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Irish look to build on successful opener

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, September 5, 2003

After storming out of the gates last weekend, Notre Dame has high expectations going into this weekend’s Longhorn Classic. Following a season opening upset of No. 10 Arizona, the Irish find themselves ranked 21st in this week’s USA Today/AVCA Coaches Top 25.

The weekend commences Friday night against Houston (2-1). This match will feature two teams that run a 6-2 offense. Notre Dame (2-1) is led by hitter Emily Loomis, who earned Big East Player of the Week honors last week to go along with her all-tournament team honors. Loomis was a dominating force upfront, registering a team-high 42 kills (.365 hitting percentage) last weekend to go along with 14 blocks. She led the way in the upset of the Wildcats at the Four Points Sheraton Classic in Malibu, Calif.

Loomis, however, didn’t take full credit for her hitting success.

“Our offense depends on passing,” she said. “We were put in great positions, and we were able to come together.”

Middle blocker Lauren Kelbley also had an outstanding weekend, making all-tournament team as well. Kelbley had 39 kills on .360 hitting on the weekend. Friday’s match against Arizona saw her notch a career high 16 kills to go along with six blocks. Kelbley has registered 10-plus kills in 10 consecutive matches going back to last year.

The Cougars and Irish have not faced off since 1997, when Notre Dame won the match in five games. Houston was 19-13 last season, finishing seventh in Conference USA, and return four letter winners. However, this year will see the Cougars look to freshmen for help at the net.

Saturday’s game will be another test for the Irish, as they face the preseason No. 23 Texas Longhorns. Texas (1-2) looks to rebound after a tough opening at the Mizuno Invitational last weekend. The 2002 season saw the Longhorns go 23-9 and reach the second round of the NCAA tournament. They were one win away from finishing in the top 25 teams. The Longhorns return eight letter winners, including five starters from last year’s team.

Both games will showcase the new Irish offense, led by setters Kristen Kinder and Kelly Burrell. Kinder, a senior, is the veteran, while Burrell, a sophomore, is gaining valuable experience along the way. Besides Loomis and Kelbley, this duo will look for senior Katie Neff and sophomore Lauren Brewster to help offensively, as both were forces last weekend in Malibu.

The Irish begin the weekend Friday at 5 pm. Saturday’s game is at 7 pm. Notre Dame makes its home debut Tuesday night against Valparaiso.