By Dalton Ray–
Three days, four games and a trio of top-three teams are coming to The Ville. The upcoming three-day stretch for Louisville Athletics is one of the biggest in recent memory.
This is exactly what Athletic Director Tom Jurich envisioned when the ACC selected Louisville to replace Maryland in 2012. The time of Louisville being the big fish in a small pond is long gone and U of L is in the spotlight year-round.
Starting on Thursday with volleyball, Anne Kordes and company are hosting arch-rival Kentucky. The battle will take place in the KFC YUM! Center at 7 p.m. Louisville fell to No. 2 Wisconsin and No. 5 Minnesota in their last two outings in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, bringing their record to 4-4. UK enters the match with a 5-4 record, and a two-game winning streak.
Last year in Lexington, the Wildcats prevailed 3-1. Louisville responded by winning 10 straight games after the loss. While Kordes has had big success during her time at U of L, Kentucky has been a thorn in her side. Since her arrival in 2011, she has a record of 1-4 against the team down the road. A Louisville native and alumni, Kordes is itching to return the favor this year in front of the Cards’ home fans.
On Friday, Louisville hosts first-ranked Notre Dame in men’s soccer and second-ranked Duke in field hockey.
Trager Stadium is the site where Justine Sowry’s squad faces off in a top 10 encounter between two undefeated ACC teams. A 6 p.m. start time, Louisville looks to earn its second victory over Duke in three years. The home team has won the previous match-ups. Sitting at 6-0, the Cardinals have outscored opponents by a total score of 28-3 so far this year.
Goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran leads the country in save-percentage with .857, and her three shutouts on the year brings her career total to 12 of her 25 games played. Freshman Minout Mink is tied for third in the nation with eight goals on the year. Her 17 points ties her for fourth in the country. The nation’s top assists leaders will be facing off in Louisville’s Erin McCrudden and Duke’s Margaux Paolino.
Duke pulled out a string of one-goal victories over three top 20 teams in Maryland, Virginia and Northwestern. The Blue Devils are a battle-tested team that won’t get rattled in the face of pressure. This clash of two of the nation’s best teams should be a close game just like the previous two. Only five games have been given up in the past two match-ups.
Just down the road at Lynn Stadium, top-ranked ND looks to stay undefeated against Ken Lolla’s team. Starting at 7 p.m., Louisville is looking to earn its first win over a top 10 team since 2014.
Sitting at 4-1-1 on the season, U of L’s lone loss came on the road against No. 21 Kentucky. On the year, Louisville has only allowed two goals while netting eight themselves. Currently out-shooting their opponents 15-to-4 per game, the Cardinals are letting up .33 goals-per-game. Goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland has stepped in as fifth year player and provided consistent play in the net. His .846 save-percent ranks him 25th in the nation.
2014’s match in South Bend needed extra minutes to decide a winner. The Irish pulled out the 3-2 win in the last match up between the two teams. ND brings one of the best offenses in the nation. Brandon Aubrey is third in the country in goals and both Jon Gallagher and Aubrey are fourth in total points.
The final ranked team playing in Louisville this weekend is No. 2 Florida State. There isn’t a better way to cap off the three-day extravaganza than having ESPN’s College GameDay in the Derby City for the first time ever.
The first conference home game of 2016 is shaping up to be one of the biggest games in program history. Outside of post-season play, very few games have held bigger implications than what this top 10 match up holds. If Louisville is able to pull out the home win, the Cardinals could possibly receive their highest ranking since 2006.
More than being ranked in the top five of the nation is on the line for U of L in this game, national perception is at stake too. If Louisville is able to come out and get a win over a known national power in FSU with the nation watching, the Cardinals earn huge respect from the whole country. To add on, Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign can kick into a whole new gear if he performs well against the stern Seminole’s defense.
Louisville is set for national eyes this weekend and the whole athletic department has the chance to take the next step.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal