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Irish win 9th Big East regular season title

Mike Gilloon | Monday, November 15, 2004

Two matches. Two wins. One conference championship.Notre Dame clinched the Big East conference regular season title Sunday afternoon at the Joyce Center by sweeping West Virginia 30-23, 30-25, 30-19. “It’s huge,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said when asked what it meant to win the Big East regular season title for the ninth time in school history. “It’s a goal we have every year.”The Irish were put into position to win the league outright after they defeated Pittsburgh on Friday 3-0 in a match played in the Joyce Center prior to that night’s football pep rally. Lauren Kelbley led Notre Dame with 14 kills while Meg Henican scooped up 25 digs in beating the Panthers 30-25, 30-22, 30-19.Sunday’s match against West Virginia teetered back and forth between the two squads as it featured 18 lead changes, including 10 in the pivotal second match. The Irish were plagued with slow starts in all three games. They dug a hole for themselves in falling behind the Mountaineers 10-6 in game one and 9-3 in game two, but the team rallied behind Carolyn Cooper’s .455 hitting percentage for the match. The team hit .424 in the third game after a hitting percentage of only .105 in game two. “I think that we finished really strong in Game 3,” Brown said. “Even at the beginning of game three we were still not very efficient and not playing very well.”Brown called a timeout midway through the third game after a service error by Emily Loomis and with the teams tied at 14. “From that point I think there was just a really good focused effort,” Brown said. “We didn’t have the unforced errors and just a much stronger drive to finish it and finish strong.”The play of Cooper helped to keep the Irish in the match as the middle blocker led the team with 14 kills. Lauren Brewster had 13 while Emily Loomis tallied 10.”[Cooper] had a really strong game one and a really strong Game 3,” Brown said. “I think in Game 2 she got a little bit flustered and hesitated a couple times and made some uncharacteristic errors. But she came back and finished really strong in Game 3 which was huge for us.” Team captain Meg Henican hustled for a match-high 24 digs at her libero spot while Adrianna Stasiuk chipped in 16. But Stasiuk’s powerful serve was the strongest part of her play as it flustered the Mountaineers all afternoon. “[Stasiuk’s] serving was probably the best I’ve seen it all year,” Brown said. “It was very consistent and really took them out of their system the whole time. She passed really well and played good defense. “It was really good to see that she could struggle a little bit with her hitting and then come back really strong with her other parts of the game.”The Irish finished the conference season with a record of 9-1, while Syracuse and Pittsburgh both ended at 8-2.As regular season champions the Irish will be the No. 1 seed at next weekend’s Big East tournament in Pittsburgh. Though every team will be eager to knock them from their perch, Brown wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think for us to go in and know that we have to play well and that everyone’s shooting for us, I think that’s OK,” Brown said. “We don’t want to go into a match and think that we don’t have to play well or that we can just roll over somebody.”