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by Kevin Pulsifer

The volleyball team was swept in two matches this weekend, losing 3-0 to No. 12 Louisville on Friday and 3-0 to Cincinnati on Sunday.  Villanova (11-17, 5-8 Big East) was facing its first ranked opponent of the season in the Louisville Cardinals, who prevailed with set scores of 25-11, 28-26 and 25-13.

Two of Louisville’s (22-3, 12-1 Big East) three losses came to Top 10-ranked teams, and they showed they could compete among the elite teams in the NCAA. The Cardinals were the preseason favorite to win the Big East Conference title, and they have received votes in each weekly poll. The Cardinals used a 9-0 run to take a commanding 17-7 lead in the first set. The Wildcats had a few attack errors of their own amidst the streak, and Louisville took the set handily.

Villanova fought valiantly in the second set, and came back from a 19-13 deficit to take a momentary lead of 25-24. It was their first lead of the match, thanks to a combined block by senior middle blocker CeCe Twitty and freshman outside hitter Colleen Hickey. After the Wildcats won seven of nine points and 12 of the prior 17, the Cardinals, aided by a few Villanova service errors, took the set by a score of 28-26. This proved to be Villanova’s big chance to stage an upset over powerhouse Louisville.

Louisville then took over in the third set, jumping out to a quick 13-4 lead and never looking back. The Wildcats scored six straight points after that, thanks in part to freshman outside hitter Lauren Carpenter, whose two blocks and one kill brought the score closer for the time being. However, the Cardinals finished the match by taking 12 of the next 15 points.

Carpenter finished with five kills total to go with the two blocks from the third set. These numbers were only outdone by Twitty, who recorded six kills and three block assists to lead Villanova. Other notable offensive performances were senior outside hitter Krista Andersen’s six kills and freshman setter Emma Pettit’s 18 assists.

The Wildcats were led defensively by junior libero Mariah Henley, who had 16 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Ally Moskitis added eight digs, and sophomore setter Allie DiBernardo and freshman defensive specialist Michelle Adams recorded six digs apiece.

On Sunday afternoon, ’Nova traveled to the Lindner Center to visit Cincinnati (11-16, 9-4 Big East). The Bearcats won all three sets, 25-18, 25-16 and 25-18.

Carpenter had another solid performance, leading the way offensively with 10 kills. The well-rounded Andersen helped out the team in various ways, providing seven kills and an ace while also aiding defensively with two total blocks and two digs.

The defense was led yet again by the libero Henley, who notched 10 digs. Meanwhile, Pettit and DiBernardo split the setting duties on Sunday afternoon, as they had 13 and 12 assists, respectively, and five digs each.

Unlike in the match against ranked Louisville, Villanova took an early lead in the first set, 8-3. The Bearcats rallied to take a 13-12 lead, but Carpenter’s kill immediately following a timeout tied the set up again at 13-13. After that, however, Cincinnati dominated down the stretch to take the first set. The team’s continued into the second set, as they led throughout the entirety of set number two. Villanova trailed by one at 12-11, but a strong performance by Cincinnati hitter Jordanne Scott led to a 13-5 run.

This was a very difficult stretch of games for Villanova, who had to face three of the top four teams in the Big East in a row, all on the road. The Wildcats have two more regular season games, their next being on Friday night at Syracuse. Villanova defeated Syracuse, 3-1, at home on Oct. 27. After that, they return home for the season finale against Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, who they beat on the road earlier this month.

These upcoming games are absolutely crucial for the ’Cats, because a Big East Tournament bid is still up for grabs. With five bids already locked in—Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Connecticut have already punched a ticket to the Big East Tournament in Milwaukee, Wis., in two weeks—there are six teams. Seton Hall, St. John’s, USF,  Pittsburgh, Villanova and Rutgers, fighting for the final three spots. Villanova currently trails in the standings by one game, but victories in these two games would put them in a great spot heading toward championship season. Lose either one, however, and the Wildcats may simply be spectators once the playoffs come around.

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