gwen and Brooke.  The good passing from Caitlin and others let Katie and Hannah distribute the sets out to multiple offensive options, keeping the Marquette team guessing.

Credit to Marquette, they played well, especially in the 3rd set, forcing the extra point for the win.  The ESPNU crew described them as a scrappy team, and I can't think of a better term.  Great defense and digging kept many volleys alive that most everyone thought was a Cards point, and several ended up being points for Marquette.  Playing scrappy, though, is a far cry from running a strong offense to reliably score points.  About the best you can hope for is to be able to keep the ball in play and wait for the other team to make a mistake.  Honestly, that probably works pretty well when playing most of the Big East, but as the competition gets stronger in the post-season, that style of play just doesn't hold up as well.

Next up

Belmont won the OVC tournament, upsetting Morehead State in the finals, so they will be our opponents on Friday November 23 at Cardinal Arena.  The NCAA tournament selection show is Sunday, November 25th at 4pm and will be televised on ESPNU.  As has been covered already, expect Louisville to be a first and second round host.  Looking at the schedule for the KFC Yum! Center, those matches would almost certainly be in the November 29th and 30th slots as there are basketball games scheduled for December 1st and 2nd.  Presumably tickets will be able to be purchased through the UofL Ticket Office.

Late Breaking News...around the league

#1 Stanford lost to #8 Southern California
but that's unlikely to affect our ranking, though it does mean that Penn State should take over the #1 ranking again.

#4 Oregan lost to #6 Washington in an epic battle that I mentioned the other day, but again, probably won't affect our ranking.

However, #9 Nebraska, one spot in front of us, lost to #14 Minnesota.  Minnesota dropped two matches last week to allow us to move up into the top 10, and now we'll probably reap the benefits of Minnesota's victory over Nebraska.

I would expect a #9 ranking for the Cards when the new poll is released later today.

In the RPI last week, we got a 2 spot bump from #7 to #5, largely on the strength of our win over Marquette at the KFC Yum! Center.  Will another win over them on their home floor help bump us another spot?  It's possible, but much harder to predict in my experience.



Tournament MVP Gwen Rucker recorded 10 kills, six digs and five blocks on Sunday and Lola Arslanbekova, named to the All-Tournament team, led the way with 13 kills and 11 digs for her 20th double-double of the season.

The Cards used a 10-1 run to break open a close first game...benefitted by three Rucker kills. They also held Marquette to .050 hitting in the contest. Leading 17-10, they withstood a brief Golden Eagles rally which cut the lead to 20-17. Louisville won five of the final seven points, though, to take a 25-19 first game.

The Golden Eagles started strong in Game 2 and jumped out to a 6-2 lead. Down 9-5, the Cards relied on Arslanbekova and Tanya Lukyanenko to rally them and went on a 11-3 spree to hold a 16-12 advantage. Marquette answered with a 4-0 run to tie the contest. After that, it was Louisville's turn with a 4-0 run. After the Golden Eagles pulled within one at 24-23, Brooke Mattingly produced her sixth kill of the contest and the VolleyCards held a 2-0 advantage going to the half-time break.

It looked like Louisville had demoralized the M.U. squad and roared out to an early 8-4 lead in the third game. The Golden Eagles rallied, however, and went on a 5-1 run to tie the contest at 9-9. Back and forth it went from there...neither team gaining a clear advantage. Marquette held a 18-16 lead...but Emily Juhl's three kills and a Mattingly block helped the Cards knot it at 20-20. The Cards were at match-point at 24-21...but Marquette held off the final match point temporarily and tied it back up at 24-24. Lola put the Cards at match point again with a kill to make it 25-24 Cards.

At 25-24, Marquette's Holly Mertens hit a kill attempt out of bounds and Louisville was the BIG EAST TOURNAMENT champs. 

Caitlin Welch sparked the Cards with 21 digs and was also selected to the tournament team. 

One more chance to see the Lady Cards before NCAA Tournament play begins. They'll play OVC champ Belmont in Cardinal Arena at 5 p.m. Friday. Louisville seniors Rucker, Arslanbekova, Lukyanenko and Kaitlynn James will be honored before the contest.




  1. Coaches poll and RPI for the week are both out.

    We got a bump in both. We got the expected #9 in the coach's poll, and got a bump to #4 in the RPI.

    That puts our ranking in both above perennial powerhouse Nebraska.

  2. Jeff

    Thanks for the great breakout of volleyball info.


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