Senior outside hitter Lola Arslanbekova had 22 kills and 21 digs to lead the University of Louisville to a 3-2 upset win over No. 20 ranked Illinois in the second match of the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge Saturday evening at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.
"I am so proud of the girls for these two wins because the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge is a prestigious tournament," said U of L head coach Anne Kordes. " We came so close last year, dropping both matches against Purdue and Illinois in five sets by the narrowest of margins. It just makes it that much more exciting to see the progress we have made. They are putting in the work and playing with such confidence, I am very pleased."
Louisville improves to 8-1 with the 25-18, 23-25, 25-17, 22-25, 15-9 win. The Illini drop to 3-4 and hit .208 but outblocked the Cards 16-9. Kaitlynn James added 12 kills and Gwen Rucker had 11 kills and six blocks to lead the Cards. Illinois was led by Jocelynn Birks, who had 13 kills and two blocks.
U of L jumped out to a 12-4 lead and then used .303 hitting to keep the Illini at arm's length. U of I got to within four at 17-13 on a kill by Liz McMahon. But U of L responded immediately with a 5-0 run powered by a kill and an ace by Lola Arslanbekova. U of L also outblocked Illinois 2-0 and the Illini did little to help their own cause with four serving errors.
U of L seemed to keep the momentum in their favor early in the second set when it led 11-7 and forced an Illinois timeout. The Cards then moved to a 20-15 lead but let the Illini loose on a 9-2 run with three blocks down the stretch for the 25-23 win over U of L to even the set count at one apiece. Cardinal hitting cooled to .179 and had trouble hitting around the Illini block. Illinois had seven in second set after recording none in the first. Anna Dorn had five for U of I. Lola Arslanbekova had six kills but was also blocked four times.
U of L popped out to an 8-3 lead early in the third set and then spread the lead to 14-6 and force Illinois to burn its last timeout. The Cards continued to pull away, going up 21-11 but the Illini were not done yet. They blocked Lola three times and Brooke Mattingly
had a hitting error as part of a 4-0 run that sparked a U of L timeout. The Cards got to set point on a kill by Kaitlynn James
but two straight kills by Morganne Criswell gave the Illini new life. A service error by Jackie Wolfe gave the Cards the 25-17 win. Emily Juhl
had four kills to pace the Cards.
The fourth set turned into a see-saw battle with neither team able to gain a foothold as there were 14 ties and five lead changes. U of L took the lead at 22-21 on a Lola Arslanbekova kill but then were outscored 4-0 down the stretch. Illinois hit a torrid .429 and had two blocks.
U of L blew out to an 8-2 lead in the fifth set. Illinois cut the lead to five at 11-5 but the Cards kept the pressure on with a Gwen Rucker block and two straight Lola Arslanbekova kills to win the match.
U of L returns home to host the Louisville Invitational featuring UNLV, Middle Tennessee and Miami (Fla.) Sept. 14-15 in the KFC Yum! Center.