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Volleyball: Irish look to build on success

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, November 11, 2003

It’s time – time for the No. 12 Irish to face a ranked opponent after 21 matches of unranked competition.

Tonight’s match versus No. 14 Northern Iowa marks the first time the Irish play a ranked opponent since Aug 30, when they faced then No. 5 Pepperdine and Eastern Washington on the same day in the Longhorn Classic.

Notre Dame (21-2, 10-0) is coming off a big weekend; they defeated Big East foes Virginia Tech on Friday and Miami on Sunday in a nationally televised game.

“I think that [the past weekend] is the preparation we needed for this game,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said.

With the wins, the Irish improved to 55-0 in the regular season Big East at home, and they improved to 97-4 in Big East play all-time.

The Irish took the day off Monday to travel to Iowa, where they face the Panthers (21-4) for the second time in the program’s history. In the only other meeting of these two teams, Northern Iowa, No. 16 at the time, took the match 3-1 (26-30, 30-14, 30-16, 30-23), in 2001.

Tonight’s match also marks the first time in over seven years that the Irish are playing in a match up of two top-15 teams.

Leading the Irish this season is senior setter Kristen Kinder. She was named Big East Player of the Week last week after registering a career-high 68 assists against the Hokies Friday in a five-game match. She leads an offense that has dominated opponents all year long.

Middle blocker Lauren Kelbley led the Irish against Miami Sunday with 15 kills on .353 hitting. Meanwhile, Emily Loomis was good for 12 kills and 10 digs. Meg Henican (15 digs), Danielle Herndon and Jessica Kinder (nine kills, nine digs) were key to the hitters’ successes, as they contributed solid passing throughout the whole match, giving Kristen Kinder the option to set any of the three hitters.

Middle blocker Lauren Brewster leads the nation in blocks, averaging 1.82 blocks per game. The Irish squad also leads the nation in blocking, with 3.72 per game.

Due to their hard work and with the help of assistant coach Robin Davis, the Irish have become a force to reckon with at the net, holding opponents to .149 hitting on the season.

“When teams come up against our block, it makes them think a little bit, and it changes their swing a little, too,” Brown said.

The Irish hitters, who have hit .259 on the year, will need to have a strong match against the Panthers, as they come off a win against Bradley. Northern Iowa and Notre Dame share common opponents this season – South Carolina and Illinois State. Both teams defeated Illinois State, but the Irish lost to South Carolina and the Panthers were victorious.

Today will be a big game for both teams, as the NCAA Tournament begins Dec. 6, and the seedings will come out shortly before that. The Irish are looking for a win to prove they are a team that can compete with the best in the nation.

The Irish will get a boost from the great weekend they had in the Big East, and they have faith in their play at the net.

“That’s exactly what we needed to go into Northern Iowa and have confidence that we can play well against a good team,” Brown said.

The Irish will play in Cedar Falls, Iowa at 7 p.m. today.