UK, Louisville set to renew volleyball rivalry

There are distinct patterns to the Kentucky-Louisville volleyball series.

Kentucky won 18 of the first 20 games in the series. Louisville has won 18 of the last 19 games.

With the series returning from a three-year hiatus, both teams are trying to start their own long winning trend again Wednesday night when they meet at Louisville's Cardinal Arena.

The series renewal is three years in the making, with the teams struggling to work out the details to complete a contract until this season.

UK Coach Craig Skinner approached Louisville about getting the Cardinals back on the schedule.

Louisville, which accused Skinner of being inflexible in schedule negotiations in 2006, agreed and the teams have signed a two-year deal, which means the Cardinals will be in Memorial Coliseum next season.

It's the way it should be, Skinner said.

"The growth of volleyball deserves this match," he said before the start of the season. "We need to play that match. U of L and Kentucky need to play that match because volleyball is really growing in Lexington and continues to grow in Louisville and across the commonwealth. I felt it was important that we play."

Both programs have seen their share of growth over the past few years. They both advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season. Louisville, which went 19-10 last year, won the Big East Tournament.

Kentucky seems to be the favorite this season, coming in at 10-0 and rated No. 16 in the country.

Louisville is 6-3 but has been surging, winning five of its last six games.

Cards Coach Leonid Yelin is 14-1 against the Cats, and Louisville has won the last eight in the series.

Part of the spotlight of the game will shine on middle hitter Gwen Rucker, who originally committed to play volleyball at Kentucky before pulling out two weeks later and committing to Louisville, where she was guaranteed a shot at playing basketball, too.

Rucker, from Henry Clay High School, leads the team in blocks per set with 1.23, and she has 33 kills.

Last season, the 6-foot-2 sophomore played in 94 sets. She notched 125 kills on 289 swings. She had 24 solo blocks and 61 assists.

Rucker also started for the Louisville basketball team, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament title game.

The Cardinals have one other Kentuckian on their roster, sophomore defensive specialist Maci Wachtel from Assumption.

She is a former teammate of UK freshman defensive specialist Stephanie Klefot. Another Cats libero, senior BriAnne Sauer, is from Louisville and played at Mercy.