(Courtesy: UofL Athletics) BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- Aiko Jones had 17 kills and two aces with teammate Anna Stevenson adding 12 kills and four blocks to lead the University of Louisville volleyball team to a 25-21, 25-12, 25-22 win over Samford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday evening in Bowling Green. The Cardinals advance and will face the winner of the WKU/Kennesaw State match on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
UofL (20-9) had a hot hitting hand, connecting at a .343 clip led by Stevenson’s .857 hitting. Along with Jones and Stevenson Claire Chaussee contributed to the offense with eight kills and 10 digs. As a team the Cards had nine aces, five blocks and Tori Dilfer was credited with 41 assists. Samford hit .240 with three blocks and four aces and ends its season at 24-6. The Bulldogs were led by Lauren Deaton’s 11 kills.
“A win in a win and at this point we are thrilled to be one of the 32 teams that gets to play in the second round of the tournament,” said UofL head coach Dani Busboom Kelly. “So, I thought we did some really good things but it was not pretty all the time but you saw that we can play some pretty great volleyball and some pretty physical volleyball. So we hope to make less errors in the future and add to those great plays.”
Samford scored first in the first set and then never led again. UofL blew out to a 9-4 lead early and then used a 5-0 run to go up 17-10 after Stevenson aced the Bulldogs and then blocked them on the next play. The Bulldogs fought back to cut the lead to one at 19-18 on a kill by SU’s Corinne Meglic. After a Cardinal timeout, the Cards turned up the pressure with a 3-0 run and then won a challenge to go up 23-21 and force a Samford timeout. Amaya Tillman blocked the Bulldogs coming out of the timeout and then a kill by Aiko Jones sealed Samford’s fate with the 25-21 win. UofL hit .381 with two blocks and five aces with two by Alexis Hamilton.
“I am extremely proud but the first set I thought was super sloppy, and I was looking at my assistants for answers,” said Busboom Kelly. “We have to remind ourselves that we only have two players on our team that have played in the NCAA Tournament, and one is our libero, Alexis Hamilton, and the other is the DS, Mia Stander, so that was everybody else's first match in the NCAA Tournament, so that plagued us. It is a pretty big deal for those guys to get that under our belt with a sweep.”
UofL kept hold of the momentum in the second set, moving out to a 5-0 start and forced Samford to burn a timeout. Samford pulled within four at 12-8 on a back row attack by Louisville as part of a 3-0 run. Samford used its last timeout after falling behind 15-8 after a kill by Aiko Jones. UofL slowly pulled away and then used a 6-0 run to close out the set with the 25-12 win. The Cards hit .333 in the set with two blocks and four aces. Samford was held to .038 hitting.
“I stopped shaking in the second set. In the first set I was literally trembling,” said Stevenson. “I think we just got a little more comfortable and a little more focused on what we needed to do. We focused on what they were doing, but more on ourselves and just kind of calmed down a little bit.”
UofL popped out to a 10-3 lead early in the third set before Samford pushed back to cut the lead to two at 12-10 on three straight Cardinal errors. The teams traded points before a kill by Claire Chaussee stopped a Samford push and took the Cards to 21-15. UofL got to set and match point at 24-18 on an ace by Tori Dilfer. But the Bulldogs dug in and scored four straight getting within two at 24-22 on a kill by Kelsi Hobbs. UofL finally closed the lid on the set and match with a kill by Aiko Jones for the 25-22 win.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Jones. “You come in not knowing if it is going to go your way or not and I think we really wanted it. We played for each other and knowing that we came out with a victory It is a feeling of accomplishment, but we’re not done yet.”
UofL, making its 28th NCAA appearance will advance to the second round for the 14th time in school history, will face either WKU or Kennesaw State.
“I think they’re both very, very good, and we know that we have to work really hard to beat anybody with this team at this point in the season,” said Busboom Kelly. “Western is scrappy, they fight, they have a great culture in their program, so they’ll make you earn it. Kennesaw State is the same thing. I don’t know if they were expected to win their conference, but they’re winners, they know how to win and they have proven that the last few years. Both are very, very well coached.”