Ron Kordes, the patriarch of Louisville volleyball (whose high school team recently won its third consecutive Kentucky state title and 17th overall, for which he was named the AVCA national coach of the year, and whose club program, KIVA, last summer grew its list of national age-group titles to 43) also just happens to be the father of the coach of the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Those would be the same Louisville Cardinals on whose home court the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds will be played and then where the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship will be conducted December 13-15.
“It’s almost like somebody set it up,” Kordes said. “It’s too good to be true for it all to be happening at one time.”
Louisville-area volleyball is simply synonymous with the Kordes family, but especially this week as Ron’s daughter Anne, the former star player for her father at Assumption High School and then at the University of Louisville itself, has the Cardinals seeded 10th in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s very exciting. It’s what you work for all year,” the effervescent second-year coach said Sunday night after learning that her team would be the host for the first two rounds. Oddly enough, the Cardinals’ first-round opponent is Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference-champion they beat in three to end the regular season this past Friday. The winner of that match gets the winner of Tennessee-Michigan.
Louisville is 29-3 after dominating the Big East. Its only losses were to top-ranked and top-seeded Penn State in three in August, after being up 2-0 at home against Notre Dame but falling in five, and in five to third-seeded Texas for its last loss on October 8.
“This past season, watching them play their matches in the KFC Yum! Arena, where the championships are going to be played, and some matches in front of five, six, seven-thousand people, Penn State and Texas and Kentucky, it was just exciting to see volleyball grow to that point,” Ron Kordes said.
“It’s crazy. Crazy how quickly people can get behind a team,” Anne Kordes said.
Especially if you’ve been there since way back when.
“When I got involved in it there were three club teams in this town. Not three clubs, three club teams,” Ron Kordes said. “To watch this thing grow and the facilities being built and more and more kids playing, it’s just been a pleasure. This is like icing on the cake for me, to see the community so involved with U of L volleyball. It’s been great.”
Just as she did during a successful seven-year run as head coach at Saint Louis, before getting her dream job, Kordes schedules tough.
“I tell people all the time there is no reward without risk,” Anne said.
Among Louisville’s non-conference wins were victories over Purdue, Kentucky, and Western Kentucky, all in the NCAA field.
“There’s so much preparation for getting into the NCAA Tournament when you’re in a weaker conference,” she said. “It was the same thing at Saint Louis. You can’t screw around during the summer, you can’t take games off, every loss is going to kill you and you have to get as many wins as possible. These girls bought in and I’m excited and happy for them.”
One is senior Kaitlynn James, one of six hometown players on the roster who might appreciate what this means for Louisville more than most. She grew up there and, after starting her career at Nebraska and coming back from injuries, transferred back to her hometown.
“We knew about the opportunities for this season when it was announced that the final four was going to be in Louisville,” said James, whose time at Nebraska was one of the few instances when she wasn’t coached by a Kordes, since she played for Anne’s brother, John, as a 13-year old at KIVA and for Ron at Assumption and KIVA.
“It’s really special. If you’re from Louisville, you already know the tradition of volleyball, not only in the city but in the whole state, and this gives the state an opportunity to shine and for Louisville the chance for everyone else to see how our team is blessed to play in our venue. I mean, the Yum! Center is absolutely, hands-down, the best venue to play in in the country.”
Anne Kordes, who this year is also the president of the AVCA, started her own career at Cincinnati before transferring to Louisville.
“All I want to do is say thank-you to the people who gave me this shot by doing well for them. I’m so proud and so proud to be from here but more importantly I’m excited because we’re doing the things that I think are possible here.
“The only thing that surprises me is it’s happened so quickly, but to do this with my family around, at the school I played at, in the community I’ve grown up in and stayed very connected with even though I was gone 15 years, I’m proud.”
No one is prouder, obviously, than her dad.
“It’s been a great year and to see her so excited about what she’s doing and to be doing it at home has just been a dream come true for our entire family,” Ron Kordes said.
“I wanted to get back to Louisville so bad,” Anne admitted.
“She was at Illinois and Saint Louis and it’s one of those things,” Ron said. “You get into the profession and there’s only one job here. I told her when she left, ‘You know, the chances of getting back to Louisville are slim and none.’ And she said that was all right, that she had to try. I told her to go for it, but here you go: slim worked out.
“To get her back home was just unbelievable.”
Anne certainly appreciates being successful in the same profession as her father.
“There are five of us (Kordes children) and we’re equally loved, that’s for darned sure,” she said, “but for him to understand how brutal a coaching position can be and how tough the ups and downs of it all can be, he is just so happy. So happy. He’d rather see me win than see his own team or club win.”
That certainly never has been a problem for either of the Kordes coaches.
When she took over for the 2011 season, Anne inherited an injury-depleted roster, but the Cardinals finished 24-9, 13-1 in the Big East, and then in last year’s NCAA Tournament beat Ball State in three before losing in four to Purdue.
This year, despite the No. 10 seed overall, Louisville comes into the tournament ranked fourth in the NCAA RPI, so clearly the Cardinals are in the national-championship picture. They’re riding a 13-match winning streak and should they get past Belmont and then either Tennessee or Michigan, it’s on to Berkeley for the regional at Cal with an eye for getting back to play at home on the big stage.
“It would be absolutely incredible,” said James, admitting that she and her teammates made it a stated goal.
“We talk about it all the time. We’ll be in the gym practicing and girls will come to me and say, ‘We’ve got to get to the final four.’ Girls will talk about it all the time. We talk about it all the time, we think about it all the time, and it’s in the back of our minds all the time.
“If the pressure’s on to get through a drill or we’re tired, it makes us push through because we have really big goals for the end of the season.”
Louisville isn't the only Kentucky program to have a great season this year. Western Kentucky and University of Kentucky have both had a strong presence in the Top 25 this season.
The University of Kentucky Wildcats are a relatively new name on the NCAA volleyball scene. When Head Coach Craig Skinner took on the job in 2005, the program had not experienced a winning season in five years and hadn’t made it to the NCAA tournament since 1993. But since then, the Wildcats have garnered a bid to the tournament for seven consecutive seasons, and made appearances in two Sweet Sixteens.
After hosting one of the regional finals last season and emerging with an overall record of 28-6, 2012 has not quite been a banner year for the Wildcats. They peaked at the very start of the season, ranking No.10 in the AVCA poll. The weeks following they fell to 19, then 24, and then merely receiving votes. They’ve hung around in this area since then, but had a roaring week right at the end, winning three in a row, and earned the 16 seed in the NCAA tournament and the opportunity to host the first round. They’ll have to accelerate their level of play if they hope to make it to another Sweet Sixteen, however, as they’ll be facing the winner of Ohio State-Notre Dame in the second round if they beat East Tennessee State University in round one.
Their success rides on a few key players: Ashley Frazier a senior outside hitter, Christine Hartmann a senior setter and two-time SEC Player of the Week, and Alexandra Morgan a junior middle blocker and last week’s SEC Defensive Player of the Week. If Morgan can rack up 10 blocks in a match, like she did against Georgia last week, and Hartmann can hit .592, dole out 52 assists, and collect somewhere around 11 digs, like she did in the victory over Tennessee in late October, they might just have a chance to create some upsets in the next few weeks.
Western Kentucky University
Western Kentucky has had an undeniably good year, but it looks suspiciously like last season up until this point. In 2011, WKU went 31-4 for the season, ranking No.24 in the last AVCA poll, only to fall to Marquette in four sets in the first round of the tournament.
This year, they’ll play Loyola Marymount in the first round, and assuming they win, would have the pleasure of playing Stanford, as long as Jackson State doesn’t pull off the biggest upset of the year when they play the Cardinal in round one.
Big matches so far this season included a four-set win over No.15 Dayton (ranked No.10 at the time), a 5-set battle with Michigan they managed to win by four points in the fifth, and the three sweeps in a row that brought then the Sun Belt Conference title.
WKU’s ability to battle with Loyola Marymount and ultimately Stanford relies on the four players who earned first-team all-conference honors this season: Paige Wessel, Melanie Stutsman, and especially senior outside hitter Jordynn Skinner and libero Ashley Potts. Potts has posted double-digit digs in 30 of WKU’s 32 matches this year and she’ll have to keep up those numbers, perhaps even topping her career-best 26 digs that she tallied in the match against FIU. Skinner has a team-high 310 kills and 23 solo blocks.
Ron Kordes’ Prodigies
From coaching at Assumption High School and through his club program, KIVA, Ron Kordes has had the opportunity to teach countless young players. Quite a few of his former high school players will make an appearance at the NCAA tournament on local Kentucky teams.
Katie George, University of Louisville, freshman, setter
Kaitlynn James, University of Louisville, senior, outside hitter
Stephanie Klefot, University of Kentucky, senior, defensive specialist
Jackie Napper, University of Kentucky, sophomore, defensive specialist
Courtney Robison, University of Louisville, sophomore, defensive specialist