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Saturday, March 27, 2021

Volleyball Sweeps; Softball and Lacrosse Drop Ranked Games -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Volleyball Sweeps 22nd Ranked GT

It was a busy evening for Louisville so let's start with the positive result from yesterday. Coincidentally, it was also the first event chronologically, so I suppose I'll just go in order. The Cards brought Georgia Tech to L&N Federal Credit Union Arena yesterday for a top-25 matchup and sent the Techsters back to the locker room with a 3-0 loss. I'd say they sent them home, but due to ACC pod play this spring, GT actually just had to head back to their hotel and prepare to play NC State today. 

Last night's victory also knocked GT out of first place in conference, as they moved into a tie with Notre Dame at 11-3 in conference play. The win pushed the Cards to 9-2 in conference, giving them the best winning percentage in the league. After some debate in our group chat about how the ACC would actually rank teams, I checked the standings this morning to confirm that the ACC is ranking volleyball by win percentage as most leagues are doing with most sports. Thus, Louisville now sits atop the ACC with an 0.818 conference victory percentage. They'll look to hold onto that lead as the season rolls on.

As for the match itself, Louisville established themselves early, scoring six of the first eight points. It wasn't a huge lead, but forcing the other team to play from behind from the very beginning of the match can be crucial in volleyball. GT was able to cut the lead to just one point at 7-8, but that was the only time they would be within one. Louisville began to stretch their lead as the match opened up, eventually cruising to a 25-18 victory in the first set. The Cards had 15 kills and just five errors on their way to a .260 hitting percentage in the first set. On the flip side, the Yellow Jackets were just nine and five for 0.160. 

In the second, hitting dropped significantly for both teams. In Louisville's case, they managed to stay positive in the set. In GT's case, though, a significant drop meant their number fell into the red. The two teams traded points for the first four points of the set before a couple of Louisville kills were followed by four straight GT errors to give the Cards an 8-2 lead. From there, Tech never closed the deficit to fewer than five points and Louisville easily won 25-15. As I mentioned, the hitting was down, as Louisville went eight and seven. Their counterparts, though, had a bit more trouble as they finished with just six kills and 11 errors. 

The third set saw GT hang closer for a bit longer than the other two as Louisville couldn't quite stretch a big lead and GT was able to cut it to just two points at 10-8. Once more, errors doomed the Yellow Jackets as the Cards won seven of the next nine points, aided by three attack errors and a service error, to stretch the lead to 17-10 and put the match away. The two teams traded points over the remainder of the set, and Louisville won it 25-17. Sweep complete. 

One of the things that is odd about volleyball scoring is that blocks count as errors. It makes sense from the perspective of simplifying outcomes; an attack attempt can only result in a kill, a return, or an error. However, it can give a skewed view of the stat line. Georgia Tech finished with 25 errors over the course of the match, which is a large number. That said, Louisville had 12 blocks, which is also a large number. Amaya Tillman led the way with two solo blocks and five block assists. Anna Stevenson added two solos as well, chipping in three assists. On the outside, Aiko Jones contributed with six block assists. Louisville was huge at the net, and Georgia Tech couldn't quite handle it, often hitting the ball out of bounds to avoid blocks. That is the type of volleyball we have seen Coach Dani Busboom-Kelly want to play and it is beginning to come to fruition more and more often.

Offensively, Louisville was led by Anna DeBeer who finished with 11 kills on 22 attempts. She had only four errors and added three aces compared to two service errors. As a team, Louisville was still negative on serves, with seven aces and eight errors, so that is something that still needs to be ironed out. DeBeer also did all of her offensive work while playing the full rotation, something Louisville fans have become accustomed to seeing from their top players. She led the team with nine digs.

The Cards, as mentioned previously, move into first place in the ACC as they currently sit at 11-2 (9-2). Their next match comes on Sunday against NC State. The Wolfpack stand at ninth in conference, just 7-7 in the league this year. They'll take on Georgia Tech today with a chance to surpass Duke and Florida State or a chance to fall behind Syracuse. A pretty far fall from a few seasons ago when the two teams were playing for first in the conference. Sunday's match is at 2PM and will be available on the ACC Network Extra.

Lacrosse Falls to 4/5 Boston College in OT

Louisville entered last night's match against a top-five Boston College team ranked at 15/16 in the country despite being just 4-4 overall and 0-3 in conference. We'll see what the committee thinks after this weekend where Louisville will be, at best, 5-5 and 1-4 in conference. The Cards dropped the first game of their double-header weekend against Boston College 14-13 in overtime, giving the Eagles all they wanted until the final whistle. 

It wasn't a great start for the Cards, as BC opened the game with three goals in the first two minutes. Louisville finally got off their mark just ten seconds later to make it 3-1, and kept things much tighter through the first half of the first half. Louisville cut the lead to 4-5 with 13:30 remaining in the half before Boston College went on another quick run. Staring down 8-4 with eight minutes to go in the half, Louisville buckled down. Neither team scored for another three minutes before Louisville went on a run we haven't seen against a top team in quite some time.

Hannah Morris got things started with an unassisted goal with four and a half minutes to go, her second of the game. From there, the Cards went on an 8-1 run over the next 21 minutes, spanning across the halves, to take a 12-9 lead with just seventeen and change remaining. Louisville's run included six straight goals and four straight to open the half. They had taken control and looked like they might be on their way to a huge win. 

Unfortunately, that's when BC woke back up. The Eagles scored four straight goals of their own, taking a 13-12 lead and giving the impression that they refused to lose this game. Louisville was on their heels, on the road, and on the ropes against a top-five team. But they responded. Allegra Catalano scored an unassisted goal with 4:22 remaining to tie the game and set up a very tense closing four minutes. Neither team was able to find the goal and they headed to a golden goal overtime. 

Despite Louisville's best efforts, they were unable to close this one out in the end. The play-by-play for the overtime period shows just two events: session start and BC goal. The first shot of the period found the back of the net for Boston College's Charlotte North, her 25th goal of the season. To that point, Louisville had done a great job defending North, as she had been unable to score and had just three shot attempts for the remainder of the game. The one shot on goal was all it took, though, as that goal meant the final whistle.

Though this one ended in a tough loss, it was a very strong showing from Louisville. They showed resiliency in the face of mounting pressure as the lead grew, and they showed their own ability to go on a big run. These lessons will serve Louisville well for the remainder of the season, and they'll get their first opportunity to showcase them in a rematch with the Eagles. Louisville and BC have the first draw tomorrow at 11AM on the ACC Network Extra. 

Softball Drops Game 1 to Virginia Tech

Has anyone seen Louisville's offense? It's been missing for about two weeks now. Louisville hasn't scored more than two runs since their 3-0 victory over WKU on March 13th. They've only achieved the two run mark once in those five games, and, counting last night, have been shutout twice. Oh, and they're 0-5 in that time. To Louisville's credit, they've generally held opposing teams to low offensive outputs as well, but timely hitting has been the issue. The Cards' opponents have it, and the Cards don't. 

Louisville started last night by going toe-to-toe with VT for the first four innings. The Hokies threatened in the third, getting two runners into scoring position with one out, but Taylor Roby induced a lineout and struck out the next batter to escape the jam. Roby was pulled from the circle to start the fourth, but Jen Leonhardt took command of the ball with a purpose, setting the Hokie batters down in order.

After Louisville once again stranded a runner on base in the bottom half of the fourth, things unraveled defensively. What was that I said about timely hitting? Virginia Tech used a throwing error on a fielder's choice along with three hits to score three runs. Fortunately, a groundout left two runners on base. Virginia Tech only had four hits for the entire game, just one more than Louisville, but three in this inning were the difference. Louisville didn't have any innings with more than one hit, nor did they have any hits with a runner on base. 

The Cards were unable to threaten offensively in their remaining three innings at the plate and fell in this one 3-0. We've seen Louisville succeed this season at the plate. Despite many of their best offensive games coming against lower-tier competition, that doesn't completely explain their inability to hit against the pitchers they have seen so far in ACC play. Whether it is a change in approach at the plate that needs to be instilled from the coaches or just more time in the cage, something has to click for the hitters themselves. Coach Holly Aprile has shuffled the lineup more than once to encourage some type of hitting renaissance, but has seen no success so far. 

Whatever the problem is, it's relatively new. Prior to this stretch, in games not against SEC opponents, Louisville failed to score at least three runs just once: the 4-0 loss to Miami (OH), after which Coach Aprile appeared that she might lose her entire mind. The Cards have the offensive pieces to get things going once more, they just need to figure out what it is that needs to change to get there. That effort begins today as they host a double header against Virginia Tech, with first pitch in the first game scheduled for Noon on the ACC Network Extra.

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour

We're back for a busy week in the booth as we have plenty of spring sports to talk about, in addition to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Louisville advanced to the Sweet 16 (if you didn't know that then welcome to your first Cardinal Couple article), and currently sit as a higher seeded underdog in their matchup against Oregon. We'll breakdown everything that happened over the last week and look ahead to the games to come. Tune in to the show on the Cardinal Couple YouTube channel at 11AM to hear us live, or check out the rebroadcast or the podcast following today's recording. 

Until next time, Go Cards!

Additional photos from Jared Anderson at lacrosse and softball below.

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