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Notre Dame heading west

Mike Gilloon | Friday, September 10, 2004

Despite being defeated three times in their first four matches, including the first loss to Valparaiso in 24 years, Irish coach Debbie Brown knows there is a lot of volleyball still to be played. “We were really down after the Valparaiso match,” she said. “But we still have to hold our heads up. There’s a lot of promise on this team.”The Irish will get a chance to raise their spirits this weekend as they travel to San Luis Obispo, Calif., to participate in the Cal-Poly Best Western Royal Oak Invitational. Notre Dame will open play this afternoon against Fresno State and then play matches Saturday against Sacramento State and tournament-host Cal-Poly. After playing a pair of matches against No. 2 Nebraska last weekend, this might be a relative break in the schedule. None of this weekend’s opponents are in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25. But Brown isn’t taking anything for granted. “It’s going to be tough for us this weekend,” she said. “We’ve got to make the most of it.”The Irish have to face defending national champions Southern California next week and would love to build up some momentum going into their showdown with the Trojans. “Obviously we’re not peaking right now,” Brown said. “But we’re working hard to develop this team.”There is little history between the Irish and their tournament opponents. Neither Fresno State nor Sacramento State have ever played Notre Dame. Cal-Poly has faced the Irish only once, a 3-0 Notre Dame victory in 2002. Sacramento State might be considered the best threat to knock off Notre Dame as it has five starters back from a 23-12 team that won the Big Sky tournament in 2003. The Hornets then advanced to the NCAA Tournament where Stanford ousted them by a score of 3-0. Fresno State also made some noise in 2003 by going 21-7 and finishing second in the Mountain West Conference. The Bulldogs return four starters including honorable mention All-American outside hitter Kristen Fenton who finished twentieth nationally in kills per game last year with an average of 5.21. Cal-Poly, coached by former Irish assistant Steve Schlick, is the only team in the invitational that had a losing record in 2003 as the Mustangs went 13-16 and finished eighth in the Big West. Middle blocker Nicole Bertotti returns to help bolster a squad that finished ninth nationally with a 3.14 blocking average.