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ND VOLLEYBALL: Irish beat Gators for Rally title

Tom Dorwart | Monday, September 12, 2005

They did the unthinkable. They defied the inevitable. And now they’re believable.

Over the weekend, the No. 19 Irish (6-0) swept through the University of Texas San Antonio Dome Rally – a tournament stacked with imposing competition – at the Alamodome. Notre Dame rallied to beat No. 8 Southern Cal 23-30, 32-30, 30-26, 30-27 Friday, breezed past Oklahoma 30-28, 30-27, 30-17 Saturday and fought by No. 6 Florida 30-28, 31-29, 30-28 Sunday.

Notre Dame’s unofficial team motto is “raising the bar.” And this weekend, the Irish met their bar.

“We’re really proud of ourselves,” said senior co-captain and middle blocker Lauren Brewster, who posted a total of 52 kills in the three matches.

So far this season, Notre Dame has said it expects great things. After solid wins against Michigan, then-No. 11 Texas and Arizona State, the Irish knew they were good. They claimed they weren’t underdogs against the mighty lineup they would face in San Antonio.

And Friday through Sunday, they backed up their talk. They not only walked, they strutted. And while the Irish quickly say they aren’t cocky already, they’ve certainly got a growing confidence.

“We have so much confidence in each other right now,” Brewster said. “I don’t think we’re cocky by any means. I don’t think we’re over-confident.”

In the three matches, the Irish gelled. Everyone played, and everyone contributed.

“It was a really great team effort,” Brewster said. “Everyone suited up for the first time. We’re really excited because it wasn’t a couple of individuals that were doing well, it was the whole team coming together.”

Notre Dame’s two injured sophomores returned. Adrianna Stasiuk, who missed the first three matches of the season, and Ellen Heintzman, who missed every match but the first one, played a major role in the Irish victories. Stasiuk had a team-high 24 digs against the Gators. She played libero during the first two games and at opposite the final game, while Heintzman filled in for freshman Mallorie Croal, who collided with a teammate in the second Florida game and was out with a concussion. While senior outside hitter Lauren Kelbley had a career-high 29 kills against USC, senior middle blocker Carolyn Cooper pounded 11 kills against Florida. Seldom-played senior Kelly Burrell made her first appearance this season in the Oklahoma match. She sparked her team with an outstanding block and a set assist.

“It’s great because we had [the sophomores] back,” Brewster said. “We had [Stasiuk] going back between libero and the outside. She did a great job at either position.

“Against Florida, in the second game, Ellen Heitzman came in for [Croal] and did a great job, had some great shots, so it was great to be able to see her and Madison Clark come off the bench and really contribute right away.”

The Irish were scheduled to play in the Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans this weekend, but the tournament has been cancelled because of Hurricane Katrina and the tragic situation in New Orleans. Their next scheduled match is Sept. 25 against Big East foe Seton Hall at the Joyce Center. Rather than taking the entire two-week hiatus, Notre Dame is working on scheduling a few matches.

For now, the Irish won’t dwell on their successes.

“We’re ready to keep working harder,” Brewster said. “We have some other great teams coming up.”

Despite the 3-1 victory against the Trojans – a team that has won two of the past three national championships and lost and in last year’s title match – the Irish weren’t completely pleased, Brewster said

“Against USC, we didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked,” she said.

It’s not cockiness that makes Brewster and her teammates think such things. It’s their desire to win, their awareness of their limitless potential. Even after defeating the intimidating Trojans, the pesky Sooners and the Gators – who had not been swept in more than two years – the Irish aren’t satisfied.

The bar is that high. And they like it.