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Irish fall in opening round of NCAA’s

Heather VanHoegarden | Monday, December 8, 2003

They walked in with a swagger, a confidence in their ability to play well after two straight losses, but it wasn’t enough. No. 19 Louisville ended Notre Dame’s season Friday in three straight games, 3-0 (32-30, 30-21, 30-21).

“I don’t know that I really know [what happened],” Irish coach Debbie Brown said.

Sonja Percan (16 kills, 20 digs) and Lena Ustymenko (16 kills, 15 digs) led the Cardinals.

No. 21 Notre Dame (23-7) came out firing in the first game, jumping out to a 10-4 lead to eventually lead 22-17. However, the Cardinals (25-6) went on a 10-1 run to put them up four points.

But the Irish never quit, as they came out of a timeout to score five straight points of their own to take a 28-27 lead. But Louisville proved to be too much, pulling away with the 32-30 win.

Game two looked promising, as the Irish jumped out to a 6-1 lead before Louisville tied the match at 10, and took the lead for good 12-11. As the nation’s leading blocking team, Notre Dame failed to register a block in the second game, and the Irish hit only .140 as a team, compared to the Cardinals’ .500 hitting percentage.

“When our blocking breaks down and our defense breaks down, we don’t score points very well,” Brown said. “When we weren’t scoring points like we needed to, that’s going to result in a loss, and it did.”

Louisville dominated game three, jumping out to a 14-7 lead and never looking back as the Irish hit a mere .117 on the game and .152 on the match. Louisville dominated the Irish at the net, hitting .302 on the match and registering 10.5 blocks to the Irish’s eight.

The Cardinals went on to lose to No. 18 Illinois Saturday.

“Louisville played very well,” Brown said. “But, I think we were in a pretty good place coming into the match.”

However, coming into the NCAA tournament, the Irish had lost four of their last six matches, including six straight games. But they weren’t focused on the past; they were focused on the task at hand.

“We weren’t dwelling on the fact that we lost six games in a row or two matches in a row,” Brown said. “We thought that with another week of practice we would be in a good place.”

However, the Irish were unable to get it done in their last match of the season.

Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Brewster led the hitters with 16 kills on 52 attempts – the most attempts this season by an Irish hitter. She also had seven digs. Lauren Kelbley added 11 kills and four blocks.

For seniors Katie Neff and Kristen and Jessica Kinder, it was their last start in a Notre Dame uniform. Neff had eight kills and three blocks. Kristen Kinder had 35 assists for the Irish, and Jessica added 10 digs. Senior Kim Fletcher did not see action in the end for what seemed to be an underachieving team, who lost five of their last seven matches.

But the seniors will be remembered for more than just the nine game losing streak they finished with.

“You can never replace the people that are leaving,” Brown said. “We’ll miss them for sure, and the team will be different. They were a huge part of our team.”