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ND Volleyball: Texas presents Notre Dame with challenge

Tom Dorwart | Friday, September 2, 2005

The Irish passed their first test of the fall semester rather easily.

But it’s time to take another one – only this time, against the 11th-ranked team in the nation.

“Texas is a great team,” coach Debbie Brown said.

But to Brown and her Notre Dame volleyball team, this is no test to get stressed out about. While a student might cringe at the thought of anything resembling an exam, Brown’s students welcome the challenge.

“Everyone’s really focused,” said sophomore opposite/outside hitter Adrianna Stasiuk, who is waiting on a decision from her doctor on whether or not she will be able to play this weekend. “We’ve been watching film and having really good practices.”

Texas and Arizona State come to Notre Dame this weekend for The Inn at Saint Mary’s Shamrock Invitational. The Invite begins Friday with Texas hooking horns with Arizona State at 7 p.m. The Irish open Saturday with a match against the Longhorns at 5 p.m. The round-robin event concludes Sunday with Notre Dame and Arizona State at 2 p.m.

“We feel really good and comfortable,” Stasiuk said. “I’m really excited for this weekend.”

Stasiuk, who broke several ribs over the summer, has been out for the beginning of the season. She has been doing “minimal things” in practice she said.

“It will take a little bit of time,” Brown said, referring to Stasiuk’s return. “She’s obviously a very talented player and an important player for the team.”

While Brown would like to have her back, other players are stepping up in Stasiuk’s absence. Freshmen Mallorie Croal and Madison Clark played in the opening match and will likely see more time this weekend. Sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis had 40 set assists last Saturday and will continue to garner the Irish offensive attack.

The Sun Devils finished 10-17 in 2004. The Devils (1-2) have already played three matches in this young season. They fell in their opener to St. Mary’s (Calif.) 3-0, defeated Cal State Northridge 3-2 and then got swept by UNLV, all on the road. Junior outside hitter Nicole Morton averaged 3.55 kills per game in the three matches. She had a double-double in each match as well, with at least 10 kills and 10 digs. The Sun Devils hail from the consistently tough, powerhouse Pac-10 Conference.

The Longhorns front line can be quite intimidating. Their outside hitters include 6-3 sophomore Jen Christian, 5-10 junior Dariam Acevedo and 6-5 freshmen RuthAnn Feist and Lauren Paolini. The Longhorns have experience at setter, middle blocker and opposite in junior Jenny Andrew, sophomore Leticia Armstrong and senior Heather Schreiber. Last year, Texas finished 26-5. Though the Longhorns are nationally ranked and return four starters and their libero from last year’s Sweet 16 team, Brown is confident her Irish can hang with the Horns.

“They’re [Texas] very talented at the net, but we also think that’s one of our strengths, so we’ll see,” she said.

The veteran teacher believes her pupils are ready. She knows they’ve studied – maybe even crammed.

“Every time we play it’s another test for us,” she said. “And obviously Texas is a good team. It will be a challenge for us, but I think we’re in a position where we want to be challenged, and we want to be pushed.”

Pushed by their opponents and pushed by their desire to succeed, the Irish have spent hours this week in practice honing their game. They have diligently watched opponents’ game films, as well as their own. They’ve sifted through pages of playbooks. So, Brown, realizing her team’s potential this season with five seniors – including two all-Big East picks – and nine of 10 top players, wants to make sure the Irish don’t miss a step.

“It’s so early in the season, so there’s so much room for improvement,” she said.

In a season with such lofty goals, the Irish, like most volleyball teams these days, came up with a fitting team motto – as Stasiuk said, “raising the bar.”

“We definitely have high expectations, and we want to get out there and play again,” Brown said.

The bar has been raised. The grading scale has been elevated. Now, it’s time for the Irish to pass the test once again.