By Spencer Laws
Thursday, December 15th marked a pretty important day in NCAA DI women’s volleyball, not only for the University of Louisville.
The Makings of History
As the Louisville volleyball team (31-2) knocked off Pittsburgh in five sets, the Cards become the first-ever ACC team to advance to the title game. On top of this, it’s the first time the team has gone to the championship in program history.
In overcoming this milestone and reaching this level, head coach Dani Busboom Kelly said “It’s something you hope you have the opportunity to do as a coach – we want to make a difference in young women’s lives and we want to compete to win. And you hope that you’re at this stage, able to capitalize on the opportunity and to be able to take advantage of the moment is just incredibly special.”
This achievement did not come easily; a very talented Pittsburgh squad put the Cardinals in many tough spots again and again.
Louisville started the first set by jumping out to a big 6-0 lead, forcing Pittsburgh to take a timeout very early. The Panthers rallied back to eventually tie the set at nine, but from there on out it was all Cardinals, rallying to pull ahead 19-12. The team ultimately iced the set with a final score of 25-18.
Set two was a very different story than we saw in set one; neither team was initially able to jump out to a comfortable lead.
The Cards started early, leading 4-1 — the only lead of the set for Busboom and company.
Pitt battled back to overcome the deficit and take the lead for the rest of the set. Although they were never able to gain a lead of more than four. Leaving an opportunity for the Cards to capitalize on any mistakes.
Louisville battled back being down 21-17 to get Pittsburgh within their sights only to be within a point, 21-22. In spite of the rally, Pitt was able to control the momentum and close out the set and tie the match.
Pitt managed everything Louisville threw at them within the middle portion of the set, ending up with a lead of 20-18 heading into the all-important final few points. This is when the Cards closed out on the Panthers, grabbing the four final points to win 25-22.
Louisville was controlling everything until the score was 21-22. This match showed viewers a great example of how much fight and heart teams like Pittsburgh possess. Desperation is when teams like this perform the best.
The Panthers scored the final five points to close out the set and extend the match to a fifth, winning 25-22.
Fifth and final set
The fifth set was an all-around dominant performance from the Cardinals, both offensively and defensively. Phekran “PK” Kong, was a significant difference-maker, recording 11 blocks to help the team jump out to a big 8-0 lead. This set displayed U of L’s stellar defensive ability, only allowing 2 total points and winning 15-2.
3-2 Louisville advance!
All Around Ability
This team is crafted in a way to dominate and control all aspects of the game, and its balance is something you don’t see often. Almost every player has the innate ability to come up big when the team needs it the most to punish their opponents.
You can see this in the different runs throughout this match, especially with outside hitters Claire Chaussee and Anna Debeer.
Chaussee had a game-high 25 kills, along with Debeer who recorded 15 kills. Combine this with setter Raquel Lazaro’s ability to put those players in position, and you end up with a dangerous combination. Lazaro finished the match with 49 assists.
Their defensive prowess negated a lot of the different advantages Pitt may have had. Libero Elena Scott had a career-high 28 digs, pairing very nicely with Amaya Tillman’s seven and Aiko Jones’s six blocks.
Lastly, the depth provided allows room for Busboom to add in different players, something that can propel this team to capture the title. We saw players like Ceci Rush, Alexa Hendricks, and Ayden Barlett ready in major moments in helping the Cards advance.
The Last Dance
The desire left from last year’s final-four heartbreak to eventual champions Wisconsin plays a huge role in this year’s run.
Outside hitter and Louisville native Anna Debeer commented on last year’s loss and what it means to the team, saying “We’ve been there before last year. We know that feeling. We know how hard it is to get there and how much it hurts after that loss. So I think this whole year that’s been our goal. And the team has been on the same page since the very beginning and made it known that we want to win a national championship.”
This team has the ability with all the aforementioned skills and talent to potentially etch their names into greatness.
No. 2 seed Louisville will take on No. 1 Texas this Saturday, December 17th at 8 PM E.T. on ESPN 2.
Photo Courtesy // Adam Creech, Louisville Athletics //