Tom Dorwart | Thursday, November 17, 2005
Notre Dame is the defending Big East regular season and tournament champion. The Irish have won the postseason conference title eight out of the past 10 years. But sophomore outside hitter Ellen Heintzman said her team, which holds the tournament’s top seed, isn’t satisfied heading to Louisville, Ky. – for the Big East Tournament.
“We’re extremely fired up,” she said. “We still have a lot to prove, and Louisville is a place we can do that.”
A title is, again, the goal for the Irish (24-2, 13-1 Big East) when they head south this weekend. But this year, winning another title appears more difficult than any of the other eight titles the Irish have racked up.
Louisville (25-1, 13-1 Big East, No. 7 in nation) stands in Notre Dame’s way, and the Cardinals will have home-court advantage at Kentucky’s International Convention Center in Louisville for their first season playing in the Big East.
Louisville wants revenge.
Notre Dame beat then No. 6 and unbeaten Louisville at the Joyce Center on October 29 – 30-28, 30-28, 27-30, 30-27.
The Irish fell the next week to Pittsburgh, while the Cardinals won, dropping the Irish from No. 5 to No. 8 and keeping the Cardinals at No. 7.
Before looking ahead to another showdown with the Cardinals, though, Notre Dame must get past Villanova and either Cincinnati or St. John’s. The Irish beat all three during the regular season.
On Friday afternoon at 12:30 p.m., No. 1 Notre Dame will face No. 8-seed Villanova (21-10, 8-6 Big East). The winner of that match will face the winner of the earlier match between No. 4 seed Cincinnati (18-11, 9-5 Big East) and No. 5 seed St. John’s (23-8, 9-5 Big East).
“It goes both ways,” Heintzman said, referring to the advantages and disadvantages of playing a team the Irish have beaten recently. “I think definitely knowing their [Villanova’s] tendencies and playing against them really has given us a feel of how they play. That definitely helps us out. The fact that we did win gives us confidence.
“But it’s still going to be a difficult match because they are going to be wanting revenge, and it’s their big chance.”
Since the Irish earned the top-seed, the No. 2 seed Cardinals have arguably the tougher draw.
Louisville takes on Marquette (16-11, 8-6 Big East) Friday at 6 p.m. The Golden Eagles took a game from Louisville last Saturday on the road. The next day, in Marquette’s final match of the regular season, it swept Cincinnati.
In the other half of Louisville’s bracket, No. 3-seed Syracuse (24-9, 11-3 Big East) takes on sixth-seeded Pittsburgh (16-11, 9-5 Big East) at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
Pittsburgh – the only Big East team to knock off the Irish during the regular season – looms for Louisville. The Panthers won in Pittsburgh 3-2 against Notre Dame after the Irish opened up two-game lead.
Both the Cardinals and Irish are already all but assured of receiving at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Each team, of course, also wants to be the Big East champion and position for strong NCAA tournament seeds.
There’s plenty of volleyball to be played before a possible rematch of Notre Dame and Louisville, but the confident Irish would welcome it.
“Personally, I would love to get a rematch with them because they’re a great team,” Heintzman said. “They’re very talented. I think it would be a great match, but we still have two matches before that, though.”