Volleyball Sweeps into Second Round of NCAA Tournament
Despite my hyperactive and pessimistic brain running through the potential sad headlines or leads I was going to have to come up with if Louisville somehow completely crashed and burned last night, none were necessary. Louisville brought in the Flames of the University of Illinois at Chicago and, other than a hiccup in the second set, had no real trouble snuffing them out to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. As the number one overall seed, Louisville was presumably matched against the lowest ranked team to make the tournament, so it would have been quite the surprise if this match had ended in anything other than a sweep. In the first round, the 16 seeded teams won their matches by a combined 48-0. Impressive stuff, when you think about it.
As for the Louisville match last night, the Cards--having just watched another Cardinals team win on their floor--jumped on the Flames early. Louisville won the first four points on two kills, an ace, and an attack error from UIC, and it was all downhill for the Flames from there. They finally grabbed their first two points to make it 4-2 before Louisville went on a 17-6 run to put the set away. At 21-8, the teams traded a few points before an error by UIC gave the Cards the 25-11 victory. Louisville finished the set with 15 kills and no errors for a whopping 0.577 hitting percentage while UIC struggled to just 0.086. Despite the lopsided hitting percentages, only two of Louisville's 11 blocks came in this set. It looked like the Cards would breeze through this opening match.
Unfortunately, the error bug hit Louisville in the second set. The first point of the set went to UIC on a handling error by Aiko Jones, and that set the tone. UIC grabbed three of their four blocks in this set and Louisville added five of their own attack errors along with that handling error and their only service error of the match to basically give away ten points. Wait, did I read that right? Yep. Louisville committed just one service error throughout all three sets, compared to four aces. As a team with ball control for most of the match, that few errors is fantastic, and you'll take the lower number of aces when playing against a team you expect to have outmatched. On the flip side, UIC had just one ace and five errors, giving the Cards a nine-point advantage in the service game.
Back to that second set, though. After the blistering hitting start in the first, Louisville muddled through the second. They finished with a 0.200 mark in the set, brought up by a streak of six kills interrupted by just one block in crunch time of the set. The two teams traded points for the first half of the set or so before back-to-back blocks gave Louisville a 16-11. That seemed like it would swing the momentum to the heavily favored team, but the lone service error came at an incredibly inopportune time. The Flames used Anna DeBeer's errant serve as a catalyst to rattle off a 7-1 run and take an 18-17 lead. The run included hitting errors on three of four points in a row and was capped off by a block. However, Louisville was able to refocus in that crunch time I mentioned. Louisville won eight of the final ten points of the set to take it 25-20. Over that time, UIC's only two points came from a single kill and a block, and Louisville only earned one point from a UIC error. The Louisville offense turned their hats around backwards in the way someone does in a cliche sports movie when things get serious and they went to work.
After the halftime break, where Coach Dani Busboom Kelly told Tori Dilfer to keep the offense balanced, Louisville left no doubt about why they were undefeated and the top seed. After UIC took the first point, Dilfer received her instruction about balance as "Aiko Jones needs more touches." Louisville won the next seven points with three kills by Jones. After giving up another point, they won four more. Over the course of the third set, UIC never won two points in a row. Since Louisville opened the set with the serve when UIC took the first point, that means that the Flames didn't win a single point on serve for the entire set. To me, that's insane. To Louisville volleyball, that's taking care of business. After their huge runs put them up 17-5, the teams more-or-less traded points until Louisville closed the door with a Claire Chaussee kill to win 25-11. It was a perfect bookend to a match that opened 116 points prior with a Chaussee kill.
As stellar and as balanced as Louisville's offense was, they were nearly as balanced defensively. No one was able to be called out as a weak link defensively as the Cards had just the one handling error and one receiving error while gathering 47 digs. 47 digs!! In just three sets!! I mean, jeez, UIC only had 28 kills. In addition to Jones' nine, Tori Dilfer had eight, DeBeer five, Bartlett six, and Elena Scott led the way with 17. She also picked up the slack when Dilfer was out of system with three assists. Dilfer had 35 of the team's 39 (on 42 kills, phew). Blocks were also well distributed, with every hitter and Dilfer getting at least one block assist. Tillman led the way there with five assists and a solo block.
Louisville will look to carry their momentum into this evening's match against Ball State. The Cardinals from Muncie took down the Wolverines in five sets yesterday, so they played quite a bit more ball than Louisville. Fortunately for them, they will have had about 24 full hours of rest to prepare, with tonight's match getting underway at 6PM. Daryl wishes to pass along her apologies for the 8PM time she posted yesterday, as the bracket led her astray. Again, that's Louisville and Ball State at 6PM in the sold out L&N Federal Credit Union Arena. The match is available on ESPN+.
While Texas, Baylor, and Purdue joined Florida in the Sweet Sixteen as expected, the second round also saw the first major upset. The first seeded team to fall became the fourteenth-ranked Blue Jays out of Creighton. They should have known their fate was sealed, as they were matched up against the Jayhawks of Kansas. A mascot disadvantage there, to be sure. While a Jayhawk isn't an actual bird, the sparrowhawk from which it originated (along with the blue jay) is a known killer of birds. KU took down Creighton 3-1, and they await the winner of the Pennsylvania rivalry between Penn State and Pittsburgh. Oddly, that rivalry doesn't have an official name.
Jeff will have the write tomorrow, when he'll (hopefully) bring you the sights and sounds from a Louisville victory inside LNFCU. Once more: 6PM on ESPN+.
Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
With an exciting week for basketball and the volleyball tournament underway, we've should have a fun show lined up. Fortunately, the evening match gives Jeff the opportunity to join us for the podcast before heading over to Floyd Street for the Battle of the Birds. It'll be a throwback to the days on the Hill, as Jared leaves Paulie, Jeff, and I to our own devices while he plays in an ensemble. Daryl, as she noted yesterday, is still out, but we're looking forward to having her expertise rejoin the show as basketball season continues through the winter. As always, you can check out the live stream of the show by going to the Cardinal Couple YouTube page and clicking on the live video. Jeff usually creates that about an hour before the show, which officially starts at 11 AM Eastern. If the live time doesn't work for you, there are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!
Cardinal Couple YouTube: Link
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Until next time, Go Cards!
DBK Post-Game Interview
“I thought it was a really fun atmosphere tonight, you could just tell it was a little different, which is a good thing for the NCAA tournament. I thought UIC was really good and impressive. They’re one of the best passing teams that we’ve played, so I was just impressed with the way they competed and how they played. I know we did a great job of just staying balanced and sticking to what we do best and that's been our motto this week to figure out what our brand is and make sure we stay true to that … no matter what game it is, what time in the match it is and it was an excellent job by our team tonight.”
(How the team has handled being undefeated going into tournament play)
“I'm really lucky this year, our team has great leadership and great maturity. They knew what they wanted from the beginning of the year. There was never a time of year where I had to motivate them. Our staff never felt like we had to do something special or do something different. I think having fifth-year seniors and the COVID year has helped teams be really composed and mature and we are certainly benefiting from that. It just comes down to knowing what they wanted and understanding that this is a really great opportunity. We knew from day one that this can potentially be one of the best teams that Louisville has ever had and that we have the opportunity to capitalize on that.”
(Importance of not letting the opponent get momentum)
“It's always important but in a tournament, you've already seen upsets and some big names go down in volleyball and momentum swings are huge game changers. That's why I was saying I would love to play this first and second round in a bigger arena but it's very comforting to be home and at L&N Arena where we're comfortable and we can use the crowd and that helps with momentum changes for sure.”
(On being satisfied with the team’s overall performance)
“I was satisfied with our performance; I think we had that spot in the second set where we made three or four hitting errors in a row on the first ball and that's pretty uncharacteristic for us. It was okay to have some of that in this first game and to get some of that out of our system. We've been balanced all year, so I really challenged Tori (Dilfer) at the break in between games two and three to balance out our offense. She did a great job of getting everyone involved and in double digits in attempts.”