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VOLLEYBALL: Notre Dame falls to Wisconsin in 3rd round

Ken Fowler | Thursday, January 19, 2006

Despite a loss to Wisconsin in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame captured final rankings of No. 12 in the CSTV/AVCA Coaches’ Poll and No. 11 in the Molten/Volleyball Magazine Top 25, matching the team’s best ranking in the history of each poll.

“We were excited to make it past the second round,” senior co-captain Lauren Brewster said. “We would have liked to go farther, but just being in the NCAA tournament is exciting.”

After struggling mightily against unranked Dayton in the first round of the tournament and taking out Northwestern in three close sets in the second, the Irish lost a back-and-forth, 3-2 third-round match to the Badgers in College Station, Tex. on Dec. 9. Only one of the five sets saw a lead change, but the teams alternated set wins.

The Badgers staked the early lead, besting the Irish 30-25 in set one, but Notre Dame returned the favor with a two-point victory in the second set. Wisconsin scored another relatively easy win in set three, but the Irish fought through a series of mid-set lead changes in the fourth to force a deciding set.

In the fifth set, played to 15, Wisconsin took a 14-8 lead with kill No. 22 by junior Badger Maria Carlini. Brewster cut the lead to five with kill No. 17 on the night for her, but the Irish comeback was short-lived.

Senior Meg Henican hit the right side of the net on the ensuing serve, and Wisconsin advanced the round of eight, where it fell to eventual champion Washington in straight sets.

Brewster said the sixth-seeded Irish though they could win but made no expectations of doing so.

“Every team is competing like they have to win every set, so they have to play their best,” she said. “In volleyball, any given team can beat anyone on a given night.”

The Badgers main advantage all night was the play of their defense. Wisconsin out-blocked Notre Dame 18.5 to 12 and held the Irish to hitting .179.

Brewster, the Irish team leader on the court, said she ended her career on a high note, despite the loss.

“We did well against some really good teams,” she said. “Overall, I was very fortunate. … I had phenomenal teammates.”

The loss snapped a six-game team winning streak against ranked opponents and ended a season which saw a talented group of seniors lead the Irish to some of their best rankings ever.

Brewster, Notre Dame’s first ever volleyball All American, knows that her graduation from the program marks a leadership transition for the team. She said she has the utmost confidence in the underclassmen on the team, and she sees a bright future for Irish volleyball.

“They’re getting a great recruiting class,” she said. “Our freshmen will be really good.”