By Lincoln Arneal
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – UNFAMILIAR FOES — In the other regional semifinal, No. 1 seed Louisville hosts No. 4 Baylor. The only other time the programs met was in 1985 when the Bears won in four sets in Waco.
However, Baylor coach Ryan McGuyre said the Cardinals reminded him of Wisconsin, who they beat in five sets during the first week of the season.
“They have pretty versatile outsides,” McGuyre said. “It’s probably not one single team, but I would say similar athletes from different teams. We would defend this person maybe like the opposite from fill-in-the-blank. These middles hit a little bit more like these athletes a little bit.”
Louisville middle blocker Amaya Tillman said the Bears do not remind her of any opponent she’s seen this year.
“I’m just kind of taking it as a new team,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve played anyone quite like them.”
Cardinals coach Dani Busboom Kelly said Baylor is balanced with five players with over 200 kills. Even though they feature a freshman setter, they run an effective offense that terminated at a .263 clip this year.
PRESSURE PACKED — Louisville faced a tough road to the regional semifinal taking on Purdue in the second round. U of L is quite familiar with the Boilermakers as they defeated them each of the past two regular seasons. However, before last year, Purdue owned the rivalry winning 13 of their first 14 meetings.
Adding to the Cardinals’ pressure was the anticipation of playing matches in the KFC Yum! Center if they won both matches during the first weekend of the tournament.
Louisville played a regular-season match against Notre Dame at the Yum! Center earlier this year, but junior Anna DeBeer missed the game with an injury. Tillman said they want DeBeer to experience the joy of playing in front of a large fan base.
Busboom Kelly said she had people telling her how much they were looking forward to playing in the downtown area if they could win their first two matches in the 1,200-seat L&N Federal Credit Union Arena.
She said they put extra pressure on themselves because they learned how precious these opportunities are, especially after losing in the Final Four last year.
“Getting here was a relief and took some of the pressure off our back,” Busboom Kelly said. “It takes a whole season, and I don’t think people realize that you have to play great five months to get a top-four seed, and it’s extremely hard to do. It would have been very disappointing to earn that top-four seed and then not make it here.