Milwaukee, Wis. – Just six days after setting the all-time school record for digs, junior libero Caitlin Welch set the single season digs record. Ironically, both matches were against Cincinnati and in the end the No. 10 Louisville volleyball team swept the Bearcats for the second time in less than a week.
Louisville rallied to come from behind in the third set to claim a 25-16, 25-16, 22-18 win in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Championship on Saturday afternoon at the Al McGuire Center.
After trailing in the third set 22-18, the Cardinals used a 7-1 run to escape with a 25-23 win. With the win, Louisville extended its current win streak to 11 matches, the most in the Anne Kordes era of Louisville volleyball. Louisville’s last 11 match win streak was in 2008.
Gwen Rucker continued to pace the Cardinals. The senior had 15 kills on 17 swings with just two errors for a .765 hitting percentage. For the tournament, Rucker currently has 28 kills on 32 swings with two errors, which is good for a .813 hitting percentage.
“Gwen had a monster match,” said Kordes. “Any time we need a side out, she gets us one. That gave our kids so much confidence. It goes back to our passing which gives us so many options. The key to that is the low number of errors. Gwen and Lola had one between them well into the second set. It goes back to ball control and passing along with the ability to take care of the ball.”
The first set turned into a slug fest as neither defense had an answer. Louisville recorded 18 kills on only 24 swings with no errors. The Cardinals hit an astounding .750 but the Bearcats also hit .364. Louisville used two 3-0 runs early to open up a 10-4 advantage and never looked back en route to a 25-16 win. Rucker, who set a BIG EAST record on Friday for the highest hitting percentage in a match, picked up right where she left off with seven kills on seven swings. Tanya Lukyanenko also finished the set with a perfect 4-for-4 mark attacking the ball. Both teams only mustered up six digs apiece.
Louisville’s defense finally emerged in the second set after a recording 11 digs and two blocks en route to holding Cincinnati to a .036 hitting percentage. However, Cincinnati had no response and only recorded four digs while letting Louisville hit .480 in the frame. The two sides traded points in the second set before Louisville clawed out a three point advantage at 12-9 after a 4-1 run. However, the Bearcats stormed right back with a 3-0 run to tie the score at 12 all after Louisville’s first two attack errors of the match. Louisville responded with a 3-0 run to take the lead at 15-12 following back-to-back kills by Lola Arslanbekova and a diving dig by Hannah Kvitle which found the floor on the Bearcat’s side of the net. Later in the set Kaitlynn James, Emily Juhl and Rucker combined to block Cincinnati’s Jordanne Scott to open up a seven point advantage at 21-14.
Rucker carried the Cardinals through their rocky start to the third set. Rucker notched six kills on seven swings in the final frame despite Cincinnati recording 23 of their 33 digs. Cincinnati used stellar serving to capitalize on a 5-0 run to open up a 9-7 lead in the third set. Rucker responded with Louisville’s next four kills to pull the Cardinals within one at 14-13. Cincinnati pulled out to a four point lead at 22-18 before a solo block by James ignited the Cardinals to the comeback.
Louisville advances to the final of the BIG EAST Championship for the seventh time in eight seasons as a member of the BIG EAST Conference. The Cardinals await the winner of the Marquette-USF match and will square off against them at 2 p.m. EST in a televised match on ESPNU. Louisville won the BIG EAST Championship in 2006 and from 2008-10. The Cardinals will attempt to become the first team to win the regular season and tournament championship since St. John’s in 2007.