Volleyball suffers tough weekend in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

By on September 9, 2015

By Noah Allison–

With the conclusion of the past weekends ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Anne Kordes’ volleyball team sits on a 2-3 record. All three losses have been to Big Ten opponents, sixth-ranked Illinois, Minnesota and thirteenth-ranked Wisconsin, in that order.

With seven programs ranked in the top 25 of the nation, the Big Ten is widely agreed upon as one of the nation’s volleyball power conferences.

Despite the unsatisfactory results of the matches, Louisville has faced three tough programs very early into the season. Facing such Big Ten opponents has provided Louisville with an opportunity to gauge itself against top competition. Most importantly, identify the areas where improvement is most needed.

“I think it’s really good (playing Big Ten teams). Bottom line is that we have to take something from it,” Head Coach Anne Kordes said. “Our kids are smart, they’re good volleyball players with a high volleyball I.Q. What’s important now is that it burns us. We could have won. We have a chance to win every match we play.”

“It’s great, I definitely think it’s getting us ready for ACC play. It’s unfortunate that we lost,” senior setter Katie George added.

The reality is that Louisville matched up well with all three Big Ten opponents. The Cards fell to Illinois in three sets but were close in all three, losing 25-27, 23-25 and 24-26. Against Minnesota Louisville led 9-6 in the fifth set before succumbing the lead and eventually the match with the sets going 25-23, 14-25, 20-25, 28-26 and 13-15.

The Cards tied the match up with Wisconsin at a set a piece before losing in four sets 19-25, 25-17, 21-25 and 19-25. “I’ll be honest, I think we’re a really good team. We just have to have more of a killer mentality,” Kordes explained.

“I’ve got to give a ton of credit to our kids. They play so hard. They fight so hard. But there has got to be a point where they just get a little bit more mean, a little bit more nasty. At the end of the match they need to be taking over and finishing it.”

“Going against these opponents, we want it so bad. The way they are playing you can tell they’re not ready for this. You can call it underdogs, you can call it what you want but we are a better team than them.” “We just work so hard and with these big teams we’ve just got to finish it. We are not finishing. There are a lot of loose ends and we need to tie them up real quick,” junior outside hitter Janelle Jenkins said.

Those thoughts are echoed by fellow junior outside hitter Maya McClendon. “It’s still early, I think we have a lot to learn. It’s going to take some leadership in the last few points to push through,” McClendon said. “It’s not just physicality that we’ve been preparing for, it’s emotion. We have to capitalize off the preseason work that we put in for those pressure moments.”

At 2-3, the unsatisfied Cards have plenty of positive momentum to work from. Through five games Louisville is getting the production that was expected of the impact players heading into the season. Senior outside hitter Erin Fairs is leading Louisville in kills with 68 and had a season high 22 kills against Minnesota.

Jenkins is second with 56 and had a career high in kills with 23 against Miami of Ohio. McClendon is third with 36. The sophomore tandem of middle blockers Tess Clark and Maggie DeJong have combined for 55 kills and 33 blocks while Jenkins has contributed 15 blocks of her own.

Jenkins returns from a sophomore season where she was named first team All-ACC and has lived up to the expectations placed upon her as an upperclassman.

“As upperclassmen, we have to continue to stay aggressive and not have fear. And when I say that, I truly am talking to myself because we are setting the example for the younger classmen to know that they can go in there fearless,” Jenkins said. “I need to have a presence for my team. With God I can do anything and I should fear nothing. Just because a girl is six-four doesn’t mean that I can’t hit over her or that I can’t block her, and when the girls see that, that gets them fired up. As an upperclassman I need to step up and that needs to happen.”

Senior setter Katie George continues to take responsibility of the team and command of the offense. Through the first five matches, she has a team high 190 assists while the second highest total is 11.

Louisville is getting a huge boost from senior transfer Erin Fairs, but she isn’t the only first time Cardinal that is dictating the success of the team.

True freshman and Louisville native Molly Sauer is looking to be the next great Louisville libero. A quick responding athlete, Sauer leads Louisville with 68 digs through the first five matches. A defensive presence to be reckoned with, Sauer has gained the trust and earned praise from everyone in the program.

“Just her athleticism and that energy, it gets us fired up,” Jenkins said. “Especially if we’re having a low point. Having a freshman like that to come in and just be aggressive is huge. She’s been a great addition to the team and I know the other girls are learning from that.”

“She brings so much consistency. She’s so solid. It’s a pretty neat situation when other teams are trying to avoid your freshman on the court. I can’t say enough about her,” Kordes added.

Despite the Cardinals losing record they do not give off the energy or display the skill of a losing team. As Louisville volleyball aims for postseason success, the early season competition could prove invaluable.

With clear minds and a professional focus the Cards turn their attention to facing Utah on September 11th in the KFC Yum! Center.

As for what it’s going to take to reach the next level of performance, McClendon sums it up simply.

“It all comes down to heart.”

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