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November 29, 2012

Cards face a 'tough' NCAA volleyball road




The road to Louisville starts in Louisville for the Cardinals' high-flying volleyball team, and it's a road with plenty of potential detours. But the Cards are hoping to be a human version of the boomerang and circle back home for the Final Four Dec. 13-15 on their homecourt.

Ninth-ranked UofL (29-3) will put its 13-match winning streak on the line in the first round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Thursday night at 7:30 in the KFC Yum! Center against OVC champion Belmont (18-16).

The first game at 5 o'clock pits Tennessee (22-7) against Michigan (23-11), with the winners meeting Friday at 7:30 p.m. The survivor will advance to the regional semifinals at Cal-Berkley, where the likely opponent would be No. 7 UCLA (22-7).

Although UofL's seeding is the best in school history, it was disappointing, along with the possible trip to the West Coast when there was a regonal within easy driving distance hosted by Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. But UofL coach Anne Kordes, whose club had a No. 4 RPI, isn't complaining.

"It's just one of those things; we'll take whatever comes our way," she said. "We're excited to host and excited to make history with our seed. We've got a heck of a challenge ahead os us, and we'll take the challenge. It's a really tough road for us if we want to get back to Louisville for the Final Four, but no bracket is easy."

The Cards are one of the hottest teams in the nation. They haven't lost in nearly two months, have swept their last nine matches and 10 of their last 11. UofL's last loss came against Texas, which is seeded third in the NCAAs, 3-2 on Oct. 8 in the KFC Yum! Center.

"I'm real excited about the way we're playing, the way we're playing, the way we've treated each other, the way we've approached the tournament," said Kordes, whose team won both the Big East regular season and tournament championships. "We're bouncing off the walls around here. We want to play so bad. We're ready."

Senior middle blocker Gwen Rucker has been the standout for UofL lately. She was the MVP of the Big East Tournament and set a tourney record with a .654 hitting percentage. She is at full strength again after recovering from a bout with strep throat that caused here to lose 20 pounds.

"I'm so impressed with what Gwen has been doing," Kordes says. "She's been ridiculous. She's putting up All-American numbers. We thought she could have the kind of year she's having now all season, but it took here a long, long time to come back physically (from strep). She's back now and she's rock solid."

Kordes says Lola Arslanbekova, Brooke Mattingly, Emily Jule and Kaitlynn James have also been playing well.

Louisville defeated Belmont 26-24, 25-21 and 25-14 in the final match of the season a week ago, but as the scores indicate, the Bruins didn't go down easily, and Kordes expects another tough battle.

"Belmont is really good," she said. "They played great. We really struggled against them and it was very, very close. They've got a lot of height, they're spunky and they play very hard."

Still, UofL will be favored to win. If so, Kordes says the Cards will face a team that is bigger and stronger, no matter who wins between Tennessee and Michigan.

"I can't believe a 4 RPI team drew that kind of second-round opponent," Kordes says. "We're not going to go in and slug it out on brawn and bulk, so we're going to have to beat them with precision, and ball handle very well, just be the better team."


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