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Irish ready to return home

Mike Gilloon | Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A little sun has started to shine on the Irish season, but clouds still lurk in the distance. After starting out its Big East schedule with three consecutive wins, including back-to-back road victories over Rutgers and Seton Hall, Notre Dame (8-5) returns to the friendly courts of the Joyce Center tonight at 7 p.m. to take on Illinois State. Irish coach Debbie Brown portrayed a cautious excitement when asked how it feels to be on a three-game winning streak after starting off the year 5-5. “It feels great, we’re competitors and everyone likes to win,” she said. “But we’re not coming away thinking we’ve got it made.”The Irish will be challenged by a Redbird team that is currently tied for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference with a league record of 5-2. They are coming off losses to conference foes Southwest Missouri State and Wichita State last weekend but Brown believes they are a hungry, dangerous team. “I expect a very competitive match,” Brown said. “They lost a couple [matches] this weekend. But I think that just makes them more determined to get a win against us.”This is the ninth consecutive year in which the two teams have played. Notre Dame has not lost to Illinois State on the floor of the Joyce Center since 1993 while winning the last five overall matches against the Redbirds. Illinois State lost only one starter from the squad that fell to Notre Dame in three games last season. Senior Kelly Rikli heads that group. The 5-foot-10 setter leads the Redbirds in assists with an average of 12 per game. Laura Doornbos and Kari Staehlin are the main offensive threats as they are first and second on the team in kills with averages of 3.61 and 3.02 respectively. Staehlin is also a good defender – currently second on the team in blocks behind Emily Kabbes. Notre Dame seems to be hitting its stride right now. Besides leading the Big East with a 3-0 record, captain Meg Henican set a school record in Sunday’s win over Seton Hall while Adrianna Stasiuk has been named Big East Rookie of the Week. The freshman had a hitting percentage of .302 and recorded 3.43 kills and 3.29 digs per game against Seton Hall. Tonight will mark the first home match for the Irish since a five-game loss to Valparaiso on Sept. 7. After two difficult games on the road against conference opponents, Brown is ready to go back to her familiar seat on the Joyce Center bench and face a nonconference team the Irish have had recent success against.”It’s great to be back here and not have to be on the road,” she said.