By Matt Bradshaw —
Our rundown of all 21 varsity sports concludes with part five of the athletics state of the union. With the final installment, we reach a definitive ranking of U of L athletics:
19. Men’s golf
18. Men’s cross country
14. Women’s soccer
13. Men’s tennis
11. Men’s track and field
10. Women’s golf
9. Women’s cross country
6. Men’s swimming and diving
5. Field hockey
To reiterate: This list examines the current outlook of Cardinal athletics and ranks every sport by its relative success. The criteria for success include performance during 2017-18, current play and future potential.
Each program’s ranking will undoubtedly change year-to-year with the fluctuation of success. For now, these four teams reign supreme with their recent achievements and promising futures.
4. Men’s soccer
Overall 2017 record: 13-2-5
Conference play: 5-2-1
Season finish: Loss in NCAA Elite Eight
Men’s soccer posted a rock-solid regular season in 2017 and lost only two matches in the country’s toughest conference. Following the ACC tournament, Louisville earned the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Championship for their 10th tournament appearance in 11 seasons.
The Cardinals made a deep run in the tournament and reached their second straight elite eight, also marking their fifth NCAA quarterfinal appearance in the last eight years. Akron went on to defeat Louisville in a penalty shootout.
Head coach Ken Lolla returned six starters this fall and his team remained nationally ranked for the entirety of their season, spending most time in the top-10. U of L finished its regular season this past Friday with a loss to No. 1 Wake Forest and 8-4-3 overall record.
After leading the squad in scoring and earning All-ACC honors in 2017, senior Tate Schmitt leads once again with four goals and six assists this season. Senior Adam Wilson and junior Cherif Dieye remain level with the captain with four goals each.
The group clinched the No. 4 seed in the ACC Championship along with a first round bye. Whatever the outcome in the conference tournament, the squad is primed and ready for another NCAA run.
Overall 2018 record: 45-19
Conference play: 18-12
Season finish: Loss in NCAA Regional
Baseball won fourteen straight games to start the 2018 season (the only team to do so in the nation) and registered their seventh consecutive 40-win season under head coach Dan McDonnell. After a tough loss in the ACC finals, Louisville missed their chance to host an NCAA Regional and traveled to Lubbock, Texas for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
U of L reached its seventh straight regional championship but fell short to Texas Tech in Lubbock. The defeat ended the Cards’ postseason streak of five consecutive Super Regional appearances.
Despite losing multiple key players to the MLB draft, McDonnell’s upcoming team looks strong as ever and ready for another fantastic season. Seven starters and 10 pitchers return from last year’s regional squad and the 2018 recruiting class is ranked third in the nation.
The team recently completed fall play with their annual Pizza Bowl: A five-game intrasquad series where the winning side is served pizza by the losers. With freshmen already distinguishing themselves alongside hardened upperclassmen, expect baseball to drive the program deep into next year’s postseason.
2. Women’s swimming and diving
Conference finish: Second at ACC Championships
Season finish: Fifth at NCAA Championships
Women’s swimming and diving recorded the most successful season in program history last year.
The team placed fifth at the 2018 NCAA Championships for U of L’s best finish ever. Seven Cardinals earned All-American honors and broke eight school records across 15 events.
Mallory Comerford became the most decorated student-athlete on campus with her second consecutive NCAA title in the 200 freestyle, extending Louisville’s streak of NCAA champions to seven straight seasons. Mariia Astashkina recorded the fastest times ever by a freshman in the both the 100 and 200 breast.
Comerford subsequently earned ACC Women’s Swimmer of the Year, Astashkina earned ACC Women’s Freshman of the Year and head coach Arthur Albiero was named ACC Women’s Swimming Coach of the year.
The Cardinals are currently ranked No. 8 in the nation and won each of their fall meets against Xavier, SMU and No. 9 Tennessee.
With the return of all 12 swimmers from last year’s NCAA performance, it’s safe to say that women’s swimming and diving is poised for another extremely successful season.
1. Women’s basketball
Overall 2017-18 record: 36-3
Conference play: 15-1
Season finish: Loss in NCAA Final Four
This past year, women’s basketball put together one of the most enjoyable seasons in recent sports memory. The 2017-18 team may have left the court without a national title, but they achieved numerous accolades along the way and cemented U of L’s program as a verifiable power in college basketball.
Louisville started their season with a 20-game winning streak and finished with a program-best 36-3 record. The Cards swept both ACC titles, topping the regular season and conference tourney, on the way to earning the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
U of L advanced through the tourney with little difficulty but lost an overtime heartbreaker to Mississippi State in the Final Four.
The 2018-19 season opener is now one week away and Louisville is preseason ranked No. 2 in the ACC behind Notre Dame. The Cardinals defeated the Irish at both of their meetings last season, including a memorable 100-76 thumping at the KFC Yum! Center.
Asia Durr returns as the second player in program history to earn All-American honors. The guard enters her senior year ranked sixth all-time in scoring (1,743 points) and second in made three-point shots with 278.
Noticeably missing is Myiesha Hines-Allen, who ended her career ranked third all-time in scoring (2,028 points). Her dominating presence in the paint is nearly impossible to replace, but head coach Jeff Walz should be more than up for the challenge.
Walz is the program’s all-time winningest coach with three Final Four appearances. He returns four starters in seniors Durr, Arica Carter, Sam Fuerhing and junior Jazmine Jones. Alongside a squad of nine others ready to work hard, women’s basketball remains the most exciting team to watch in U of L sports.
You can follow the Louisville Cardinal on Twitter @thecardsports.
Photo by Taris Smith