College volleyball: Louisville topples No. 10 Kentucky

mmaloney@herald-leader.comAugust 29, 2012 

University of Louisville volleyball player Gwen Rucker

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    ■ Kentucky at Ohio, 7 p.m.

    ■ Duke at Louisville, 7:30 p.m.

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky-Louisville rivalry week.

One team ranked, one not.

UK fans would be happy if, on Sunday, the ranked team falls.

But that's football and, Wednesday in the KFC Yum Center, the sport was volleyball.

And it was U of L fans delighted that a ranked team went down.

Playing before a school-record 5,007 fans, the Cardinals knocked off the 10th-ranked Wildcats 3-1 on the floor where the NCAA Championships will be decided.

After dropping the opening game 25-21, U of L swept the Cats 25-23, 25-15 and 30-28.

"This is one of the most fun coaching environments I've ever been in and won in, and I just couldn't be more happy for the girls," winning coach Anne Kordes said. "They wanted this so bad."

U of L had won 19 of 20 matches to tie the all-time series 23-23 in 2010. Then, UK won two years in a row, including a 3-0 sweep last year.

Turning things around Wednesday felt "a lot better," said Lola Arslanbekova, U of L's 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter from Uzbekistan. "Because we came back as a team. We had meetings a lot and watched a lot more films about Kentucky, so we were ready 100 percent."

Arslanbekova led the Cards with 20 kills and 17 digs.

Fellow senior Gwen Rucker, a 6-2 middle blocker, added 15 kills and six block assists — sweet reward for the Card from the Cats' backyard of Henry Clay High School.

"I feel like all our girls really put a team effort into it and we all just went out there and played for one another," Rucker said.

Both teams are now 3-1.

"They'll always be ready for us. Just didn't do a good job getting them out of the system," said Coach Craig Skinner, whose Cats were playing the first of seven straight road matches. "They had too many opportunities to swing one-on-one and we didn't compete hard enough until game four."

UK had a first-game lead of six points trimmed to 23-21 before Lauren O'Conner, the MVP of last week's Kentucky Classic, finished things with a kill and a service ace.

"Just keeping our head straight," Rucker said of U of L's ability to rally after that loss. "We didn't want to get too wrapped up in the competition of the rivalry, so we just wanted to play our game."

U of L scored the last two points of the second game to tie the match, then led all the way en route to a 10-point win in the third game.

"They were making the little plays that we weren't making," UK middle blocker Alexandra Morgan said. "They were diving for every single ball. I think there were balls we could have been more aggressive with. I think they outworked us. At times we outworked them, but you have to be consistent, and they were more consistent than us."

Said Skinner: "They served tough and we had trouble passing in both those games. Against a good blocking team, it's hard to score points when we're not passing the ball where it needs to be and getting two or three attacking options in each rotation."

The fourth game featured 12 lead changes and 22 ties.

Rucker capped it off with back-to-back kills.

"This is great, because last year we got embarrassed there," Kordes said. "... I just thought we played scared and hesitant. And I'll tell you what, I thought the beginning of this match it might have been a similar situation. And for them to come back and fight — probably a lot of it was the crowd."

U of L got 13 kills from Brooke Mattingly and 10 from Kaitlynn James. Caitlin Welch had 21 digs.

UK's O'Conner had 13 kills, Whitney Billings 12 and Ashley Frazier 10. Christine Hartman had 44 assists, 10 digs and, like Morgan, a solo block and five block assists. Stephanie Klefot had 22 digs.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog:

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