Slightly Shaky Sweep
In the first of three matches scheduled this season for Cards Volleyball to play at the KFC Yum! Center UofL gets a sweep over rival Kentucky 25-19, 25-23, 25-18. I call it a slightly shaky sweep because I thought there were aspects of play where UofL wasn't quite up to the level of play that we know they're capable of.
The Cards and Cats got under way at 8pm, and the first handful of points in the first set were a bit back and forth, but gave the impression that Kentucky was going to be able to play up to the level of play of Louisville. The Cats got out to a 7-4 lead, and then 9-6 before the Cards said, "Nope!". With Anna DeBeer at the service line, the Cards transformed a 9-6 deficit to a 9-16 lead. Cara Cresse had back-to-back-to-back kills in the run, along with another, with the next most points in that run coming from UK errors. Maybe UK Head Coach Craig Skinner remembered to clean out the litter box at that point as the Cats got the play back into gear and mostly traded points with UofL the rest of the set. At that point, however, the damage had been done.
In the second set, well, it didn't start well for the Cats with UofL jumping out to a 4-0 lead but to their credit they were able to play their way back into the set tying it at 5-5. Lots of little 3 point runs for both teams, but UofL was able to climb out to a slim lead, getting ahead by as much as four points. UK wasn't done and was able to claw their way back into and eventually take a lead at 22-21. Three side outs later and UofL tied it at 23-23 before a UK attack error and a DeBeer kill finished off the set.
In the third set, Louisville started to tighten up some of the sloppy play that we had been seeing. UK did get out to an early lead, reaching as much as 6-2 before UofL's newest serving star, Kamden Schrand came to the service line after an Aiko Jones kill. Interestingly, for most of the season, and even earlier in the match, Jones has been serving, but for some reason in this rotation, DBK went ahead and subbed Jones out and let Schrand take a shot at the service, and it paid of handsomely. From a 6-3 UK lead, Schrand's service, including a pair of aces, got the Cards out to 8-6 lead. Again, lots of side outs, but a few little UofL 3-point runs would start to build a bit of a lead for the Cards again. First to 13-10, then to 22-16, and finally to finish out the match at 25-18.
Coach Skinner earned himself no friends among the 12,760 fans by issuing a coach's challenge on the last play of the game, but you can't take the green cards home with you, so he had nothing to lose. And after the challenge was denied, UofL got to celebrate the rivalry win a second time.
So why do I call this a Slightly Shaky Sweep? Subjectively, I just don't think the Cards played sharp, with miscommunications, some missed coverages, and a few, "Uh, what happened there?" moments. Objectively, we see just a hint of some of this in the stats. First, we see nine service errors for UofL in the three sets, particularly when compared to just six aces. The other salvation on that stat was UK's 10 service errors. I guess you can give a bunch of points away if the other team is giving away even more. Second, five serve receive errors is a bit higher than I'd like to see in three sets, but again, UK had six, so still a net win for the Cards there.
Offensively, DeBeer did...well...fine. She had nine kills for .174. Aiko Jones also claimed nine kills but did it more efficiently at .333. But both are capable of more and while that's "good enough" for an overranked-at-21 Kentucky squad, we need to see more from both of them when fully-justified-at-5 ranked Stanford comes calling on Sunday.
OK, enough doomsday, let's shout out Charitie Luper for 13 kills at an impressive .385 clip, along with 7 for Cara Cresse, error free at .583. Elena Scott impressed as always with 15 digs, which is impressive for a good blocking team in three sets.
There have been a number of questions about how this season was going to play out as far as lineups go as well. We've talked about position battles for middles, and setters, as well as an ongoing "Will they, Won't they" about the coaching staff perhaps choosing to run a 6-2 offense. If we take last night's line-up as a guide, those questions are definitively answered. DBK only played eight players. With six in the rotation, plus a libero swapping for middles, that only leaves one other player to sub in and out of the match, and that's the aforementioned Aiko Jones/Kamden Schrand swap. Middles? Looks like we've settled on Cara Cresse and PK. Setters? Elle Glock looks like she may have solidified her hold on that spot. 6-2? Nowhere in sight, last night.
Ultimately, it was a fun night, and a good win that will be remembered and recorded as a win over a ranked team, in addition to the rivalry win. Playing at the KFC Yum! Center was great, giving about 11,760 fans a chance to come see the team play that wouldn't have been able to if the match was at LNFCU Arena. Spotted in the crowd at various points were Alumnae Tori Dilfer Stringer, Anna Stevenson Hall, Katie George - in her professional role as color commentator for ESPN - and Amaya Tillman. Tillman was also recognized with a pre-match bit for topping 500 career blocks in the post-season last year, and had plenty other of her accolades announced - my favorite being the Elite 90 award for having the highest GPA of any athlete at the Final Four. Many current athletes from other sports were there, with contingents seen from Women's Basketball, Softball, Field Hockey, and more
Volleyball will be back in action this Sunday, again from the KFC Yum! Center at 1pm, hosting the aforementioned 5th ranked, and soon to be conference-mates, the Stanford Cardinal. If you are one of our remote readers, it will be on ESPN2. If you're in or near Louisville, though, get a ticket and come down to watch this team play. You won't regret it.
(PHOTOS BY JARED ANDERSON)