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Volleyball: Big (East) weekend awaits Irish

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, November 7, 2003

It is the biggest weekend of the season thus far, but the Irish are confident.

This afternoon, the No. 12 Irish (19-2, 8-0) face Virginia Tech (12-12, 6-3), when they try to avenge last season’s loss. Sunday night will see Miami (19-7, 7-2) come into town hungry for a victory after the Irish knocked them out of the Big East Tournament last year.

Which game is bigger?

“I think we try and look at the Miami game as another game, because we are trying to focus on Virginia Tech as of right now,” freshman defensive specialist Danielle Herndon said. “Of course it’s a big game, because it’s a conference game, and we want to win all of them.”

The Hokies will hope to upset the Irish as they did last year. However, Sunday’s game is the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association game of the week, and will be televised nationally on CSTV’s Sunday Night Spikers.

The Irish refuse to look past the Hokies, who come off a big win over second place Pittsburgh last week, and they know that Virginia Tech is a more than worthy opponent.

“I think it will be really easy [not to look past Friday] because we lost to Virginia Tech last year,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “It’s not about revenge, it’s just about playing the way we know how to play, and I know [the team] won’t look past them.”

This weekend is the last homestand for the Irish until the Big East Tournament, and they look to make the most of playing good teams at home.

“[Virginia Tech] is playing well, and that is good for us,” Brown said. “We want to play a team that is on fire and playing well.”

The Irish have been playing well of late as well, winning their last 12 matches. They are the No. 1 blocking squad in the country, averaging 3.84 blocks per game – nearly a half block more than their closest competition.

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Brewster is a large part of that statistic, as she leads the nation in individual blocking with 1.82 blocks per game. Brewster also leads the Irish in hitting percentage, as she hits .359.

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Kelbley is second on the team in blocking (1.33 per game), and is another large part of the balanced Irish attack. Junior Emily Loomis leads the Irish hitters with 3.67 kills per game.

Running the offense is senior setter Kristen Kinder. Kinder has been steady for the Irish ever since they switched to a 5-1 offense from the 6-2 they started the season with.

However, Sunday’s match will prove to be a challenge for Notre Dame. Miami is led by last year’s Big East Player of the Year, Valeria Tipiana, who averages 4.03 kills and 2.48 digs while hitting .324 this season. Last year, the Hurricanes ended a 43-game Big East winning streak for the Irish and made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen in only the program’s second year. The Hurricanes are two games behind the Irish in the Big East standings.

“We’re definitely ready to play good teams,” Herndon said. “That is always a more fun game.”

The Irish find themselves prepared for what they deem just another weekend of conference play.

“It’s a big weekend just because we have two conference games, and our goal is to win our conference,” Herndon said. “We’re very excited, very pumped-up and we’re ready to have a good match all the way through.”

Today’s game is set to start at 4 p.m. and Sunday’s game is scheduled for 6 p.m., at the Joyce Center.