Volleyball Number One Ranking Up For Grabs
The UofL Volleyball squad continues their week in North Carolina having already secured wins over Duke last Sunday, and NC State Friday night. At 22-0, every match is a big match as every match has a chance to break that big undefeated streak. This one just got a little bit of extra weight added to it, however.
To explain why, we need to step away from Louisville for a brief excursion to Texas. The University of Texas has been the top ranked team in the country all year, including even in the pre-season poll. But that's almost certainly about to change. Baylor University hosted Texas for a double-header Friday and yesterday. The first match on Friday was a sweep for Texas, although with some very close sets (25-20, 25-23, 26-24). Last night, however, the 10th ranked Baylor squad was able to adjust and break Texas's undefeated status (25-23, 18-25, 25-20, 32-30).
Baylor's win opens the door to that number one ranking, and it's up to the Cardinals, as the last undefeated team in the country, to drive through it.
So let's get back to Louisville, or really Chapel Hill, to talk about what Louisville needs to do against North Carolina today.
First a look at their schedule to get a sense of who they're competing with. 18-6 overall, 7-6 in conference puts them in a tie for 7th in conference with NC State. Looking upwards in the conference standings is Notre Dame, and then "the big five" of the ACC this year: Louisville, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State.
Notable wins for the Tarheels are...well...not many. The best are probably wins over Syracuse and Boston College, both sweeps. Maybe add a couple of sweeps over Duke in here (one played as a non-conference match), and a five set win over Michigan.
Blemishes on the Tarheel schedule include Virginia's only win in conference and perhaps getting swept by Notre Dame Friday given that Notre Dame is such an enigma this year.
So, as a team they're performing as a consistent mid-level ACC team. Please do keep in the mind that the ACC is doing quite well as a conference in volleyball overall this year, with three teams in the Top 15 (2 Louisville, 3 Pitt, and 14 Georgia Tech), and another two knocking on the rankings door (Miami and Florida State both receiving votes), and holding the second highest RPI as a conference in the country.
On to the scouting report then. UNC has four main consistent offensive threats lead by Nia Robinson, a 6'2" outside and Mabrey Shaffmaster, a 6'1" outside. Both are averaging over three kills per set. Next up, in the middle is Kaya Merkler at 6'3" getting 2.29 kills per set, and finally Emily Zinger, a 6'3" right side getting 2 kills per set. After that, the lineup seems to shift around with no one getting consistent playing time on the offensive side of things.
The setter for the squad is Meghan Neelon. She's a little bit undersized at setter at 5'9", so there could be a chance to take advantage of her when she's in the front row. The team blocks at a rate of two per set, solidly below Louisville's clip of 2.85.
Pitt and Duke did a good job of laying out the road of how to challenge this Louisville team, the question is whether UNC was paying attention, and can they execute on it. Doing so is easier said than done, of course.
Louisville needs keep their head in this game. Next weekend starts the final flourish of the season consisting of five matches with George Tech, and Pitt being the big challenges. Add in a couple of matches with Notre Dame, and another with a Duke team that challenged us. It would be easy for Louisville to be looking a bit ahead to these as they approach, and not pay attention to the immediate threat in Chapel Hill. Add in the extra hype of playing for that number one ranking, and maybe there's a chance that UofL gets knocked off their game a bit.
We know this UofL team has the talent and the ability to play together as a team to cruise to a victory over UNC, but this late in the season, distractions can start to creep in. If the Cards can stay focused, they should win.
The ACC Network Extra will have the video, with the match starting at 1pm. Speaking of schedules, don't forget the time change happened last night. You'd hate to get settled in to watch volleyball and realize there's another hour before game time. Most devices automatically change these days, but you might want to stroll around the abode and change any that don't. Fall back, spring forward.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
A quartet for the Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast. Case, Jared, Paulie, and I got together to talk about volleyball, field hockey, and basketball. That's right, basketball game discussions have returned to the CCRHP.
A fun hour discussing the joy and excitement of UofL women's sports. You can check it out at the Youtube link below, or the podcast form of it at any of your favorite podcast directories. The home site on anchor.fm is also listed below.