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ND Volleyball: Irish to open Big East schedule

Kyle Cassily | Friday, September 22, 2006

Notre Dame opens its Big East schedule this weekend with a two-game East Coast swing, hoping to start the new season like it ended the previous one – with a win over Rutgers.

In the final game before Notre Dame went on a three-game run to take the 2005 Big East championship, the Irish defeated Rutgers 3-0 to share the regular season title with Louisville (both teams finished 13-1).

The Irish (6-5) travel to New Brunswick, N.J., Saturday for a midday match against the Scarlet Knights, before a Sunday matchup in Pennsylvania against Villanova.

Rutgers (3-7) will play not only its first conference game of the year against the Irish but also its first home match of the season. Notre Dame is 13-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights.

“I don’t know that I even knew that – the team doesn’t know that,” Irish head coach Debbie Brown said when asked about Notre Dame’s unbeaten record against Rutgers. “Just in terms of practice, we thought we had so much to work on, on our side of the ball. We know what Rutgers brings, but probably more important than that, we know how we execute and how we play our way, focusing on the fundamentals.”

The Scarlet Knights return only six letter-winners from their 2005 squad – one less than the young Irish – that earned a 6-8 Big East record and an 11-16 overall mark. The team’s three wins this season have come against UNC-Asheville, James Madison and Maine.

Rutgers, however, has a potent offensive threat in senior outside hitter Lora Yankauskas. She was selected to the 2006 Preseason All-Big East Team and has averaged 4.03 kills per game, along with 3.39 digs. Freshman Christina Kaelin leads the Irish with 4.05 kills per game.

“We definitely remember [Yankauskas] from last year – she’s a very good player,” Brown said. “She’s definitely their go-to player, but we feel pretty confident that we can slow her down.”

Yankauskas is aided on her attack by senior setter Jocelyn Greenwald and sophomore Roxy Calder, who both average 5.28 assists per game.

On the defensive side, freshman Brittani Rendina leads the Scarlet Knights in digs per game with 3.97. Irish senior libero Danielle Herndon leads the team with 5.34 digs per game.

Villanova (5-8) hosts Notre Dame a day after the Wildcats open their Big East season against DePaul, while Rutgers will play DePaul at home a day after the Irish leave New Brunswick.

The Wildcats close out a six-game home stand against the Irish, and they have won the first four games against Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Maryland-Baltimore County and La Salle, after starting the season 1-8.

“When we play back-to-back matches like this, we really play it one game at a time,” Brown said of her team’s preparation for Villanova. “We watched video to see if there’s one thing we needed to emphasize in practice.

“Even though their record is bad right now, they’ve played a very strong schedule.”

Villanova senior Adrian Semrau was named this week’s Big East Player of the Week for her efforts in the four-game win streak. Semrau was also named MVP of the Villanova Classic for her 52-kill performance – a .590 hitting percentage – in the three matches.

On the season, Semrau leads the Wildcats in kills (154) and blocks (43), while averaging 1.05 blocks per game. Villanova compiled an 8-6 conference record last season and was 21-11 overall.