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ND VOLLEYBALL: Bumping the Big East: Irish beat Louisville, Cincinatti over weekend

Tom Dorwart | Monday, October 31, 2005

Leading up to Saturday’s battle for the Big East lead, No. 6 and undefeated Louisville might have scouted the Irish. They had to have known pre-season Big East player of the year and All-American Lauren Brewster could hurt them. Or that pre-season all Big East pick Lauren Kelbley could hurt them. Or even that last week’s CVU.com National Player of the Week Adrianna Stasiuk could hurt them.

They most likely didn’t guess sophomore outside hitter Ellen Heintzman would be one of No. 7 Notre Dame’s top weapons in a 30-28, 30-28, 27-30, 30-27 Irish victory.

Early in October, against Connecticut, Heintzman barely played. Against DePaul she saw the court a little more. Two weeks ago, she relished the opportunity to play more against Illinois State. Saturday and Sunday, she had the opportunity again.

And she ran with it.

“She just had a great week of practice and kind of won the position in practice,” coach Debbie Brown said. “And [Heintzman] has continued to play very well. I think that she did elevate her game some.”

Heintzman, who had a total of 22 kills, four digs and four blocks against No. 6 and previously-undefeated Louisville (20-1, 8-1 Big East) and Cincinnati (16-8, 7-3 Big East), was one of many players who contributed in a total team effort this weekend, improving No. 7 Notre Dame to 20-1 and 10-0 in the Big East with victories over the Cardinals and the Bearcats.

“Both [wins] were really, really exciting,” Brown said. “Obviously, [after] the Louisville match, [considering] the ranking and all that kind of stuff, beating a really talented team, the team was really excited. We felt good about the way we played.

“It feels good to be 2-0 this weekend.”

Notre Dame had a total of 124 kills and 135 digs on the weekend.

The Irish, who have now won 13 consecutive matches since falling to LSU, have beaten four top-12 teams this season, including No. 4 Florida, then-No. 8 USC, then-No. 11 Texas and, now, No. 6 Louisville.

“We talked earlier in the year about the wins over other ranked teams and about how that really helped raise the confidence level of the individuals and as a team together,” Brown said. “So the fact that we had been in matches like that before, against really talented teams, really helped. I know that the team was confident and, again, played with a lot of composure and was just really focused and intense. It was just really fun to be a part of that.”

The Irish downed the Cardinals Saturday 30-28, 30-28, 27-30, 30-27 in an intense battle for the Big East lead. Notre Dame then dispelled any worries of a letdown after such an emotional win and beat the Bearcats Sunday afternoon 30-24, 30-27, 30-27.

“Today, I think we didn’t play the best match of the year or anything,” Brown said. “But following up the big win yesterday with another win today was so important for the program and the things that we want to do, the things that we want to continue to accomplish throughout the year. I’m really excited for the team. I think all the players are excited as well.”

Considering the exceptionally short break before facing Cincinnati, Notre Dame didn’t have much time to celebrate Saturday afternoon.

“We gave them a film report right away after the match with Louisville,” Brown said. “We really hadn’t done anything with the team regarding Cincinnati. I think the team did a great job with the short turnaround. [After] an emotional win against Louisville and following it up with another great performance, we’re really pleased with how we finished every game. We were ahead, and Cincinnati gave us all we could handle.”

While the Bearcats were scrappy and hung with the Irish for most of each game, Notre Dame handled them. Part of the reason for the sweep was that, once again, seemingly everyone contributed for the Irish.

Players on the soon-to-be No. 6 team in the country continue to push each other every day in practice.

“It’s a really a situation where Ellen and Mallorie [Croal] had been competing for that spot, really since the beginning of the season,” Brown said, referring to Heintzman’s recent resurgence. “Mallorie had some good matches and same thing with Ellen. Whenever it was that Ellen started, just that week, she really improved. And, again, Mallorie is very, very close, and they continue to push each other in practice.”