By Noah Allison–
The Louisville Cardinals’ volleyball squad has won its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
After finishing the regular season with a 24-6 overall record, Louisville’s 18-2 ACC record was good enough to take sole possession of the conference title. The Cardinals started conference play with a 10-0 record after a 6-4 start to the season.
U of L culminated its regular season home matches against Georgia Tech, where they cemented their 13-2 home record. More importantly, the University of Louisville recognized the three seniors on the roster that made one of Louisville’s more successful sports seasons possible.
The likes of seniors Katie George, Erin Fairs and Roxanne McVey set the tone heading into the season as head coach Anne Kordes built a team around them that could thrive off the seniors’ experience, skill and leadership.
What more can be said of the senior captain and team setter Katie George that hasn’t already been said?
“She’s irreplaceable,” head coach Anne Kordes declared.
She’s “irreplaceable” as both the 2015 ACC Player of the Year and ACC Setter of the Year. George led U of L and the ACC with her 1,323 assists on the season averaging 12.04 per match.
Starting all four years of her career, the Louisville native from Assumption High School will go down as one of the program’s all time greats. But it is her competitive attitude and work ethic that has allowed her to carve out her own success.
“She’s irreplaceable just because of how hard she plays,” Kordes said. “She’s not some super athlete, she just plays really hard and she’s very good, but she’s very good because she’s worked so hard at it.
“Especially this last year, the entire season you could tell she is a senior on a mission. Never one day have I doubted her effort or been upset with her effort. From day one it’s been on for her.
“Its interesting because its your last hurrah,” George said. “It’s your last chance so you want to give everything you have and I can honestly say that’s what I’ve done.”
George has not only been an integral part of U of L athletics but has been a representative of the University and the city as a whole. Her work ethic was put on display nationally in both her athletic career and in her feats of being crowned Miss Kentucky.
“I feel like these fans have been with me every step of the way. For the past four years they’ve watched me grow as a volleyball player and as a person. I feel very blessed and special to have played my career at the University of Louisville,” she said.
Despite the degree of success, George continued to raise the bar throughout her collegiate career, a career that is not done as the Cards head into the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s amazing to me that it’s coming to a close but I am so excited and so thankful that it’s been a successful year. I feel like I’ve put my heart and soul into this team, this program and this city and just to see us potentially do something special this year is just tremendous,” George said.
Perhaps lost in the mix of the success filled season was key contributor and irreplaceable leader, libero Roxanne McVey.
McVey transferred from Mississippi State where she was an SEC standout. Her freshman year McVey set the MSU single season record with 558 digs as well as set the SEC season record with 5.64 digs per set. Her sophomore year she broke her MSU record with 632 digs through the season.
The natural from Magnolia, Texas took her talents to Louisville for her final two years of collegiate play. Last year as a first time Cardinal she replaced the programs all time digs leader, libero Caitlin Welch. McVey picked the defensive prowess right up and led Louisville with 406 digs in the school’s inaugural ACC season.
But this year Louisville was led by freshman libero Molly Sauer, who was named 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and ACC Freshman of the Year. Heading into it all McVey had to make a decision as to what was best for the team in her senior year.
“They had a nice little libero battle and it all comes down to passing stats and Molly beat her out and really from that point on Molly never gave up that spot, but Roxanne was 100 percent behind her. Supporting her, talking her through things, being a leader and that’s what you hope for and want,” Kordes said.
On the season McVey provided depth at the defensive end and her skill allowed for defensive packages that opponents could not handle. With McVey’s 195 digs and Sauer’s team high 504; the combination played an integral part in Louisville’s 18-2 ACC record.
“We worked really hard all summer to make this our culture of winning and I think we did a really good job in the off-season of preparing. Having it come true has been such a blessing for all of us,” McVey said.
“She’s been phenomenal,” Kordes said.
“Roxanne said it earlier in the year and I get chills just thinking about it. She said ‘if we’re a better team with Molly as the libero I could care less about what position I play I just want to win.’ It’s pretty cool.”
For the transfer, coming to Louisville was worth the risk.
“When I think Louisville I think family,” she said. “Its unreal, its such a surreal feeling that its done but Louisville will forever be home for me.”
Throughout her one season as a Louisville Cardinal, outside hitter Erin Fairs showed why there was such excitement around her arrival. The big swinger from the University of South Florida didn’t disappoint. In fact she exceeded expectations as she led Louisville with 424 kills.
It is safe to say that Louisville would not have won the ACC and reach a 24-6 overall record without the addition of Fairs. But like McVey, Fairs had to decide whether or not to finish the historic she had at her first school.
At USF, Fairs was an all-time program player. As a junior in the American Athletic Conference, Fairs had 489 kills and 481 digs. The do it all player was used to carrying her Bulls to success, but having played Anne Kordes and the Louisville Cardinals in both the Big East and AAC Fairs took advantage of her chance to transfer to U of L.
Leaving USF as the program’s eighth all-time leader in kills and fourth all-time leader in digs, Fairs was presented a one-year opportunity to hone her craft and compete in post-season play.
Erin has provided the kind of bang that we’ve needed,” head coach Anne Kordes said. “Especially late in matches, she’s lifted us out of fifth game sets, against Pitt and Flordia State, she just takes over in situations like that.”
Along with her talent Fairs has also brought invaluable experience and leadership.
“And then she calms everybody else down,” Kordes exclaims. “Erin is really coming into her own too. She has never had to go against the big blocks she’s had to go against this year and she hasn’t had to block the kind of big hitters she’s been going against so she’s improved throughout the season and you can see it in the level that she is playing in right now.”
In taking the risk, Fairs has been able to experience team success she never had at USF.
“Our whole goal was to be ACC champs. I’m excited we did what we wanted to do,” Fairs said. “I was definitely hoping for the best heading into the season. I knew some players on the team and knew we could have some chemistry but once we got in the gym I knew we could be something really special.”