The University of Louisville women's volleyball team is coming off the best season in school history after going 30-4 last season.
The Cardinals suffered a second-round loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament and hope to build on what they started last season as a new campaign gets underway.
Third-year head coach Anne Kordes said despite having to replace a few key parts that she was excited about this year's team and the progress the Cardinals have made.
"They look really good, and here at Louisville it has a lot to do with the level of strength coach, sports performance, and training that we have," Kordes said. "The kids are just on such a phenomenal program, and this year more than ever, and I don't know if they could be in better condition"
Kordes said the team lost four big hitters – Lola Arslanbekova, Gwen Rucker, Kaitlynn James, and Tanya Lukyanenko – who combined for seventy percent of the Cards offensive production last season. One would think that losing that production also means that you lose a lot of leadership as well, but not so fast according to Kordes.
"I'll be honest with you we didn't actually lose a lot of our leadership, in fact it returns with Emily Juhl, Caitlin Welch, Hannah Kvitle, and Katie George," Kordes said. "All four of those kids were huge on the court and off the court leaders for our program."
Kordes has a lot of youth on this year's team, but they are very talented and ultra-competitive. She said those traits have shown in preseason camp with some very competitive and spirited practices.
"There is competition in practice every day, we have three or four different line-ups that could potentially be very successful, and it involves moving kids to different spots, because that competition is fierce right now," Kordes said.
Two players that have already garnered hype are Juhl and Brooke Mattingly. Both earned co-preseason Player of the Year awards and are leaders for the Cardinals.
"Both of those kids are extremely humble, and they believe and they buy in, and if you were to tell them to go run through a wall, they would do it if they believed it would make them better" Kordes said. "Brooke Mattingly she's a work horse, even though you don't always see how hard she's working, she's always getting it done."
Added George, a sophomore: "Emily Juhl is very stoic on the court, and gets her work done, and doesn't have the look at me attitude."
The schedule that the Cardinals face in the non-conference season is certainly not one to take lightly as they face six ranked opponents.
"Were trying to build our RPI, and our RPI is the only way that we can get a good seed, and have a chance to do some special things," Kordes said. "The American Athletic Conference doesn't give us that RPI, so we are forced to go play highly ranked opponents out of conference."
One player Kordes is counting on is Janelle Jenkins, a recruit from Texas who tore her ACL as a senior in high school and sat out last season.
"We moved her to the outside, and she has exploded, and has tremendous athleticism, and capable of making a huge impact," Kordes said.
Kordes said she has confidence in her team, noting she believes they are ready to live up to the billing of being ranked No. 19 in the preseason coaches' poll.
"They have worked extremely hard to put themselves in a position to be one of the best teams in the country," Kordes said. "There are 330 division one programs, and for the coaches to put us that high given what we loss in production and what we have coming back gives the girls a lot of credibility."
*The Cardinals opened the season on Friday night with a sweep of Syracuse in the Penn State Invitational at College Park, Pa.
Juhl and freshman Maya McClendon had 11 kills apiece for the Cardinals. U of L will play host Penn State, ranked No. 3 in the coaches' poll, on Saturday.