Louisville was at one point of a big problem. Twice.
Undefeated, first-seeded and previously dominant, the University of Los Angeles volleyball team survived the opening set twice on Saturday night before restoring order to the NCAA tournament.
“We were talking, ‘If we beat No. 1, we can retire,'” Ball State’s Cathryn Starck said.
No chance. Louisville qualified for next week’s Sweet 16 with a 29-27, 25-11, 25-19 win — its 22nd sweep in 30 games — but for a few anxious moments the possibility of a stunning upset loomed large. profiled at the L&N Arena.
U of L Volleyball:The team gets off to a good start and dominates the first NCAA tournament
Ball State had fought off four set points themselves before putting U of L on the ropes with a 26-25, 27-26 lead. Winning the first set of a best-of-five match sets the tone and creates tension that is only amplified in the NCAA Knockout Tournament. U of L have only lost the first set four times in 30 games.
But after U of L’s Aiko Jones tied it at 26-26 with one of his 10 kills and a Ball State service error tied it again at 27-27, the Cardinals took their reprieve and ran with it.
The moral of our story is that you can’t afford to let the No. 1 team in the country off the hook.
“There’s the reality of being so close to winning that first set and it not getting on you,” Ball State coach Kelli Miller Phillips said. “Volleyball is a huge momentum game. And there (was) a change in momentum and part of it was Louisville came back in the second set and played a lot cleaner. They made a lot of typing mistakes in the first set and they really improved their game.”
The home team made 12 attacking errors in the first set – usually hitting balls too hard and for too long – but would only make four such errors thereafter. Mixing high-velocity shots with a few deftly done soft touches, they eventually returned to their season standard and qualified for a Thursday Sweet 16 game at Freedom Hall against 21st-ranked Florida.
The story continues after the gallery.
“I think in the first set we kind of felt them,” Jones said. “We just knew we had to keep calm, let the crowd go wild and play Louisville volleyball. After understanding that in the first set, the following sets were easier for us. ”
Senior Anna Stevenson, who had just 17 service aces all season before the game, would make three in a single service run in the third set and barely stifle a laugh at her hit streak. She attributed the struggles of the first set at the University of Los Angeles to the players being too “amplified” and excited by the last game of the season on their court.
“It’s hard not to get carried away,” she says.
The last undefeated team in Division I, Louisville have dropped just 11 of their 101 sets this season and managed to play through a few sloppy spells without costly consequences. But as the Cardinals get deeper into the tournament, their margin for error shrinks. Like U of L, Florida won all six sets in the tournament and will advance to the regional semi-final for the 28th time.
“They’re really physical,” University of L coach Dani Busboom Kelly said of the Gators. “They’re used to winning and they haven’t had their best year from a regular season perspective, but they’ve beaten their first two tournament opponents really well, and I think that’s just a product of that. program.”
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This will be Louisville’s third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16, and certainly the most promising. Ball State’s Phillips said the U of L looked like they were on a top team.
“They’re so balanced,” she said. “What’s sometimes harder to see in the movies is their serving pressure. I think we’re a good serving team. We’ve played a lot of good serving teams and they not only had pace on the ball, but they could also touch the sidelines, could serve loose balls and that caused us a lot of problems. Of course, they are big and physical at the net.
Lesson: You have a chance to get on U of L, you better take it.