University of Louisville volleyball preview

The University of Louisville volleyball team opens its second season under coach Anne Kordes on Friday night. Check out Cardinal Authority's free season preview for the Big East Conference favorites.

University of Louisville volleyball coach Anne Kordes predicts fans will be able to see a drastic change in her program this season on the court.

In her second year on the job, Kordes said not only does the Cardinals have more depth in the program but also more commitment.

"It's a culture change," Kordes said. "And what I mean by that is the level of commitment and the standard of work. The level of work ethic in the weight room and nutrition and the importance placed on team cohesiveness.

"Our returners have come back in ridiculous shape, they have played all summer and there's just an absolute attitude change, culture change in this program."

The Cardinals get a chance to show off that new commitment and attitude on Friday night in the season-opener against Western Kentucky.

The weekend is a tough test for Louisville, the preseason favorite to win the Big East Conference title this season.

"Our schedule is brutal," Kordes said. "But it's going to make us better."

The game against WKU is the opener and the first game in the Active Ankle Challenge at the KFC Yum! Center. U of L meets WKY at 7:30 and then plays Morehead State on Saturday at 11 a.m. and No. 3 Penn State at 7:30.

All four teams made it to the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Cardinals will host Duke, Marshall and Samford next weekend in the Cardinal Classic and also have non-conference games against Purdue, Illinois, UNLV, Miami (Ohio) and Middle Tennessee State.

It's the toughest non-conference schedule in the country," Kordes said. "But that's the only way I know how to build a program.

"You have to throw them out there and let them fight with the best people in the country if you want to become that. On top of that, once they do it then it's going to become no big deal in the future. After once or twice, it won't matter to them who is on the jersey any more and that will help our program grow."

The Cardinals finished 24-9 last season and won the Big East regular-season title. U of L made it into the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

And they did it without much depth.

The Cardinals only had nine eligible players who were healthy and Kordes said there were times when coaches had to scrimmage to make even teams.

"It was tough on us, but the kids battled," Kordes said.

Kordes said she is "really excited" about her newcomers, including three transfers and six freshmen.

The biggest news is that Gwen Rucker is healthy again this season and back for her senior season at middle blocker.

"Gwen has matured a lot; she's a different person," Kordes said. "I am really proud of her. She's a great kid and if she can stay healthy have a great year."

Senior outside hitter Lola Arslanbekova was the Big East Player of the Year last season after leading the Cardinals with 576 kills.

Kordes called freshman middle blocker Davionna Holmes of St. Louis "a beast," and said senior Kaitlynn James, a former Assumption star and former Nebraska transfer is "in incredible shape."

She's also expecting big things from Tennessee transfer Carly Sahagian, while St. Louis transfer Hannah Kvitle and Katie George – a freshman from Assumption – are the two setters on the roster.

"There's been a nice competition for positions," Kordes said. "I've been craving it. None of the returning players had ever had to compete for a spot because there has never been enough players on the roster. So it's been fun.

"They're excited and I believe ready to prove something."

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