Big Ten/Big East Challenge
No. 11 Purdue (5-1) vs. No. 24 Louisville (6-1), 3:30 p.m.
No. 20 Illinois (2-3) vs. Cincinnati (1-6), 6 p.m.
No. 20 Illinois vs. No. 24 Louisville, 3:30 p.m.
No. 11 Purdue vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m.
Setting the scene
If there is a Big Ten/Big East Challenge next season, it won't involve Illinois. With the Challenge now in its fourth year, Illini coach Kevin Hambly said he is ready to go in a different direction with future scheduling. With one exception, the same four teams have participated every year (Ohio University filled in for Cincinnati in 2009 due to a scheduling conflict). Illinois is 5-1 in the Challenge, its lone defeat coming in 2010 in five sets against Cincinnati. ... Hambly has said a number of times that he expects his young team, with new players at the two outside hitter positions and two other starters with one season of college experience, to be erratic in the early going. Last weekend proved his point. In what was by far their best performance of the young season, Illinois swept then-No. 15 Iowa State. One day later, the Illini struggled with serving, serve-receive and passing in losing a five-set match to the Cyclones. Illinois committed 13 service errors and allowed eight service aces. "I just think early on with these young kids it's going to be up and down," Hambly said. "I hope that we steady out really fast." ... Here's one indication of how high of a bar the 2011 Illini set en route to finishing second in the NCAA tournament. The current Illini already are within two losses of matching last season's total.
The scoop on Cincinnati
Coach: Molly Alvey (first year, 1-6)
Players to watch: Sr. MB Becca Refenes; Sr. MB/RS Jordanne Scott; Sr. OH Megan Turner
About the Bearcats: For the first time in 13 seasons, the program has a new head coach. Alvey succeeded Reed Sunahara, who resigned in January as UC volleyball's all-time winningest coach (289-109). Alvey arrives from Houston, where she guided the Cougars to a 38-24 record in two seasons as head coach. ...
Cincinnati was picked to finish fourth in the Big East by conference coaches. The Bearcats won the 2011 Big East tournament and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament before being ousted by eventual Final Four qualifier Florida State. ... Cincinnati opened this season 0-5, including losses to three ranked opponents: Iowa State, Tennessee and Florida State. ... Alvey has yet to settle on one setter, splitting duties between senior Rachel Rohlfs and Florida Atlantic transfer Madison Lang, a sophomore.
The scoop on Louisville
Coach: Anne Kordes (second year, 30-10)
Players to watch: Sr. OH Lola Arslanbekova; Jr. OH Emily Juhl; Sr. MB Gwen Rucker
About the Cardinals: Louisville entered the Top 25 on Monday after going 4-0 last week. Louisville's signature win so far is a four-set triumph against then-No. 10 Kentucky. That match, on a Wednesday night, attracted a program-record crowd of 5,007 in the KFC Yum! Center. That facility will host the NCAA Final Four in December. ... The Cardinals' lone loss was to current No. 2 Penn State in three sets at the KFC Yum! Center. ... Louisville, the defending Big East regular-season champion, was picked to repeat by conference coaches. The 2011 Cardinals advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Purdue. ... Saturday will mark the fourth time Kordes has coached against Illinois, where she served as an assistant from 1999-2003. As head coach at Saint Louis, Kordes went 0-2 versus the Illini. Her first Louisville team took Illinois to five sets before losing in last year's Big Ten/Big East Challenge. ... Arslanbekova, a 2011 third-team All-American, was named Big East Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 4.86 kills and 3.65 digs per set last week. She racked up 30 kills against Illinois in last year's Challenge. ... Kordes scored a recruiting coup by keeping freshman setter Katie George, the reigning Prepvolleyball.com National Player of the Year. in her hometown. So far, however, setting duties primarily are being handled by Quincy native Hannah Kvitle, who sat out last season after transferring from Saint Louis.