Dec. 3, 2010
Box Score |
Sophomore Lola Arslanbekova had 17 kills to lead the University of Louisville volleyball team to its first NCAA Tournament win in five seasons as the Cardinals made quick work of Middle Tennessee (29-6) during a 25-22, 25-21, 25-17 sweep of the Blue Raiders Friday afternoon in West Lafayette, Ind., on the campus of Purdue.
"It feels so good to finally break the trend and make it past the first round. We are taking it one set at a time and one match at a time. We are enjoying every minute of the ride," said U of L senior Amanda Simmons, whose team notched the first sweep for the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament since they swept Maryland in the second round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament en route to the Sweet Sixteen.
Sophomore outside hitter Lola Arslanbekova led the offensive attack for the Cardinals (23-7) with 17 kills while posting a .381 hitting percentage. As a team, the Cardinals hit .293. Arslanbekova tied her career high with two solo blocks, which she previously achieved against Illinois during the 2009 campaign.
"I just tried to go out there and do what coach told me to do," said Arslanbekova.
The twin towers on the block, Amanda Simmons and Gwen Rucker, controlled the net all afternoon for Louisville, combining for four solo blocks and five block assists. They also had five and six kills, respectively. As a team, Louisville outblocked Middle Tennessee 11-3.
Louisville's back row turned in one of its strongest performances of the season. Freshman libero Caitlin Welch recorded her 441st dig of the season during the third set, passing Lindsey Mango's 2007 mark for most digs by a freshman in school history. Welch, who had a match-high 11 digs, currently holds the fifth-highest total in school history for digs in a season. Senior Lindsey Mango and junior Maci Wachtel added eight digs each for the Cardinals. Freshman setter Taylor Brauneis had a match-high 36 assists.
"Never before have I had three freshmen starting in the key positions of setter, libero and outside hitter like I do with Taylor Brauneis
, Caitlin Welch
and Emily Juhl
. But as we found a role for everyone on the team, we started playing well," said U of L head coach Leonid Yelin
Louisville's blocking and defense held Middle Tennessee's hitters to a .158 hitting percentage, well below their 10th-ranked .290 hitting percentage.
"We are excited now that the match is over, but we during the match we were calm and confident and stayed within ourselves. We didn't try to ride emotion. We just played volleyball," said Rucker.
Lola Arslanbekova was the star of the first set with seven kills, hitting .455 with a pair of digs. The Cardinals blew out to a 6-1 lead early but then had to stave off a hard-charging Blue Raider team that managed to tie the score as late as 20-20 but was outscored down the stretch 5-3 with a service error by MTSU libero Brynne Henderson tipping the game to the Cardinals. It was the first time U of L won the first set of an NCAA match since 2006.
Louisville kept the momentum from the first set and took an early 9-3 lead in the second. The Blue Raiders fought back and took the lead at 14-13 on two straight hitting errors by Arslanbekova. The Cardinals trailed 15-13 when Arslanbekova had three kills as part of a 10-2 run. MTSU scored three straight before U of L got to game point at 24-21 with a kill by Gwen Rucker. MTSU scored once more on a kill by Lindsay Cheatham but was then called for a lift to end the set at 25-21. Uof L hit .265 to MTSU's .146. The Cardinals outblocked the Raiders 3-0. It was the first two-set lead since the NCAA Maryland match in 2005.
The two teams traded punches with 11 ties before the Cardinals took the lead at the 15-14 mark at the media timeout during the third set. The Cardinals busted out on a 9-2 run to get to match point at 24-17 and Gwen Rucker blocked the final attack for the match point.
The Cardinals will play Purdue at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Louisville, in its 21st NCAA appearance, will make its ninth showing in the second round and owns a 4-4 record in second round action.
"We have played both these teams this season and lost; in fact we lost badly to Purdue and Kentucky is a long-time traditional rival, but we are a different team now and at this point in the season, every match is a big match," said Yelin. "In the tournament, we worry about playing to our strengths and staying in our game plan."