Conference USA Champions! Volleyball Sweeps!

The University of Louisville Cardinal volleyball team swept the Marquette Golden Eagles 30-24, 30-22, 30-24 on their way to winning the 2004 Conference USA Championship Monday night in Cardinal Arena. The Cardinals did not lose a single game in the three tournament matches.

The Cardinals were led by Lena Ustymenko's 15 kills and 11 digs and Bing Sun's nine kills and 12 digs and earned Conference USA's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"There can be no celebration. This is only the second goal of the season. We have two more to go, so there is no time to celebrate," said U of L head coach Leonid Yelin. "Our first goal was to go undefeated in Conference USA, and the second was to win the Conference tournament. We can now turn our attention to our third goal which is doing well in the first and second round matches and then advance to the regionals of the NCAA tournament."

In the early going of the first game, both teams battled back and forth for the momentum. The Cardinals went on a 5-0 run to take a 14-6 lead. Marquette tried to get back into it, but after U of L scored three straight, the Golden Eagles called their first timeout.

With U of L leading 23-13, Marquette scored five of the next six points to make it a 24-18 game, and force a U of L timeout. Late in the game, the Golden Eagles scored four straight to make it interesting, but U of L finished off the game on a kill by Svelanta Dukule.

The two teams traded points to begin game two, and the match remained even, with the Cards clinging to a one-point lead, 15-14 at the television timeout.

Following the timeout, both teams continued to show the kind of grit and determination expect of two championship caliber teams as U of L led 21-19 before Marquette called timeout.

Louisville was finally able to go on a short 5-0 run and that was all it took as the Cardinals seized control on the way to winning that game. U of L outhit the Golden Eagles .372 to .225 in that game.

The third game stayed close with neither team being able to establish a significant lead with 10 ties and four lead changes. But with Marquette leading 17-15, U of L went on an 8-2 run to take a 23-19 lead and force a Marquette timeout.

More even play by the teams followed the timeout, as the Cards led 27-24 when Marquette called their final timeout. But it was not to be for the Golden Eagles, as the Cards were able to hang on to win the championship.

"I think we just needed to get our composure in the third game. Once we got a couple of digs and kills we got back in the game and got our momentum back up," said Hoffman.

U of L improves to 27-2, and keeps alive its streak of outblocking its opponent, outblocking Marquette 10-1 led by Hoffman's seven. Marquette falls to 22-7 on the year.

Hoffman was named to the Conference USA All-Tournament team, and Lena Ustymenko was named the 2004 Conference USA tournament Most Valuable Player.

"I think we did a good job and we gave it everything we had," said Hoffman. "Somebody told me we have won 53 straight games in the last 18 matches and when you put it like that we do sound pretty dominant."

The Cardinals have one more match this Saturday against Pittsburgh at 7:30 in Cardinal Arena before the NCAA Pairings Selection on Sunday evening.

"We have one more (regular season) match to play. We had a bad experience last year, when we were upset by Xavier, so I hope our players learned from that," said Yelin. "Then we will look ahead to who we draw in the NCAA.

All-Tournament Team
Jennifer Hoffman, Louisville
Theresa Coughlin, Marquette
Sarah Vernon, Marquette
Julie DuPont, Cincinnati
Heather Watts, Memphis
Lena Ustymenko, Louisville

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