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ND Volleyball: After rough season, a fresh start for the Irish

Sam Werner | Friday, August 29, 2008

Irish coach Debbie Brown has never faced IPFW while at Notre Dame, but she isn’t fazed. In fact, she said, it could spice things up a bit because she’ll make changes mid-match.

“Sometimes that’s actually pretty fun to do that,” she said. “But you’re also used to having a little bit more knowledge than we do.”

The game against IPFW is the first of the Shamrock Invitational; Notre Dame will also face Nevada and Valparaiso this weekend in the tournament.

Notre Dame will look to get off to a fast start to help them rebound from a disappointing 2007 season.

“I don’t feel like if we don’t if we don’t get off to a good start it’ll be a disastrous season,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “But obviously you always want to start off strong, and I think we have the opportunity to do that.”

Brown also said this year’s squad will use last year’s frustration as motivation to improve in 2008.

“I think there’s just a real strong determination to make it better for sure and there’s no doubt in my mind that we will,” she said. “We have reasons to be really optimistic about [this year].”

Captains Jamel Nicholas and Mallory Croal, who returns as a co-captain from last year, will lead this year’s team.

“I think they’re both really good natural leaders for sure,” Brown said. “[Croal] has the ability to keep things in perspective, she knows when to get on her teammates, and she knows when they need a pat on the back.”

Brown says Nicholas earned her captaincy during summer workouts.

“[Nicholas] is a terrific leader by example,” she said. “She’s not going to be outworked by anybody.”

The Irish begin their campaign against three squads who, while not major volleyball powers, return a fair amount of talent from last season.

“The only thing we know about them is how they finished last year,” Brown said. “But we do know that they were all relatively strong teams last year.”

Notre Dame starts off against IPFW Friday night at 7 p.m., a team Brown has never faced during her tenure with the Irish. As a result, she said her team will be making a lot of changes as the game progresses.

Brown said her team would be slightly more prepared for Nevada on Saturday night and Valparaiso on Sunday afternoon because they would be able to watch their opponents play before those matchups.

Overall, though, Brown said she is ready for the season to start.

“I’m just looking forward to having a real match situation and having the referees here, hearing the whistle blow, and seeing the team compete,” she said.