By Matt Bradshaw —
Volleyball (21-8, 14-4) commemorated senior night this past Friday with a sweep of Georgia Tech. Junior Melanie McHenry slammed 20 kills and senior Molly Sauer served up five aces with 17 digs in their final match of the regular season.
“I thought we had a lot of energy tonight, very fitting for senior night,” head coach Dani Busboom Kelly said. “It was good to see all the seniors play so well and have fun. We had an awesome crowd so it was a great, great Friday night for volleyball. It was good to play well under pressure on an emotional night.”
Louisville took the first set with relative ease. Georgia Tech held game point in the second set (24-20) before the Cardinals racked up five straight points for the lead. U of L won that set and the next one for a 3-0 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
“We talked a lot about playing with courage, and our play tonight was the perfect description of it,” Busboom Kelly said. “We were going after it and not letting the ball drop, no one was tipping the ball, so it was really cool.”
Following the victory, U of L earned an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. They face Dayton on Nov. 30.
The program honored its four seniors in a ceremony before the match. Sauer, Wilma Rivera, Amanda Green and Jasmine Bennett are clocking in their final collegiate seasons as Cardinals.
“They’re all very decorated,” Busboom Kelly said. “Molly, Jasmine and Wilma have each been All-ACC at some point or another. Amanda has represented the USA National Team.”
Sauer has become a steady staple in U of L’s defense over the course of her four years. The Louisville native is one of the best liberos in the ACC (she earned 2017 Defensive Player of the Year in the conference) and consistently displays superb performances from the back row.
Bennett grew into a starting role as a junior and played in every set of every match last season. She’s been hamstrung by some injuries this year, but that has not diminished her abilities to rack up 199 kills. The middle blocker now has 648 kills over the course of her career at Louisville.
Green is a vital cog in the offense with her talent of playing all-around at an elite level. The outside hitter has recorded two consecutive seasons of at least 270 kills, 120 digs and 55 blocks.
Rivera is the latecomer within the group, coming to U of L as a junior from her first two collegiate seasons at Penn State. The setter played an integral part in the Cardinals’ success last season, leading them to an ACC Championship and earning conference Setter of the Year. This time around, the senior recorded 1,212 assists throughout the 2018 season along with 29 service aces.
“It’s a pretty stellar senior class,” Busboom Kelly said. “They’ve done a lot trusting in a new staff and believing in this program. We owe a lot to where this program is headed to those four.”
The season-ending win against Georgia Tech put U of L in a tie for third-place in the ACC standings. They and Syracuse held a 14-4 conference record to end the season.
One month ago, the Cards were ranked No. 21 and tied for first-place with Pittsburgh in the standings. Louisville’s loss to Pittsburgh marked the beginning of a nine-game stretch with four losses.
The slump placed U of L’s chances for a NCAA tournament appearance in jeopardy. Syracuse, despite the same ACC record, had a better chance for an NCAA bid. The Orange beat the Cardinals head-to-head at the end of October and hold a higher strength-of-schedule.
Nevertheless, Busboom Kelly’s team merited a selection for the NCAA tournament and face Dayton on Nov. 30. They play at the Illinois site with four-seed Illinois and Eastern Michigan their potential second-round opponents.
The Cards were bounced from the 2017 tournament in the first round. They last reached the second round in 2015 and have yet to advance further since the program’s Sweet 16 appearance in 2005.
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File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal