Cards Take Down Toppers in Five Sets
In what was one of the closest matches Louisville has played this season, the Cards took the floor in Diddle Arena for the second straight night and came away with their second win of the tournament over the hosting WKU Hilltoppers. Louisville's second win puts them tied with Louisville Men's Soccer for the most wins by a UofL fall team in this season's NCAA tournaments. One more win would bring them level with Field Hockey for being closest to the championship game. A lot of things had changed since Louisville beat WKU 3-1 in L&N FCU earlier this season. Melanie McHenry's career ended, Louisville changed lineups multiple times, WKU refused to lose any other games, and Louisville struggled through a few slumps. Everything goes out the window in the tournament, though.
I mentioned this looked like one of Louisville's closest matches of the year, so let's take a look at why. First, the set scores of the first four sets: 21-25, 25-22, 25-21, 21-25. The fifth set looks a bit lopsided at 15-5, but that can easily happen. If a team jumps out to a run, it's hard to recover in a race to fifteen. Now let's look at some key stats. I'll list Louisville's number first in all of these. Kills: 58-58; Errors: 30-31; Assists: 56-58; Hitting: .179-.162; Aces: 6-6. Those numbers are all extremely close over a five set match. Then we get to a couple of critical differences. Louisville outblocked the Toppers 17-6 and had only four service errors compared to ten from WKU. The blocking stat is a bit misleading, but the difference in service errors is a pure difference in points. WKU gave away six more points than the Cards. As for the blocks, Louisville was able to knock home 11 points on WKU attempted kills, but the close errors stat shows that Louisville was not necessarily capitalizing on all of those opportunities as they had more unforced errors. Either way, scoring a point defensively is still a positive.
Unfortunately, after a big dinner and having settled in on the couch for this one and the basketball game in split screen, I fell asleep sometime early in the fourth set and awoke to the match being over. Without the benefit of a play-by-play in the box score, I can't give a good recap of how the match actually looked at the end. Perhaps Jeff can fill us in today on the show. I can note that after the first set, it was clear that this match would be close. Both teams were playing well and WKU simply looked like the better team in the set, running out a 9-4 advantage to win. Early in the second, as well, it looked as though Louisville's susceptibility to runs would put the Cards in danger as they went down early. However, the Cards made a run of their own to take the lead and carried it through to the end of the set. In the third, Louisville took a fairly big lead before WKU pulled back to lose close. Louisville led 2-1 and it looked like they may be able to escape cleanly.
From there, my recollection is limited to what the UofL Volleyball Twitter account can tell me. The Cards and Toppers played the first half of the fourth set very closely, finding themselves at 10-9. Louisville earned a decent advantage and worked up an 18-14 lead. However, that susceptibility to runs I mentioned came into play as a 7-0 run put the Hilltoppers at 22-19 before Louisville could stop the bleeding. The Cards were unable to recover from that run and lost the set to move to the decider. As I mentioned before, when a team jumps out to a big lead in the fifth set, all bets are off. Louisville quickly found themselves ahead 6-1 and moved that lead to a 9-2 advantage before ultimately claiming the set 15-5. Some may call that an anticlimactic ending, but we'll take whatever win we can get in the NCAA Tournament.
Perhaps Louisville's biggest achievements one the night were their ability to play through the outsides rather than the middle and their resiliency against WKU clearly putting them out of system. Louisville had 56 assists on the night and Tori Dilfer finished with only 46. She was forced into 13 digs, which is an extremely high number for your setter, and she dumped home a pair of kills. In fact, Dilfer finished with more digs than Alexis Hamilton's 12, which is crazy to think that Louisville could recover from that when we've previously seen them so cemented to the way they've played. The Cards also had only three attackers hit positive. Claire Chaussee, Amber Stivrins, and Aiko Jones led the way, with Jones leading all scorers in the match with 20 kills. Chaussee and Stivrins had 14 and 13 respectively. Anna Stevenson and Amaya Tillman were ineffective on offense, combining for nine kills and 12 errors on 29 attempts, but they made their presence known defensively. The two finished with a combined two solo blocks and 13 block assists. Jones was also in on the block party with one solo and five assists of her own.
The Cards will take this win and send the Hilltoppers home with just two losses on the year, both to Louisville. Louisville now advances to their fifth Sweet Sixteen in program history and the road only gets tougher from here. It is safe to say that you could call this season a success, and you can probably consider anything beyond last night's match "playing with house money." That said, why not continue reaching for the stars. The Cards will advance to take on the Longhorns of Texas, the overall number two seed in the NCAA tournament. Tough draw. The Longhorns lost only three matches in the regular season and they were against Baylor (the number one seed), Stanford (the number three seed), and Rice (another tournament team). In 23 wins this season, the Longhorns have lost just nine sets. They're good. Date and time have yet to be determined for the Sweet Sixteen matchup, but we'll be sure to let you know when we find out.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour
Do you think we'll have anything to talk about this week? Jeff and I are alone in the studio this time, but with basketball having played a pair and Jeff fresh off of his return from Bowling Green, I'm sure we can find some content. Tune in to the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour at 11AM on WCHQ FM as we bring you the joy and excitement of Louisville women's athletics. WCHQ is available at 100.9 FM, the WCHQ app, wchqfm.com, and on Facebook Live.
Until next time, Go Cards!