Women's Volleyball |
Oct. 12, 2011
By Shawn Sell
Who doesn't love a good rivalry? When it comes to rivalries for the UC Volleyball team, the one opponent the Bearcats can put at the top of the list is their neighbors to the south, the Louisville Cardinals. That rivalry, the most played by UC against any another school, will be renewed for a record 40th time this Friday night and for one Bearcat in particular, even the hostile confines of Cardinal Arena will feel like home.
UC junior Emily Hayden is a Louisville native that can't wait to square off with her hometown team. After a stellar prep career at Assumption High that included three state championships and a slot on the Kentucky all-state first team as a senior, Hayden made her way to Cincinnati. So far in her career, Hayden and her teammates have dropped three of four match-ups with the Cards, a trend the 6'0" middle blocker hopes to reverse on Friday.
"I am really excited," Hayden says. "It's fun because my family doesn't usually get a chance to travel to see me play and so this is an opportunity for me to get to play in front of them. I also know a few girls on the team so that makes it really fun for me."
Among those on the opposing side of the net will be Hayden's former high school teammates at Assumption, Maci Wachtel and Kaitlynn James.
"I played with Maci and Kaitlynn both at Assumption and with my club team as well," she says. "There are a few others that I know as well from local clubs and high schools. I personally love playing against people I have played against or played with in the past."
While the trip home is important for Hayden, she, along with her teammates, know that this match is big. Each year they have been members of the BIG EAST and even back in the Conference USA days, you could count on Cincinnati and Louisville being in the mix for the conference championship. This year is no different as the Cards are tied atop the league at 6-0, while the Bearcats are just a game behind at 5-1. Both Hayden and her head coach, Reed Sunahara, recognize the importance of the next match, especially on the heels of a road defeat at Seton Hall last Sunday.
"It's huge, especially coming off a loss this past weekend," Hayden says. "All along, we knew it would be one of our biggest games, but now even more so that we are coming back after Seton Hall, we will be really pumped up and ready to play."
"This weekend is big," Sunahara adds. "We don't want to be two in the hole. I think we can win the league with one loss, but I think with two it will be really, really tough."
To have a chance to knock off the Cardinals, the Bearcats will have to start by figuring out a way to contain three-times reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week Lola Arslanbekova. Easily one of the top, if not the best player in the league this year, Arslanbekova leads the BIG EAST with a whopping 5.09 kills per set and is sixth in hitting percentage at .308. Sunahara know slowing down Arslanbekova is important, but not the only key to victory.
"We have to stop their outside hitters for sure," he says. "Lola Arslanbekova is the top player in the conference and is their go-to player like (Stephanie) Niemer was for us last year. We have to make sure we can contain her and slow her down a bit, but they are a pretty well-rounded team. I know they will be good and we have to make sure we are prepared and execute, especially on defense."
One new wrinkle to the UC-UofL rivalry for 2011 is the addition of head coach Anne Kordes to the Cardinals' sideline. After replacing the highly-successful Leonid Yelin who retired, Kordes has kept the Cards among the region's elite. She also knows both sides of the rivalry, having started her collegiate playing career at UC, before transferring to Louisville. Kordes is no stranger to the UC program in the coaching ranks either as she spent the last six seasons as the head coach at former C-USA mate Saint Louis.
"She will get them to play hard and will have them fired up," Sunahara says of his counterpart. "I expect a battle. I hope we can go there and compete hard and show that we are a good team too."
One player on the UC side that hopes to be at the lead of proving her team is good enough to compete with UofL for the conference crown is Emily Hayden, a hometown girl hoping for a sweet homecoming against a powerful opponent.
"Emily always looks forward to this match, especially playing there," Sunahara says. "I expect her to play well this weekend because she has a lot to prove."
"They always produce a really good team and we like to play the best teams," Hayden says of the Cards. "It's the really competitive games that are the most fun for us and I think that is something we can always count on from them."