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Irish face conference challengers Pitt and WVU

Mike Gilloon | Friday, November 12, 2004

Their hopes of an undefeated conference season were swept away by Boston College last week. Notre Dame (14-7, 7-1 in the Big East) now looks to regroup with home matches today and Sunday against Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

With Pittsburgh (19-6, 7-1), Notre Dame and Syracuse all tied atop the Big East standings, these matches should help breakup the conference.

“We were down after [the loss to Boston College],” Notre Dame coach Debbie Brown said. “But we’re eager to play again. The team is determined to get a win.”

Today’s match against Pittsburgh will begin at 4 p.m. in the Joyce Center. With the football pep rally set for 6 p.m. Brown expects a lot of Irish fans in attendance.

“We [played before a pep rally] last year against Virginia Tech,” Brown said. “We had a tough five-game match but I think it was really important for us to have our crowd there in that fourth and fifth game. It was exciting for the team to be able to play in front of a crowd like that. I think [today’s atmosphere] will be good.”

The bite in this year’s Panthers attack comes from senior Megan Miller. The preseason Big East player of the year is averaging 4.6 kills per game this season along with a .364 hitting percentage. She averaged 3.9 kills per game last year and was also named the most outstanding player of the conference tournament.

Setter Azadeh Boroumand and libero Megan McGrane combine with Miller to make Pittsburgh a tough team to beat.

“They take good swings when they have good sets and when they don’t they do a good job of mixing up their shots and keeping the ball in play,” Brown said. “They play very smart, and they’re very patient. They have a lot of good individual players including [McGrane] who digs extremely well. I think we’ll see a very balanced game from them, and I think it will help bring out the best in us.”

Despite all the talent Pittsburgh brings to the match, Brown is most concerned with the Irish executing and playing a complete match.

“We have to be smart in how we’re trying to defend them and things like that,” Brown said. “But I do think the bulk of it is taking care of our side of the net.”

Sunday’s match against West Virginia will begin at 2 p.m. in the Joyce Center.

The Mountaineers are 18-11 overall and 4-4 in the Big East. Despite not being particularly strong offensively, they make up for it with a stout defense that ranks second in the conference by limiting opponents to a .157 hitting percentage and leads the league in digs per game with 18.35. Senior Alison Zemanski is the main reason for the success as the middle blocker leads the Big East in blocks per game with 1.50. Outside hitter Aurora Ebert-Santos is averaging 4.64 digs per game, third in the league.

Contact Mike Gilloon at mgilloon@nd.edu