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ND Volleyball: Preseason hopes high despite last season’s results

Jared Jedick | Friday, August 22, 2008

Coming off one of the most disappointing years in head coach Debbie Brown’s tenure, the Irish volleyball team is looking for vast improvement and a quick turnaround in the upcoming season.

“We are expecting a lot more from ourselves this year,” Brown said. “Last year was by far our worst finish since I have been here. We need to improve tremendously.”

The team has no shortage of expectations and goals this year, Brown said.

“We want to win the Big East and advance significantly in the NCAA tournament,” Brown said.

Standing in their way is an impressive Big East field, with the Irish ranked fourth behind Louisville, St. John’s and Cincinnati in the Big East preseason coaches poll. Brown said this ranking is more indicative of last year’s results, a 15-13 record and a second-round exit from the Big East tournament, and not of the team’s current make-up.

“That ranking is about where we deserve to be based on how we finished up last season,” Brown said. “But those coaches have not been in the gym with us this summer and they do not know where we are at.”

Brown likes the underdog role, preferring the opportunity to move up the standings than having to worry about sliding down.

“It can be a motivating factor,” Brown said. “We need to play well and move up in order to change their thoughts.”

The Irish will have a tough time filling the shoes of graduated players Adrianna Stasiuk and Ashley Tarutis, but Brown believes she has the team to do it.

“The loss of two players like Adrianna and Ashley is hard to make up, but we will counter it with a very balanced and deep team,” Brown said.

Senior middle blocker Justine Stremick and junior outside hitter Serinity Phillips were both voted to the preseason all-Big East squad this year, improving on their second-team all Big East honors last year.

Even with these accolades going to individual players, Brown said she doesn’t think they will have any players that stand out from the rest of the team. Instead she wants a more collective feel to the team, stressing balance and depth across the floor.

“I do not think we are going to have any superstars,” Brown said. “We are going to be balanced and deep.”

The new mantra for the team this year that Brown stresses is balance and depth. Brown wants to get contributions from everyone.

Joining the team will be a couple promising freshman looking to make some of those contributions. Setter Beth Wildermuth, defensive specialist Frenchy Silva, middle blocker Megan Barnicle, and outside hitter Kristen Dealy are mixing well into the team in their first season.

“The freshmen are all doing outstanding,” Brown said. “So far they are fitting in well with the team and responding to coaching. I expect them to do a lot of contributing in the upcoming season.”

This combination of experienced upperclassmen and new freshman who can make an impact early will contribute to Brown’s mantra of balance and depth.

The Irish also excel off the court in the classroom, as they received The American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award. To earn this award, the Irish had to score over a 3.30 cumulative team grade-point-average on a 4.0 scale. The Irish blew this away with a 3.44 cumulative team GPA over the last year.

“The team is really disciplined and put all they have into their academics,” Brown said. “They are more serious about their academics than their volleyball.”

This discipline both on and off the court will be key if the Irish are to reclaim the top spot in the Big East.