Some of Louisville’s best rivals over the year haven’t developed out of any sort of geographical demand or lengthy history of playing one another.
U of L’s rivalries with programs like Marquette in men’s basketball and Vanderbilt in baseball were simply unavoidable. When two high-profile programs play memorable game after memorable game for a prolonged period of time, it automatically becomes something much more than it was before, whether the parties involved like it or not.
Such has become the case with the Louisville and Pittsburgh volleyball.
Since 2017, the ACC champion has been either the Cardinals or the Panthers, or a team sharing the title with the Cardinals and/or the Panthers. The championship has often come down to the one or two thrilling regular season matchups between the burgeoning national powers.
A year ago, things rose to another level.
After splitting their regular season meetings, splitting the conference championship, and both earning No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament, U of L and Pitt made history by meeting in the Final Four. The winner would become the first team in the history of the conference to play for a national title. Louisville prevailed in a five-set battle, smacking the Panthers down by a score of 15-2 in the final frame.
History will (sort of) repeat itself on Saturday.
After splitting their regular season meetings — Louisville swept Pitt at the KFC Yum Center and then blew a 2-0 set lead in the return matchup — the Cardinals and Panthers will once again meet for a third and most important time. This time, Pitt, the region’s No. 1 seed, will have home court advantage over the second-seeded Cardinals.
Louisville enters Saturday’s high-stakes contest a bit more battle-tested than their opponents, thanks to a five-set win over No. 3 seed Creighton on Thursday afternoon. Pitt, meanwhile, has dropped just one set in the postseason.
A win would propel Louisville to the Final Four for a third straight season. A matchup against top overall seed Nebraska — the place where U of L head coach Dani Busboom Kelly won national titles as both a player and an assistant — would be likely.
The latest installment of the freshest Cardinal rivalry goes down Saturday at 4 p.m. in Pittsburgh. ESPNU will have the television coverage.