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Irish to face many early challenges

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, August 29, 2003

As the reigning Big East volleyball champions, the Irish have a lot to live up to this season. Coming off a 24-8 record last season to earn a NCAA bid for the 11th consecutive season, the Irish have high expectations for 2003.

They kick off their 2003 campaign this weekend with a trip to Malibu, Calif., where the Irish will take part in the Four Points Sheraton Classic. This weekend will set the tone; Notre Dame faces No. 10 Arizona today and No. 5 Pepperdine Saturday in its first games of the season. Following these games, the Irish are slated to face Eastern Washington Saturday night.

Notre Dame will be led by a core of veterans this season. Co-captains and twins Jessica and Kristen Kinder will lead the team. Kristen Kinder will set; she has put up impressive numbers throughout her career, averaging 11.16 assists per game, and was named the 2001 Big East Setter of the Year. Kelly Burrell filled in for Kristen Kinder at times last season and will see significant play time this season.

On the receiving end of these two setters, two-year starter and outside hitter Jessica Kinder will contribute with her all-around play. Another weapon for the Irish will be junior Emily Loomis. As the 2002 Big East Championship Most Outstanding Player and member of the first-team all-Big East squad, Loomis looks to dominate once again after leading the team in kills (3.7 per game) last year.

Notre Dame also looks for good things from senior Katie Neff, who has done nothing but improve at opposite. Last year, she recorded 17 double-digit kill matches.

To go along with the numerous returning starters, coach Debbie Brown returns for her 13th year at the helm for the Irish. Brown, the three-time Big East Coach of the Year, has a career record of 300-102 (.746) at Notre Dame, which includes 11 of her 12 seasons with 20-plus victories.

This weekend will be a true test for the Irish, as the Wildcats of Arizona return seven letter winners and hold a preseason No. 10 ranking. Friday’s meeting will be the first since 1993 and the third overall. They have split the two games.

After Arizona, the Irish get no rest as they face Pepperdine, (26-7 last season), Saturday. When the two teams met last year at the Joyce Center, Notre Dame managed to come away with a win in five games to capture the Golden Dome Invitational.