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Blocking out the competition

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, September 12, 2003

After cracking the top 20 with a No. 15 ranking, the Irish look to build on what has been a successful season thus far. This weekend’s Shamrock Invitational proves to be another test for the Irish.

“We are going to have to really step it up this weekend,” coach Debbie Brown said. “It is going to be another level from where we were [Tuesday].”

The Irish (5-1) face three solid teams this weekend, in Indiana (4-2), Utah (4-2) and South Carolina (2-4), as they host their annual tournament in the Joyce Center.

In order to succeed, the Irish will look once again to their net play.

Led by hitter Emily Loomis and middle blocker Lauren Kelbley, the Irish have been able to dominate up front. Both have already been named Big East Player of the Week, and Kelbley was named the Most Valuable Player at the Longhorn Classic last weekend. Kelbley and Loomis earned all-tournament honors as well.

Tuesday against Valparaiso, Loomis had a team high 24 kills with no errors, good for a .571 hitting percentage. Kelbley had 11 kills on .524 hitting with no errors in the first two games. She did not play the third game.

Senior setter Kristen Kinder has been solid for the Irish as well, registering 35 assists on Tuesday night, one less than the entire Crusader team. Twin sister Jessica Kinder, meanwhile, set a school record with 28 digs in the three games. Meg Henican has also been consistent for the Irish, coming up with 14 digs against the Crusaders.

However, the Irish are not happy with the level that they played at on Tuesday, as they allowed the third game to go to 32-30.

“They’re going to put a lot more pressure on us,” Brown said, referring to this weekend. “We are going to have to come prepared to play at another level.”

The Irish, after jumping six spots in this week’s USA Today/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25, find themselves sitting at No. 15, the highest since 1996 when they were No. 12. They earned this ranking after winning the Longhorn Classic last weekend, making this year the fourth consecutive season in which the Irish have come away with at least one in-season tournament title.