Nov. 18, 2001
HOUSTON -- Katie Engel had 26 kills to lead DePaul to a 3-2 win over Louisville in the championship match of the Conference USA Tournament.
"Their five seniors were on a mission to leave a mark on DePaul program and they dug deep for the win," said Leonid Yelin, U of L head coach.
Despite being outblocked 20-10, outhit .240 to .202 and committing seven service errors, the scrappy Demon club kept coming up with the key point to deny Louisville's bid to repeat as conference champions.
"We wanted to keep emotion out of it as much as we could by taking control eariy, but their adrenalin pushed them over the edge," said Yelin.
In the first game, Louisville bolted to a 5-1 lead and increased it to five at 10-5 on a Jing Ding dump. Leading 14-11, Louisville allowed DePaul an eight point run. The Blue Demons took the lead for the first time at 17-15. The Cardinals were able to string together a rally to tie at 22, but then were outscored 7-2 down the stretch. U of L was outhit .341 to .174. Both Anastasia Zaitseva and Sonja Percan were victims of a strong DePaul block. Middle hitter Stacey Mercer took up some of the offensive slack with five kills on eight attacks.
In the second game, the Cardinals seemed to have taken a hold of the game momentum leading 12-6 in the early going. The Blue Demons went on a six-point scoring spree and forced Yelin to call time out when DePaul tied. The teams traded points until Zaitseva mounted a rally singlehandedly, scoring six straight points to take U of L ahead 25-22. She had 10 kills in the second game alone. Percan got a solo block and things seemed to be swinging back to the Cardinals. The Blue Demons with five seniors in the lineup did not seem rattled and in fact outscored U of L 7-2 for the 30-27 win. Louisville actually outhit DePaul .229 to .159 but couldn't get the ball to fall when they needed a comeback.
Louisville, which hasn't come back from a two-game deficit since 1996 against Kentucky, battled back to an 18-11 lead in the third game. DePaul blocked Zaitseva two consecutive times as part of a six point run that brought the Demons back to within one at 18-17. Louisville scored four points, two by Drury to go up 22-18 and forced DPU to call time out.
DePaul kept chipping away at the Cardinal lead, cutting a five point deficit at 27-22 when Ding was called for being in the net. DePaul ran off three points but Percan had two kills and a Blue Demon error gave U of L the game 30-25. U of L's hitting improved to .245 in the game as did the blocking with the Cardinal blocking DPU seven times.
Louisville evened the match with a 30-25 win in the third game. in a game marked by long rallies, U of L was able to chip out a five point lead at 20-15 on a Zaitseva kill. DePaul answered with three straight points and Yelin called time out to regroup. The Cardinals answered with a 7-2 run. Drury put one down from the middle to take U of L to 28-21. The Blue Demons managed three points before Louisville could make game point on another kill by Drury. Zaitseva went deep for the game point. U of L outhit DPU .370 to .204.
"I thought we had turned the corner at that point, because our more experienced team has been in this position before," said Yelin.
In the final game, the Cards managed a fragile two-point lead at 7-5 when DPU was called for four hits. The Blue Demons scored five unanswered points to take a 10-7 lead. Louisville tied at ten when Katie Engle was called for being over the net. DePaul got to game point when Zaitseva was blocked and then Engel had a kill from the right side to give the Blue Demons their first-ever Conference USA tournament championship and the automatic bid.
Cincinnati's Bonita Wise and Marquette's Meghan Devine joined Percan, Zaitseva and Bishop on the all-tournament team. DePaul setter Kara Jakusz was named tournament MVP.
The Cardinals play Kentucky in a rescheduled match Wednesday Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. in Cardinal Arena.