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ND Volleyball: Irish to play rival Louisville

Kyle Cassily | Friday, October 27, 2006

Notre Dame and Louisville square off Sunday in Kentucky in a rematch of last year’s Big East championship and for sole possession of second place in the league.

The Irish (13-8, 7-1 Big East) fell out of first place in the league Sunday with a 3-0 loss to St. John’s and are currently tied with the Cardinals (14-6, 7-1 Big East). Louisville must face DePaul a day before the match, and the Irish play Saturday at Cincinnati (15-5, 5-3 Big East).

The Louisville match will be televised nationally at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU amidst an already sold-out Cardinal arena.

“We expect it to be a very loud crowd and a fun environment to play in,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said.

The Irish and Cardinals last met Nov. 20, 2005 when No. 8 Notre Dame defeated No. 7 Louisville 3-2 for the Big East title. The Cardinals had won the regular season match.

Brown said that Louisville is adept with net play, attacking and blocking due to their height.

“We will have to serve very tough to keep them out of [their] system,” Brown said. “They’re very physical and very big.”

Freshman Tatyana Kolesnikova (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) leads the Cardinals with 218 kills, while Svetlana Dukule (Riga, Latvia) is second with 174. There are six international players on Louisville’s 11-woman roster.

As important as Sunday’s match will be, the team refuses to look past middle-of-the pack Cincinnati. The Bearcats are in their second Big East season, along with the Cardinals, after moving from Conference USA.

“I honestly don’t think that it would be possible to look past [Cincinnati],” Brown said. “We’ve done special drills to get ready for them. Coming off a loss, we’re not going into any match thinking we got this one.”

Serving is the key to an Irish win Saturday against Cincinnati, Brown said. The Irish served no aces in their last match.

“Cincinnati is a good blocking team,” Brown said. “It’s important for us to be really smart with our shots. We need to make sure we’re not going up and just powering it through their block. We have to hit smart.”

The Irish have rebounded well from Sunday’s loss to St. John’s, Brown said. Players have come early to practice to spend extra time on their blocking and passing in preparation for this weekend’s key conference showdowns.

“We just continue to work on the fundamental skills,” Brown said. “Our group is so motivated and so resilient it’s not like we have to come back in and muster up motivation or feel sorry for ourselves.”

And with only four matches left in the regular season after this weekend, the Big East regular season title is still up for grabs.

“It’s going to be a battle to the end,” Brown said. “We have to play well every night we go out.”