By Sam Draut–
Final exams finished up Tuesday, marking the official end of the 2015 fall semester at the University of Louisville.
As dorms close down and students head home for winter break, the Louisville Cardinal takes a look back at the fall semester in sports.
After a relatively successful return for coach Bobby Petrino in 2014, the 2015 team picked up some optimism with underlying question marks in the first few weeks of August as school began.
The quarterback competition might have been the most reoccurring theme week in, and week out throughout the fall along with decreasing temperatures and shortening days.
First, coach Bobby Petrino sent out Reggie Bonnafon as the starting quarterback in the season opener against Auburn in Atlanta.
After Lamar Jackson sparked a comeback that fell short at the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, Petrino started Jackson the next week against Houston.
But, Bolin relieved Jackson in the second half against Houston, and ended up starting against Clemson a week later.
Three different starting quarterbacks, three straight losses.
Jackson strung together five consecutive starts in the middle of the season, but after Jackson suffered an ankle and shoulder injury against Wake Forest, Bolin took over for the final four games of the regular season.
Of course, in the season finale against in-state rival Kentucky, Jackson fittingly replaced Bolin after Louisville fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter.
All in all, Jackson was, in Petrino’s words, “the starting quarterback moving forward” at least three times, while Bolin received the same phrase a couple times as well.
Just for fun, here is a statistical comparison of the two quarterbacks who played musical chairs under center, or in Jackson’s case, in the shotgun, for the 12 game regular season:
Jackson completed 123 of 221 passes (55.66%) for 1613 yards and ten touchdowns. He averaged 146.6 yards in eleven games and threw eight interceptions. Jackson also rushed for 734 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Bolin completed 78 of 137 passes (56.93%) for 1154 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 164.9 yards in seven games and threw six interceptions.
So after an 0-3 start and sometimes befuddling play throughout the year, Louisville was able to win seven of their last nine games to seal their sixth consecutive bowl appearance.
Louisville’s six wins over FBS competition had a combined record of 26-46, so the Cardinals beat the teams it was supposed to and lost to anyone outside of that category.
Even Petrino said the 7-5 campaign wasn’t what anyone wanted.
To save the season from being labeled a disappointment, a win against Texas A&M (8-5) would do wonders to improve the outlook of the 2015 season.
But, the future is brighter for Louisville, 17 of 22 starters are set to return, and the 13 extra practices due to the bowl game allow the large group of younger players to work into larger roles.
Unfortunately for coach Rick Pitino and the men’s basketball team, sombreros and an FBI investigation looking into potential misuse of federal grant money weren’t the largest scandal the University of Louisville faced in the Fall semester of 2015.
Katina Powell captured the attention of the University and eventually national audiences with the release of her book “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen.”
While we won’t get into the sordid details, ensuing investigations, drama and intrigue that surrounds the book, Powell seized the spotlight from one of the more entertaining teams in recent memory.
Led by two fifth-year transfers Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, Louisville’s season is already a quarter of the way complete and the Cardinals are 7-1 and ranked nineteenth in the AP Poll.
Despite playing behind the backdrop of the ever-developing scandal, the fifteen-man roster has great camaraderie and plays well together.
Fans and media members alike have enjoyed following the young team made up of unique, but fun personalities.
Pitino has given high praise to freshman Donovan Mitchell’s attitude while fellow freshman Ray Spalding has frequently flashed his potential, averaging 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in just 13.1 minutes played per game.
Spalding joined Quentin Snider in the starting lineup on Dec. 5, the first time two Louisville natives have started for the program in more than ten years.
To note, Snider has played in all eight games this season, averaging 28.4 minutes per game, third most on the team. The sophomore leads Louisville with 35 assists, but has only eight turnovers in 227 minutes of play. Do the math, Snider is averaging a mere one turnover per 28.4 minutes played, the same amount of time he averages per game.
While Michigan State is the only team Louisville has played in the RPI Top 50 thus far, the Cardinals have ten more games on the schedule with teams in the Top 50.
The season hasn’t started well for the pre-season ranked eighth team in the country.
Returning Mariya Moore, Myisha Hines-Allen, Arica Carter and Cortnee Walton from a year ago, coach Jeff Walz has faced growing pains pairing the small group of veterans with the nation’s top-rated recruiting class.
The Cardinals are 5-5 and have struggled to play consistently on both ends of the floor.
Walz cited lack of fire and pride after Louisville’s 72-54 loss to in-state rival Kentucky last Thursday, but one player who has shown plenty of heart and talent is UCF transfer Briahanna Jackson.
The junior leads the Cardinals with 14.9 points per game. Jackson also leads the Louisville defense with 28 steals, is first in minutes played and is fourth on the team in rebounds.
Asia Durr, the nation’s top-rated high school recruit in the 2015 class has been limited after groin surgery in the offseason, appearing in six of the nine games, averaging 20.7 minutes.
The Cardinals have four non-conference games before opening into their ACC slate of games on Jan. 1 against Florida State.
If there was a time this fall Louisville athletics needed a big win, Oct. 8 was the night.
The full brunt of the paid strippers and escorts scandal had touched down on campus and lit through the national media. The football team was off to a sluggish 2-3 start and faced nationally ranked Florida State in Tallahassee the next week.
Coach Karen Ferguson-Dayes and the Louisville women’s soccer team gave the University a brief respite from the torrential down poor of negative news.
Hosting top-ranked North Carolina, Louisville fell behind 1-0 in the first half against the vaunted Tar Heel attack.
Gabrielle Vincent scored three minutes into the second half off a penalty kick by Hannah Konermann to tie the score.
The game remained tied 1-1 and eventually headed to overtime.
With nine second remaining in the first overtime period, Caroline Kimble scored the game winning goal off a penalty kick from Konermann.
The biggest win in program history was defended by a strong backline and excellent play by goal keeper Taylor Bucklin.
North Carolina’s lethal wave of attack totaled 30 shots while Louisville could only muster together six, but the Cardinals cashed in when it counted.
Besides the football team’s 21 point comeback road victory over Kentucky, the women’s soccer team’s upset win over top-ranked North Carolina was the best moment of the 2015 fall semester, undoubtedly, the most exciting and dramatic win to occur on Floyd Street over the past five months.
After starting the season 2-3, with losses to Big Ten powerhouses Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Louisville volleyball put together a dominating campaign in the ACC.
Coach Anne Kordes and her team reeled off win streaks of ten and eight after the slow start, finishing 18-2 in the ACC and winning the conference.
Clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament, Louisville hosted the first and second rounds.
The Cardinals defeated Belmont in the four sets in the first round before falling to Illinois in four sets in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Louisville started and ended its 2015 season with a loss to Illinois and bid farewell to three seniors, Katie George, Erin Fairs and Roxanne McVey.
Uncovered in the season was one of the best young liberos in college volleyball, Molly Sauer. The freshman from Assumption High School accumulated 533 digs in 32 matches.
It is rare for team to finish near last place in their conference and still be considered one of the best teams in the country.
Thus is the life of ACC field hockey.
Louisville spent much of the year ranked in the top-ten nationally despite going 1-5 in ACC regular season play.
The Cardinals won all twelve of their regular season non-conference games and ended their year with a 3-0 loss to UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
After the 13-7 campaign, freshman goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran and senior defender Victoria Stratton were named third team All-Americans by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association.
The men’s cross country team capped off their season with two consecutive strong performances culminating with a seventh place finish at the NCAA Championship. The finish is the best in school history, previously, Louisville notched its only other top ten finish, notching ninth place in 2008.
Senior Ernest Kibet had the best finish for Louisville in the NCAA Championship, posting a time of 30:09.4 in the 10K race, placing him eighteenth.
Junior Edwin Kibichiy followed Kibet, finishing with a time of 30:29.8, good for forty-first place.
Kibet earned All-American honors after the NCAA Championship.
Louisville’s strong close to season was sparked by the school’s first ever NCAA Southeast Regional that earned the Cardinals an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
The win at the NCAA Southeast Regional earned Louisville the national ranking of fourteenth in the final USTFCCA Top 30 Poll.
A roster comprised of six freshman, one sophomore, two juniors and two seniors came together and played well during their fall season.
In October, the team pulled out their fourth consecutive Cardinal Cup victory, in a two day, fourteen team event.
Seniors Laura Restrepo and Katie Mitchell led the team and played consistently throughout the fall, but freshmen Lexie Long and Olivia Cason also flashed moments of potential, each playing well in different tournaments.