University of Louisville

U of L volleyball ends UK's unbeaten run

LOUISVILLE — In a rivalry game years in the making, the underdog did what the underdog always dreams of doing.

It knocked off the undefeated, ranked rival in front of a record crowd at its home gym.

"Wow," Louisville freshman Anastasia Artemeva said. "This win is more than exciting."

The Cardinals' stomach-turning five-set victory over previously unbeaten No. 16 Kentucky left the crowd of 1,270 screaming and the Louisville players beaming.

"We lost four seniors, and they thought they could beat us," Artemeva said after catching her breath. "Apparently they couldn't, and we showed them that they couldn't beat us."

The Kentucky-Louisville volleyball series returned from a three-year hiatus with a bang. UK forced a fifth set and took a brief lead before finally falling 25-19, 23-25, 25-18, 22-25 and 16-14 at Cardinal Arena Wednesday night.

Louisville has now won nine straight over the Cats and 19 of the last 20 in the series.

It wasn't the final few points that cost the Cats. It wasn't Lecia Brown's kill late in the game or her ace that ended it.

"We couldn't stop their outside hitters," UK Coach Craig Skinner explained. "When a team hits over .400 against you, you'll have an awfully hard time winning.

"I'm surprised we even got to the fifth game with hitters hitting like that."

Cardinals Coach Leonid Yelin, who is now 15-1 versus Kentucky, was shocked by another statistic. His mouth fell open as he scanned the post-game box score for the first time.

The coach saw that Louisville had 21 team blocks to just six for Kentucky.

"I can't believe it," he said. "I can't believe it's by that much.

"I couldn't be any more proud of our kids. We lost four of our senior starters, and we were struggling in the first tournaments. We couldn't find our identity. ... It was very, very painful.

"This is the first time we've played like this."

It was the first time Kentucky had played like that, too. The Cats had won 10 straight to open the season and had reached a No. 16 national ranking.

But at times Wednesday, they looked unorganized and unsure of themselves.

"It didn't seem like we were in sync and rhythm early on," Skinner said. "Again, I think Louisville outhustled and outplayed in the first couple games, and they outplayed us and put some pressure on.

"We finally got in a rhythm late in the match, but it was a little bit too late."

UK forced a fifth and final game by coming back from a 15-12 deficit to reel off five straight points. The Cats scored the final three points, taking advantage of two Louisville errors.

Lauren Rapp and Becky Pavan combined for a monster block to end the game.

In the final game, Louisville had a 12-8 lead on a kill by Lola Arslanbekova, who led the team with 21 kills.

But UK stormed back with a run to tie it 14-14.

Louisville was off balance.

"I personally got scared, but we couldn't let them win, but we did everything we had to do to win," said Artemeva, who had 12 kills and five blocks.

Former Henry Clay standout Gwen Rucker had four kills and had a hand in seven blocks.

The one steadying force for UK was Sarah Mendoza, who had a career and game high of 26 kills.