Volleyball Draws Illinois in First Round of NCAAs

The No. 20-ranked Louisville Cardinals drew Illinois as a first round opponent in the NCAA on Friday, Dec. 3 at the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Missouri, with the winner advancing to face either Arkansas or Missouri the following evening. Game times have not been set as of 9:15 p.m. ET.

"The thing we are most excited about is that if we make it to the Sweet Sixteen, we are in the bracket to return home to Louisville which is the predetermined regional site," said Leonid Yelin. "It is not a given in the sport of volleyball that if a team bids to host that they automatically get to come back to their own regional should they advance. So this has worked out very well."

U of L will face an Illini team that has posted a 19-10 record this year while going 11-9 in the Big Ten. They are coming off a win over Iowa which snapped a four-match losing streak, that included losses to No. 7 Ohio State, No. 4 Penn State and No. 5 Minnesota. Illinois Coach Don Hardin coached U of L from 1988-95 prior to Yelin taking the post. U of L is 1-5 against Illinois in the series record.

"Ironically they beat us last year in the NCAA's so it is a chance to get that loss back and move on to our next team goal," said senior Candace Cogan. "Our first goal was to go undefeated in conference, our second goal was to win the Conference USA Tournament, our third goal is to win first and second round matches to get back to our own regional. Illinois has a lot of tradition and have played a tough schedule, so we will have to be prepared."

This is Louisville's 15th appearance, the 14th in 15 years and the seventh straight. The Cardinals are 8-13 all-time in the NCAAs.

The NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Committee announced on ESPNews the 64-team field, consisting of 31 conferences' automatic qualifications and 33 at-large selections. The Big Ten and Big 12 led all conferences with seven teams selected. Two conferences landed six teams including the Big West and Pacific-10. Four teams Pacific, Penn State, Stanford and UC Santa Barbara have earned bids to all 24 championships. Eight teams are making their initial appearances in the tournament: Albany (New York), Iona, Jacksonville, Long Island, Rice, Towson, Wichita State and Yale.

The first and second round matches will be played at 16 different campus sites from Dec 2-5. Regionals will be held Dec. 10-11. Louisville, if advances through first and second round action will play as host for one of the four pre-determined regional sites; Louisville, Ky, Minneapolis, Minn., Seattle, Wash., Green Bay, Wisc. The regional winners will advance to the semifinals and championship match hosted by Long Beach State University at Long Beach Arena on Dec. 16 and 18.

"Another exciting thing about this bracket is the fact that we have the No. 1 overall seed, Nebraska, heading to Louisville if all pans out like it should," said Yelin. "Louisville is such a volleyball town, our fans will be treated to see the defending national champion and hopefully the Cardinals will be there as well."

Louisville tallied its second undefeated conference season in school history en route to making its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance. Illinois faced the U of L last year in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Champaign, Ill. knocking the Cards out of the tournament, 3-0. Louisville advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1996 and 1998.

The Cards are on a school record 20-match winning streak and are led by Ana Yartseva on offense. The 6-4 sophomore is ranked No. 2 in the nation in hitting percentage. U of L is ranked No. 3 in blocking in the NCAA. The Cards haven't been outblocked this season. Jennifer Hoffman is ranked No. 8 (1.70) in the NCAA statistical rankings for blocks per game for the games played up through 11/21. As a team, U of L is ranked No. 2 in team blocks (3.45), No. 3 in hitting percentage (.313), No. 8 in winning percentage (.929) and No. 20 in kills per game (16.68). U of L is No. 28 in assists per game at 15.06.

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