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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Field Hockey and Volleyball Get Big Wins -- SATURDAY CARDINAL COUPLE

Field Hockey Comes Back to Beat UNC 3-2 in OT

Justine Sowry and Company secured at least a share of the ACC regular season field hockey title yesterday with a victory over UNC. They had help from Virginia, who knocked off the previously undefeated-in-conference Syracuse Orange. The two results put Louisville alone at the top of the ACC standings with one game remaining. Louisville will face Syracuse next week to battle it out for the number one seed in the ACC tournament. If the Cards win, they take the regular season outright. If they lose, both teams will finish 5-1, splitting the regular season title, and Syracuse will earn the one-seed by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

In yesterday's match with UNC, though, it looked for quite some time like the Tar Heels might try to make it an interesting 3-way run for the title. UNC entered the match at 3-1 in conference play, so a win would have given both UNC and Louisville a 4-1 conference mark. If Syracuse had beaten UVA, three teams could have very possibly finished the regular season at 5-1. Given the normal cannibalizing nature of the ACC, this situation is not very common, so I'm not sure how the 3-way tiebreakers work out, but, given Louisville's luck, they probably would have somehow found themselves with the three seed. Nevertheless, those hypotheticals didn't happen, so we'll wait for another year to figure that mess out.

Prior to the match, it was announced that UNC's Erin Matson would not be playing due to a hand injury. Matson is listed as a senior, but was not honored in yesterday's senior day, so the Cards likely haven't seen the last of her. Matson is the nation's leader in scoring, so the loss was expected to be a major blow for UNC and a huge break for UofL. As it turned out, Matson's absence may have been even more key for Louisville than we expected. Given the close nature of the game and the ultimate result in overtime, a prolific scorer like Matson could have certainly turned the tide of the match.

This one was tight from the get-go. As mentioned, it was UNC's senior day and the Heels were fighting to salvage their season and maintain a shot at the regular season title. They came out firing, holding Louisville to no shots in the first quarter while gathering two of their own. Cards goalkeeper Mila de Kuijer was up to the task for the first that was on frame, and the second, just moments before the end of the quarter, was blocked before it could reach her. 

Throughout the match, UNC would maintain more of the offensive possession, earning 11 total shots compared to Louisville's nine. The Cards, however, had a bit more quality of attempts, putting 7/9 shots on target, compared to just 4/11 for UNC. After the match, Sowry had this to say about the possession and the battle,

 "As you would expect, each team controlled the play at different times. We need to look at the video and take some strong lessons away as we head to the important phase of the season. With that being said, I am so proud of the fight that our players displayed against a formidable and well coached opponent. Our team refused to stop fighting!"

In the second, UNC came out hot once more, as they got a shot on goal from the run of play in the first minute. Again, de Kuijer was able to make the save to keep it tied. Louisville finally got their offense in gear a few minutes later. After a round of substitutions, the Cards found themselves threatening. They earned a pair of back-to-back corners, each resulting in a clean shot. Both were saved by the UNC goalie and the score remained level. Both teams would trade shots that were either blocked or off target before a whistle just before the halftime buzzer gave UNC a golden opportunity. The clock stopped with six seconds remaining for a corner, but the ensuing shot was wide of the cage. 0-0 at the half.

Out of the half, it took a couple of minutes for either team to get their feet under them, but UNC was a step ahead once more. They earned a corner three minutes into the third quarter, but they were unable to get a shot off. Five minutes later, the seal was broken. UNC worked their offense into the Louisville circle and, as is usually the case when the ball is in play in the circle, chaos ensued. A pass into the front of the cage saw an awkward deflection that gave UNC a tap-in and they led 1-0. Louisville would earn its third corner of the match a few minutes later, but, for the third time, the shot would be saved by Abigail Taylor. The Cards entered the fourth quarter with a one-goal deficit, but they'd been there before.

The fourth quarter started unlike the others, with Louisville in control out of the gate. Just under two minutes in, Erica Cooper worked her way into a shot that was blocked. The block resulted in a penalty stroke for the Cards, a far superior result to a penalty corner, and Aimee Plumb stepped up to bury it. The Cards were level again, but they weren't finished. Neither team was able to break through offensively over the next five minutes, but it was Louisville who came out ahead. The Cards earned their fourth penalty corner of the match with seven minutes remaining, and, for the fourth time, Taylor came up with the save. Unlike the other three, though, the save didn't result in a full clearance. This time, Mattie Tabor was on the scene for the putback for her sixth goal of the season. With a 2-1 lead and all of the momentum, Louisville looked to be back in good shape.

What happened next, though, was uncommon. UNC elected to pull Abigail Taylor from the game with seven minutes remaining. Usually, pulling the goalie is a tactic reserved for desperation near the end of a game. However, I respect this move. When you wait until two minutes are left, it is often too late to make an impact. By adding an extra field player at this stage, UNC was gambling that their field defense and ball control would be enough to keep Louisville from going up 3-1 while the additional offensive power would give them a better chance to tie. They were right. Louisville was unable to pressure the "open" goal (the field position player that replaces a goalie in field hockey is still positioned in front of goal and is allowed to perform some skills not typically allowed to field players), and UNC worked their way into a corner. Like Louisville's last effort, the shot was blocked but not cleared. On the second effort, UNC slammed it home and the game was tied at two. With the extra player's mission accomplished, Taylor reentered for the remaining three minutes. Neither team would be able to get another opportunity and the match headed to overtime.

Entering yesterday, Louisville was 4-0 in overtime matches this season. They'd also won the two matches they had played that went to double OT. They were prepared for the pressure that comes along with the golden goal situation, and it showed. With UNC once again controlling possession, Louisville's defense proved themselves up to the task. The Tar Heels earned a pair of corners as they pressured the Cards, but neither produced a shot on goal. The first was snuffed out before a shot could be taken and the second saw the shot blocked. With three minutes left in the first OT, Louisville had hardly seen possession of the ball. 

As it turned out, the Cards didn't need three minutes of possession. In fact, any amount would do. As Louisville worked the ball forward, Aimee Plumb found herself with space to play and she took it. Plumb carried the ball into the left side of the circle on her own and fired a shot from left to right. It found the back of the cage with five seconds remaining in the period. Game over. Cards win.

UNC was bound to be a tough match on the road, especially given their circumstances. Louisville may have been lucky to avoid Matson yesterday, but they still stood strong against a challenging test from the Heels. The Cards moved to 14-2 overall and 5-0 in conference. We've already talked about the conference ramifications, but matches like this are important in the national conversation as well. Louisville is hanging on in the top five and is looking to position themselves as well as possible for the NCAA tournament. The Cards will get James Madison on the road next, as they take on the Dukes at noon tomorrow, before heading home for the finale against Syracuse next Friday.

Volleyball Sweeps UVA in Final Tune-Up

It may not have seemed like quite as big of a win as the field hockey match, but Louisville's handling of Virginia was a very important start to their weekend. As I'm sure you know, Louisville hosts Pittsburgh next, and the Cards were coming off of a closer than expected pair of matches on their road trip. While Louisville hosted the Cavaliers, Pittsburgh was in (according to their schedule) Notre Dame, Indiana to take on the Fighting Irish. Someone may want to grab their schedule maker a map. Either way, Jeff put it best in our group chat when he said he hoped for a tooth-and-nail five-set match that ultimately saw the Panthers come out ahead. Louisville wouldn't want Pitt to be coming off of a loss, but the longer they took against ND, the better. In a best case scenario for Louisville, the Cards grabbed a quick sweep, while Jeff got his wish and Pitt won in a match that took 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete. Adding in that Pitt still has to travel, the rest advantage certainly goes to the Cards.

As for last night's match in LNFCU, it was a simple as it sounded. Louisville got off to a bit of a bumpy start in the first, but a 14-2 run put the Cards ahead for good. They would go on to take the first set 25-15 and would trail by no more than one in the remaining two sets on their way to 25-13, and 25-16 victories. The 4-2 deficit in the first was Louisville's largest deficit of the match and the latest UVA held a lead in any set was 4-3 in the third. The latest they held a tie also came in the third, at just 7. 

Louisville played as we hoped against the outmatched Cavaliers, who entered at 8-10 overall and just 1-7 in the ACC. The Cards were mostly back to form on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. That first set saw Louisville hit only 0.292 but they'd go 0.450 in the second and an eye-popping 0.609 in the third to finish 0.448 for the match. Virginia finished just 0.015 on the night. The third set was also their best effort, as they finished 0.087. The Cards outblocked the Cavs 8-5 to get closer to their average, but the real difference came in unforced errors. Taking out blocks, Virginia still finished with 14 errors while Louisville had just four. Serving was basically a wash, with both teams erring 9 times and Louisville barely winning the aces battle 3-2. Plenty of room for improvement there, as there has been all season.

Louisville's offense was well distributed, as was the blocking, as no player had more than nine of Louisville's 39 kills, nor did they have more than three total blocks. Three of the top scorers--Amaya Tillman (9), Anna DeBeer (9), and Anna Stevenson (7)--hit over 0.500 on double digit attempts, while Aiko Jones (7) was just under at 0.429. Stevenson and Tillman led in blocks with 3 and 2.5 total, respectively, while four other players contributed at least one assisted block.

Elena Scott returned to the lineup after missing the last match with a back injury, and she played well in her return. She finished with six digs and a kill while picking up three assists when the play took Tori Dilfer out of system. Scott has clearly cemented herself as an integral player in the libero role, even as just a freshman, and she should be an incredibly fun player to watch develop over her time at UofL.

The Cards, as mentioned, are back in action on Sunday, when they host a top-five matchup. It's #2 vs #4 in the L&N Federal Credit Union Arena at noon on the linear ACC Network channel. This match will kick off the incredibly tough backloaded schedule that Louisville has, as I wrote about last week. The Cards still have Pitt, Duke, and Notre Dame twice, while they also get GT again and will take on UNC and NC State on the road. Louisville has taken on all comers so far, but the road ahead will give the Cards plenty of opportunities to continue to prove they're legit. 

(Today's photos by Jared Anderson) 

New Contracts Galore

Three coaches we cover very often here at Cardinal Couple will remain topics of these pages for years to come. Yesterday, UofL announced contract extensions for Jeff Walz, Justine Sowry, and Holly Aprile. Walz and Sowry's new deals run through the 2028 seasons (I believe this means Sowry's deal is one year longer than Walz's due to the season ending times for the two sports), and Aprile's extension keeps her in place through 2026. 

Walz and Sowry's extensions are no brainers. Both have achieved great heights with UofL, and both are working hard each season to field a team that is capable of competing for a national championship. Aprile, on the other hand, has not had the same success so far, but she is only entering her fourth season, and two of the first three were impacted by Covid-19. It's unclear when her first contract was set to expire, so I'm not entirely sure what led to the urgency to extend the deal. Aprile has seen some success already, though, so hopefully the stability of an extended contract and the return to something more like normalcy after the pandemic-affected seasons will allow her to bring in more of the players she needs to build the team she wants to succeed.

Another coach that is getting a lot of buzz lately could be due for an extension if you ask some of us here. Dani Busboom-Kelly had her contract extended right off the bat after a successful first year. That was in 2018, though, and the length of the extension was not made public at the time. With Louisville having one of its best starts to the season ever, it seems like Louisville fans would be quite happy to see DBK get locked into place for as long as she wants to be here. Hopefully her deal is in consideration with the board and she is just putting off negotiations in the interest of focusing on the season.

Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast

We'll have a bit of a thinner lineup this morning as just Paulie, Jared, and I hop on the mic. Daryl has a previous commitment and Jeff is out watching cars drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I know that's usually my thing, but I typically watch people drive around the track in cars. This event has the cars driving themselves. As such, we will be without the YouTube version of the show this week as Jeff handles that part, and we didn't get the opportunity to train each other up on our separate technical responsibilities. At any rate, the three of us will bring you a great show to the podcast feeds shortly after we finish recording, and Jeff may be able to get the podcast version uploaded to the YouTube channel if that's how you prefer to listen. We typically go live at 11AM, and we'll stick close to that this week so look for the show after I can make the edits around 1PM. There are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!

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Until next time, Go Cards!

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