Volleyball Starts Late Win Streak
Since losing Melanie McHenry on October 16th, Louisville has now beaten Notre Dame in six straight sets. Granted, there have been a few other sets played for both teams between those two matches, but Louisville showed last night that they are not quite finished with this season. Louisville's win over the Irish was the second win in as many matches for the Cards and puts them on a small winning streak as the season draws to a close. Some would say that two games isn't a streak, but I say it's my column and I can call whatever I want to a streak.
Louisville's win last night gives them their first pair of back to back victories since the last Notre Dame match. Looking at the schedule, you'd likely be shocked to hear that, as Louisville has played a pretty easy group of teams over the last month. Nevertheless, Louisville now stands at 18-8 overall and 11-5 in conference. The Cards are now tied with the Irish at fourth in the ACC, with the two teams tied for second just a game ahead. Louisville will not get an opportunity to gain a game on either of those two, but do have a very good chance to split their final two matches and finish 12-6. A pair of losses by either Georgia Tech or North Carolina and a single loss by Notre Dame would guarantee the Cards a top-4 finish.
Last night's match started about the way you would expect. The two teams traded blows for the first half of the first set before Louisville began to stretch their lead in the late teens. The Cards ran out to a 22-16 lead at one point, but the Irish were able to close the gap a bit before Louisville took the set 25-21. Notre Dame actually had fewer errors in the set, but they also had fewer kills, as Louisville ended with just a slightly higher hitting percentage. The Cards were also aided by a pair of service aces in the set, taking the early lead in the match.
Closer followers of the site or Louisville volleyball might expect that the second set went about the opposite of the first. Louisville has had trouble maintaining a consistent gameplan throughout matches in the past, and it would not be unreasonable to see Notre Dame adjust and bring the match back level. Once again, the two teams battled early, reaching a tie at 11 points apiece. Louisville won four of the next five points to take a three point lead, but Notre Dame brought it right back and the score sat at 16-15. The Cards then did what we've seen them be capable of. To borrow lingo from a couple of other Louisville sports, the Cards boomed Notre Dame. Louisville finished the second set on a 9-3 run and won 25-18.
Now I know what you're thinking. There's no way, Notre Dame is just going to lie down and take their beating from Louisville. Surely there was some drama in the third set. Unfortunately, I've already spoiled how this one ends multiple times in this column. Fortunately, it ended for the better, and Louisville looked great on their way to finishing this one out. The Cards started the third set with an ace by Tori Dilfer and went on an 8-2 run to open it. The run included a pair of errors from Notre Dame, a service error, and a pair of Louisville blocks. As Jeff would be quick to point out, at that point in the match, a team can legitimately be forcing errors without blocking just due to threat of the block. The Cards finished last night's match with twelve blocks, so there's a good chance that was at play.
Louisville ultimately stretched that early lead to a 13-4 advantage, and it seemed as though they may cruise. Notre Dame wasn't quite dead yet, though. The Irish quickly went on a run of their own and got the match back to 15-13. The next five points went ND service error, Dilfer ace, Louisville block, ND error, Louisville block. Just like that, Louisville won five straight points without a kill and took a commanding lead. Notre Dame would win one more point before the Cards closed the match with a 10-1 run and a 25-14 set win.
Louisville was led offensively last night by Aiko Jones, who finished with 11 kills and just four errors on 22 attempts. Jones also added a pair of aces, just one service error, and five block assists. Jones was followed closely by Amber Stivrins, who had nine kills and just two errors on her 16 attempts. Stivrins efficiency continues to be a huge part of Louisville's recent success. Tori Dilfer also played a huge role, assisting on 34 of 39 kills, adding one of her own, nailing three aces, and chipping in with a solo block and a block assist. On the night, Louisville finished with six aces and just two service errors, which feels like a bit of a twilight zone moment. They also had 12 blocks, with Anna Stevenson leading the way by having a solo block and five assists. Amaya Tillman was close behind with two solos and two assists.
Louisville has just two matches remaining, with a senior day match against Miami tomorrow afternoon before heading up the highway to take on Pittsburgh in the final regular season match of the year. Louisville currently has the 27th best RPI in the country, and that doesn't even include last night's match. Given the win over Notre Dame (previously 32nd) and a potential win over Miami, the Cards could find themselves in a good position heading into Selection Sunday, regardless of what happens against Pittsburgh. Tomorrow will be a bittersweet day for Louisville fans, as Melanie McHenry steps out onto the floor one last time as a Cardinal. She won't be dressed to play, but her contributions to the program over the last four years will be remembered. Get out to tomorrow's 1 PM match in L&N FCU about 30-45 minutes early to ensure you're there to cheer on the Senior Day festivities.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
We're still kicking! As the end of the year draws closer, and our potential future still remains unsorted, the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour will continue to appear on the low power FM airwaves. Today, the "A-Team" is back in studio as Jared gets a rare reprieve from bank life and the Louisville football schedule aligns nicely with the show. Join Jared, Jeff, Paulie, and I as we break down the week that was in Louisville women's athletics. Just about every sport currently in season played this week so we'll have plenty to discuss. Tune in to WCHQ FM at 11 AM to hear the show. WCHQ is available at 100.9 FM, wchqfm.com, the WCHQ App, and on Facebook Live.
Until next time, Go Cards!
The wonderful photos in today's article are brought to you by Jared Anderson.