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Irish earn bid to 15th straight NCAA Tourney

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Notre Dame celebrated its selection to its 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament on Sunday. But not after a near anxiety attack.

The seeds for the 64-team Tournament were announced on ESPNews in brackets of 16, and Notre Dame’s name was not called until the very last grouping, which caused a lot of tension according to Irish coach Debbie Brown. But when Notre Dame showed up on the screen, the relief was soon followed with celebration.

“Everyone let out a huge shout, was yelling – we were jumping up and down,” said Brown of the Irish reaction when their name was called. “[We were] just really excited that our season gets to continue.”

The Irish (18-13) were chosen as an at-large bid to face No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison this weekend – two days after the team dropped its final regular season match to No. 18 Ohio in the Louisville Invitational.

“[The selection] was a surprise,” Brown said. “We came in knowing we were a bubble team and obviously hoping we had a chance to get in, but certainly not assuming by any means.”

The Irish will take on the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament Friday for the second consecutive year. Then-No. 6 Notre Dame lost 3-2 to then-No. 11 Wisconsin in the third round last season in College Station, Texas. The four-team Madison draw will see Iowa State play Wisconsin-Milwaukee on the other side of the bracket, with the winners of the two matches to meet in Madison for the second round. The winner of the grouping advances to the NCAA Regionals in Austin, Texas.

Notre Dame won’t be looking to avenge last year’s loss, Brown said.

“We still feel we have something to prove, but [revenge] won’t be the major motivation coming in,” she said. “As much as anything, we want to prove to ourselves and to other people that we are a team that has improved a lot.”

A weekend after a stunning run from first-round underdog to the Big East tournament championship, where they dropped a five-game match to Louisville, the Irish concluded their regular season with a loss to the ranked Bobcats.

Ohio (28-3) defeated the Irish 30-28, 27-30, 30-26, 30-23 Friday for its 21st consecutive win, before losing to Louisville in the Invitational championship. The Bobcats earned a first-round match against Kentucky after a Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament title.

The Irish were led on the attack by freshman Christina Kaelin (19 kills, .250 hitting percentage). Junior captain Adrianna Stasiuk’s double-double (17 kills, 16 digs), sophomore Mallorie Croal (13 kills, 12 digs) and freshman Serinity Phillips (15 kills, five digs) added contributions for the Irish, but Notre Dame couldn’t overcome the streaking Bobcats.

Ohio took the first game, but the Irish rallied in the second stanza, out-hitting the Bobcats .275 to .143 for the tying point.

“I think had we had been able to win that first game and go into the break up two-zero, it would have been a much different situation,” Brown said. “Ohio is a team that plays with a lot of confidence. We needed to get them a little more out of their comfort zone.”

The Bobcats, however, reversed their anemic hitting percentage in the third and fourth games, out-hitting the Irish .327 to .237 and .333 to .204 to take the match and end Notre Dame’s regular season.

“We needed to have them be out of system a little bit more,” Brown said. “We made some adjustments, but they were probably a little too late.”

Notes:

u Stasiuk’s double-double against Ohio – her 18th of the year – tied her for the fourth-most double-doubles in a single season in Irish history.

u Senior captain Danielle Herndon recorded 18 digs against the Bobcats, giving her 565 digs on the season – the second-most in one season by an Irish player.