The No. 9 University of Louisville women's volleyball team defeated the Belmont Bruins in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 3-1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-21) Thursday night at the KFC Yum! Center. The 10th-seeded Cardinals will advance to the second round matchup against the Michigan Wolverines.
"We knew coming into this match how good they are, how scrappy they are, what defense they play, and their mindset," said U of L head coach Anne Kordes. "They gave us a run for our money last week. It was everything I thought it would be. Their setter, Scarlet Gable, didn't let anything drop. What a great effort by them and I'm real excited for them. I know they have a lot of kids coming back so I wish them all the best. It was a phenomenal match. It was a great defensive match. They did a lot of things to take us out of our game. I think that's great coaching and good ball control. They served us like crazy and we just couldn't get a ball down on them."
Leading the Cardinals on offense was the senior duo of Lola Arslanbekova and Gwen Rucker. Lola Arslanbekova recorded 19 kills on 58 attempts and also added 10 digs. Gwen Rucker added 13 kills on 27 attempts and was a part of 5 blocks on defense. Katie George assisted helped to initiate the offense with 27 assists and Hannah Kvitle totaled 16 assists to aid in the attack. On defense, Caitlin Welch led the team with 19 digs, followed by 13 from Hannah Kvitle, 10 from Arslanbekova, and 10 from Kaitlynn James. The Cardinals had an attack percentage of .214 and Belmont hit .191 as a team. U of L also recorded 10 blocks and Belmont had 6 on the night. U of L is now 30-3 with Belmont ending its season at 18-17.
"For us, I thought Gwen (Rucker) played phenomenal like she has been lately," said Kordes. "She's been on a roll - setting records for us in the Big East tournament and then tonight coming up huge. Not just in offense but blocking as well. CaitlinWelch has done a phenomenal job passing. That's a stat that nobody can see. We always talk about her being a little bit of an unsung hero. She keeps us in the system and allows to run our stuff and keeps the offense spread out."
In the first set, Belmont's Scarlet Gable saved nine straight and led the Bruins to a 25-21 win after being behind 20-16. U of L hit +.400 for much of the first set, yet the Cards cooled off to only .244. Gwen Rucker was 4 for 4 on attacks and added two blocks to lead the Cards.
"It was huge. We were up 20-16 feeling comfortable, and then the next thing you know we just couldn't get a ball down," said Kordes. "We were having one-on-one situations and we just couldn't manage to get the ball down. Belmont was making ridiculous defensive plays. In situations like that as a coach you just hope they don't keep that up and they did all night long. There was never a point in this match where I felt comfortable, especially after they came back in the first game."
U of L withstood two Belmont runs in the second set. The Bruins ran out to a 5-1 lead before the Cards used an 8-1 run to go up 9-6. The Bruins tied everything up at 12 and then took the lead at 13-12. Louisville seniors Gwen Rucker and Lola Arslanbekova then combined for eight straight points to go up 18-15. The Cardinals went on to win the set 25-19 to even the set score at one a piece.
Louisville used a 6-0 run in the third set to finally take a lead after most of the set had featured back and forth play between the teams. The Cardinals finished the set on a 10-3 run and won 25-18.
In the final set, it looked as though Louisville would pull away after leading 15-10 and 19-12. However, the Bruins fought back down 16-20 and wouldn't let the Cards go easy. The scoring fell even the rest of the set at 4-4 and Louisville was able to prevail 25-21.
U of L advances to play Michigan at 7:30 ET at the KFC Yum! Center.
"Michigan are big. In the first two games tonight against Tennessee they didn't make any errors," said Kordes. "I thought their outside hitters did a phenomenal job and their middles are big. They set up a really big blocks. I think we are faster than they are and I think it will game down to serving and passing. If we can stay in our system and only allow them to get a single blocker up against us I think we match up well. Now if we start passing the ball way off the net and they can get up two of those big blockers up against us then we are going to have some trouble. It's going to be a great match, they are very well coached. They have had a phenomenal season in the Big Ten and actually had some huge wins."