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ND Volleyball: Brewster keeps her cool under the spotlight

Tom Dorwart | Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In the middle of all the weekend commotion of the Big East tournament, senior Irish middle blocker Lauren Brewster stayed focused.

Jim Carey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Hootie and the Blowfish and a host of other celebrities swamped the Louisville Downtown Marriott, also the hotel at which all the Big East teams stayed, just blocks away from the Kentucky International Convention Center, the site of the Big East volleyball tournament. An up-and-coming R&B/hip-hop group, Eclipse, jammed in the hotel lobby. Security guards manned every corner of the hotel.

Saturday night was the opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville – a museum tribute to the native Ali and the reason for all the hubbub.

But on Friday night, just after defeating Villanova in the quarterfinals, Brewster sat in the hotel lobby writing a history paper. She’d just helped lead her team to a round-one comeback victory and had a semifinal match the next day. But when she wasn’t doing volleyball activities – film, scouting or playing – she was writing her paper or hanging out with the team.

Throughout the weekend, in between volleyball matches, several other players talked about the homework on which they were working.

Some typed papers. Others cut out paper chromosomes for genetics projects.

With players like Brewster and fellow seniors Meg Henican, Lauren Kelbley, Carolyn Cooper and Kelly Burrell leading the way, it’s easy, they say, to focus – even with stretch limousines and paparazzi lined up outside of their hotel. The Irish say their great concentration is due to their outstanding team chemistry.

“We just pulled together really well,” Henican said, referring to when her team came back from multiple deficits against Louisville to win the Big East Championship.

“We definitely look to each other a lot. Our team chemistry is great. They [the Cardinals] kept the pressure on us, and we didn’t break. We were stronger.”

One other reason that contributed to their unbreakable concentration was something unexpected.

Besides the usual family and friends who attend most of their matches, the Irish had some fellow students, three freshmen from Morrissey, who made the trek to Louisville – even on a home football weekend – just to cheer on their classmates.

“It was awesome to have those guys there,” Kelbley said. “I can’t believe that they came … and their story of how they got here, it was just so cool.”

The trio took a train from South Bend to Chicago Friday evening and then took another train from Chicago to Cincinnati through the night. They bussed the rest of the way and arrived around 6 a.m. Saturday.

Irish head coach Debbie Brown was equally impressed – and thankful.

“I think it was great,” she said. “For them to take 14 hours just to get down here and cheer us on, obviously we have a lot friends and family of the team here, but just to have some fellow students here to cheer us on and say, ‘We don’t care about the football team or anything else, we’re going to go down there and cheer them on.’ That was awesome.”

Kelbley enjoyed having the students around, even after the matches.

“Having them around the hotel the whole time … every time we came downstairs, there they were,” she said. “It felt like a constant cheering section with us. It was great to look out there [at the matches] and know that we had people who were willing to go that far and make that kind of effort to cheer us on. It was great.”

Henican appreciated their efforts throughout the entire season – they attended nearly every home match because Morrissey, as a dorm, sponsors the volleyball team – and especially their work in getting the parents and family friends riled up.

“They’re always such good fans,” she said. “They always bring big crowds to all of our games, and it meant a lot to us to have them here. And they did a really good job of getting our little cheering section started and going.”