Volleyball faces tough region in NCAA Tournament



Selection Sunday has come and gone and the Cats made the cut.

UK will take part in their sixth consecutive NCAA championship tournament beginning this Friday in West Lafayette, Ind., against the Purdue Boilermakers.

As exciting as it is to have gotten into the tournament, UK now sits in what many regard as one of the toughest regions on the bracket.

They begin the tournament with Purdue, the No. 16 overall seed and the regional host. With a 21-10 record in 2010 and a 12-8 record in the Big Ten conference, Purdue ended the regular season ranked 24th in the nation.

The game will be on Purdue’s campus on their home court in front of their home fans, making UK’s first round match a true road game. UK, the No. 4 seed out of four teams in the West Lafayette region, will have to be on top of their game if they want to upset the Boilermakers.

“It will be physical. They are going to hit the ball hard, and they have some good experience. It will be an exciting match,” UK head coach Craig Skinner said. “I would imagine that our players are pretty fired up to playing in that environment, and you want to play in good environments in the NCAA tournament. We need to play fast, we need to play competitive, we need to play aggressive, and if we are capable of doing that, then we can come out with a win.”

In the other matchup in the West Lafayette region, Middle Tennessee State will take on the Cats’ in-state rival in Louisville.

Middle Tennessee State ended the season with an impressive 29 wins and a 15-1 conference record. The Blue Raiders defeated three SEC teams in their non-conference schedule, including South Carolina, Arkansas and Auburn. Louisville finished its season 22-7, 12-2 in the Big East conference. On Sept. 16, the Cats defeated the Cardinals in a five-set thriller at Memorial Coliseum, but both teams have experienced a lot since that match.

“I think it’s fun (that UK could potentially play Lousville in the second round),” senior Lauren Rapp said. “If we can get past Purdue and Louisville gets past Middle Tennessee it would be a fun match. We had them at the beginning of the year and it was a tough one, I’m sure it’d be another good one.”

In the region opposite to the Cats sit Florida, the 2010 SEC champions and No. 1 team in the country with a 29-1 record on the season and an undefeated conference run. If UK wants to repeat and improve upon its Sweet 16 run from a year ago it will have to beat some quality opponents to do so.

“It has to be a balance of intensity level and fine tuning some things, and also making sure we are fresh,” Skinner said. “We haven’t played back to back matches on back to back days since September, so we have to be cognizant of that and anticipate that we need to play well on Friday night.”

But for now, the Cats are focusing solely on Purdue, and will look to continue playing their best volleyball of the season when they take the court for their first postseason match.

“I think it’s most important (to be playing well at the end of the year). It just gives your team confidence,” Rapp said. “We know we can do anything and beat anyone.”