PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Louisville Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bearcats both lost 3-1 decisions in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship on Saturday night. The losses ended the season for BIG EAST volleyball teams, who finished with a 132-99 (.576) record against non-conference opponents, the best non-conference record since 2005.
Junior Gwen Rucker's career-high 13 kills and four blocks, and freshman Caitlin Welch's career-high four aces were not enough as Louisville bowed out of the NCAA Second Round with a 3-1 (26-24, 25-23, 18-25, 25-15) loss to host Purdue Saturday night in West Lafayette, Ind. It was the second time the Cardinals lost to Purdue this season after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Boilermakers on Sept. 17. UofL finishes the season 23-8. Purdue advances to the Austin, Texas Regional and move on to the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in school history. Louisville falls to 4-5 all-time in the NCAA second round.
"We got beat by a better team tonight, that is all there is to it," said UofL head coach Leonid Yelin. "But overall, I cannot complain. Purdue did what they had to do and my young team will take away a great lesson from this. I would like to do research on how many teams starting three freshmen advanced this far."
Cincinnati could not repeat its regular-season performance against host Illinois, losing 3-1 (25-17, 25-17, 20-25, 25-21) to the Fighting Illini in Champaign, Ill. The Bearcats, who beat Illinois 3-2 in a regular-season match on Sept. 17, were led by senior Stephanie Niemer’s 20 kills. Niemer and fellow senior Annie Fesl played their final match of their Cincinnati careers, finishing tied for first in UC history with 137 matches played. Niemer also ranks first in school history in service aces and second in kills per set, while Fesl ranks second in career assists.
The Bearcats struggled offensively in the first two sets, hitting .175 in the first frame and .100 in the second. Down 2-0, Niemer kept Cincinnati alive with nine kills in the third set, leading UC to a 25-20 win. The Bearcats kept the fourth set close, with six ties and four lead changes in the frame. But Illinois went on a 3-0 run with the score tied at 17 and did not look back. It is the second time in the last three seasons the Bearcats have lost to Illinois in the second round of the NCAA Championship, falling to the Fighting Illini 3-0 in 2008.
The BIG EAST is 0-3 in second round matches since 2008, but advanced two teams to the second round for the first time since 2005. The last BIG EAST squad to qualify for the third round of the NCAA Tournament was St. John’s in 2007.