|Wednesday, November 10, 1999||
Volume 65, Issue 57
|The end on the road
UH closes out year away from home
By Andrew J. Ferraro
It may sound cliché and understated all at the same time, but for all the people who follow Conference USA and Houston volleyball, this is the weekend that we've all been waiting for.
Whoever made this year's schedule in Chicago did a good thing this time around. Every year, four teams are consistently at the top of the C-USA standings. And, with the exception of South Florida, 1999 has proved to be no different.
Houston, Cincinnati and Louisville are the three best teams in the league, and all are going to be playing each other this weekend to see who will go to Tampa, Fla., the site of the 1999 C-USA volleyball championship tournament next week with the No. 1 seed.
The Cougars have a slight advantage over the other two teams in that they have just one loss in league play (13-1). Louisville and Cincinnati are both 11-3, which means that Houston can clinch its first-ever regular season C-USA championship with a win over either of the two teams this weekend.
Also, because its "magic number" to clinch is one, a loss by either Louisville or Cincinnati would give UH the title as well.
The Cardinals and the Bearcats are in the position where they must each defeat Houston and South Florida to have a shot at the regular season title and the No. 1 seed. Their only advantage lies in the fact that they do not have to travel this weekend.
Knowing that Cincinnati and Louisville each suffered key losses last weekend (both at Marquette), Houston realizes that winning one or both matches this weekend is not going to be easy.
In fact, several players commented that they expect Cincinnati and Louisville to play their best volleyball of the season with UH in town.
"We know that with them (Louisville and Cincinnati) losing over the weekend like that, they are going to be doing more next weekend against us," senior hitter Jillian King said. "Knowing that, we are going to have to find a way to do the same thing."
Senior Kristin Guidish pointed out that having a good week leading up to the matches should go a long way in helping the Cougars beat both the Cardinals and the Bearcats for the first time since 1997.
"I think that we need to go hard at it this week during our workout and just get ready to play," Guidish said. "We're playing really well right now and I really think we're going to come out with two wins this weekend."
Possible C-USA Player of the Year?
Junior hitter Michelle Frazier won the C-USA Freshman of the Year award four days before the Cougars won the conference title back in 1997.
With the Cougars in position to win their first-ever C-USA regular season crown, it looks as if Frazier could be ready to accept the most prestigious of all postseason league awards -- C-USA Player of the Year.
Frazier is the only player in the league that is amongst the league leaders in the following "key" categories: hitting percentage (first at .336), blocking (second at 1.52 per game) and service aces (ninth at .35 per game).
Frazier has totaled 18 service aces on the season. The C-USA leader, Marquette's Vesna Grbavac, has five more at 23.
The following is a brief look at what is happening with the Cougars' next two Conference USA opponents.
This Friday and Sunday, the Cougars will travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats before traveling to Louisville for a match against the Cardinals.
Friday's match will begin at 6 p.m. and first serve on Sunday is slated for 1 p.m.
Cincinnati Bearcats (22-5, 11-3 C-USA) -- The Bearcats will be the first team above .500 that the Cougars have played since they were defeated by DePaul (3-2) at Hofheinz Pavilion on Oct. 17.
Ironically, that was the last time Houston lost a match. Last weekend, Cincinnati was defeated by Marquette in five games on the road in Milwaukee.
The Bearcats have now lost two of their last four C-USA Matches and must sweep both Houston and South Florida this weekend to have a shot at winning their division and a shot at the conference title.
Cincinnati is led by junior middle blocker Stephanie Meinig, last week's C-USA Player of the Week, and freshman Bonita Wise. Wise is third in C-USA in hitting percentage at .301 and has tallied 340 kills in 1999 and averages 3.66 kills per game.
Last year, the Cougars were swept in Cincinnati in the two teams' only meeting. In 1997, Houston defeated the Bearcats (3-1) in the final round of the C-USA Championship tournament.
Louisville Cardinals (14-10, 11-3 C-USA) -- Louisville suffered a similar setback to Cincinnati over the weekend, as it too was defeated in five games by the surprising Marquette Golden Eagles in Milwaukee.
After dropping the first two games of the match, the Cardinals responded with a pair of wins before losing the fifth and decisive game, 15-10. The loss ended the Cardinals' C-USA best 11-match winning streak, as Louisville had not dropped a match since being swept on the road at Saint Louis on Sept. 26.
The Cardinals must now defeat both Houston and South Florida over the weekend to have a chance at winning the C-USA regular season title and clinching their division.
They are led by junior hitter Kelly McClain who has totaled 408 kills on the year and averages 4.69 per game. McClain also has 20-straight matches where she has recorded double-digit kill totals. Freshman Stacey Mercer is fifth in C-USA with a .280 hitting percentage.
With a career coaching record of 199-68 (.745), Louisville head coach Leonid Yelin will have the opportunity to notch his 200th career win against South Florida on Friday night.
C-USA Player of the Week
Marquette's Chris Curtin is the C-USA Player of the Week for Nov. 8. The senior middle blocker helped the Golden Eagles extend their winning streak to four matches by up-ending the C-USA American Division leaders Cincinnati and Louisville.
In the 3-2 win over UC, she hit .333 and had 28 kills, one shy of the
school's single-match record. Her .340 hitting percentage and 21 kills
also helped Marquette snap Louisville's 11-match winning streak and gave
Marquette its first-ever win over the Cardinals.
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