Young Irish team looks to build on last season
Kyle Cassily | Thursday, August 24, 2006
Only days before its 2006 campaign begins, No. 21 Notre Dame hopes it has plugged lineup holes with young talent in order to make yet another Big East and NCAA run.
The Irish dropped nine spots from the American Volleyball Coaches Association No. 12 spot they earned following last year’s trip to the NCAA round of 16 and 30-4 record.
The 2005 season included Notre Dame’s tenth Big East title in 12 years with a win over Louisville and ended with a 3-2 loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.
“The outside people are going to say you’re young and can’t do as well as last year,” Notre Dame head coach Debbie Brown said. “But we have a goal to improve and do better with a large freshman class. It’s a really good balance of experienced players and freshmen, and everyone seems real eager to learn and get better everyday.”
The freshmen will find experienced faces ready to lead the pack as the lone senior, returning starter and captain Danielle Herndon, will share leadership honors with junior captain Adrianna Stasiuk.
Stasiuk was selected for the 2006 All-Big East preseason team along with fellow junior Ashley Tarutis after finishing third on the team in kills last season with 325 and averaging 2.93 kills per game.
“[Herndon] hasn’t had a strong leadership role in the past,” Brown said. “She came in following a class with five players. We had strong leaders in that class and she learned well from watching and observing. Last spring she did a great job of stepping up, giving people direction, telling everyone to stay focused. She became much more vocal.”
However, the true test will come Saturday with the season opener at home against Bowling Green, the culmination of a spring season and three weeks of early fall practices and scrimmages spent trying to mesh as a team. From there, the Irish embark upon a rough early season schedule with matchups against several ranked teams.
No. 13 Missouri and No. 6 Santa Clara trek to the Joyce Center to participate in the Shamrock Invitational and play the Irish on Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, respectively. Then Notre Dame will face No. 25 Kansas State at the Northern Iowa Invitational on Sept. 9, before a trip to Tempe, Ariz. for the Sun Devil Volleyball Classic the following weekend.
The Irish finally head to Honolulu for a two-game series with No. 7 Hawaii during Fall Break, before the meat of their Big East slate comes into play.
“I think we have to play some really good volleyball early in the season with those teams before our conference even starts,” Brown said. “And once into conference we’ll be playing Louisville. I think its good in the fact that we have teams that are ranked or receiving votes.”
Notre Dame defeated Louisville 3-1 in regular season play last year and defeated the Cardinals 3-2 to take the 2005 Big East Championship. But at No. 12, the Cardinals received a higher ranking in the 2006 preseason polls than the Irish.
It was Louisville’s first year in the Big East, having left Conference USA the season prior, and the newcomers are already stirring emotions.
“Honestly Louisville is very, very strong being ranked in the top,” Brown said. “I know that we’re developing as a team and they’ve been in the conference one year, but we’re developing a strong rivalry with them.”
The Cardinals and Irish face off Oct. 29 in Louisville, the one-year anniversary of Notre Dame’s first victory over its newest conference foe.
But despite the heavy load of this year’s schedule and the difficulty that comes in repeating the accomplishments of the 2005 Irish, Brown and her young team have already completed the first step in forging a successful squad – team unity.
“Returning players have done an incredible job of welcoming the freshmen and helping them get along with whatever they need – be it the volleyball aspect, or with classes and in their dorms,” Brown said. “How we mesh together on the court is very important.”