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Volleyball: Irish primed to bounce back from subpar year

Jared Jedick | Thursday, August 28, 2008

Notre Dame is looking to come on strong and forget about a disappointing season last year with the help of two of the Big East’s strongest players, senior middle blocker Justine Stremick and junior outside hitter Serinity Phillips.

“Both of them had great competitive seasons in the Big East last year,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “Their strengths are in the front row where they are tremendous hitters and blockers.”

As a result of their accomplishments last year, both were voted to the Big East’s preseason team.

“I was surprised and very excited.” Phillips said. “It was a great compliment and I am going to just keep working along with the team to do our best.”

Stremick also appreciated the honor, but said she would have preferred some hardware for the entire team.

“It was a surprise, but it’s nice to be honored for the hard work in the last couple years,” Stremick said. “It is always nice to be honored, but I would always pick team success over individual success. I would love to trade it in for an NCAA title.”

Phillips and Stremick were both second-team all-Big East players last year with impressive performances for the Irish. Brown attributes their success last year to their ability to control the net both on offense and defense.

“Both hit a high percentage as well as have high kills, and they are also very good blockers,” Brown said. “Justine [Stremick] is one of the best blockers that we have ever had in the program. Serinity [Phillips] is usually on the outside and she is one of the best we have ever had out there as well.”

But Brown has even higher expectations for them this year.

“Those are the strengths and numbers that allowed them to be able to be recognized as all-conference players, and I believe they are capable of doing much more this year and I’m excited about that,” Brown said.

Phillips and Stremick are both taking a team approach to the year, focusing on what the whole team can take away from last year and improve upon.

“Last year definitely wasn’t our best season,” Stremick said. “In general, our season could have been better. We lost some games we should have won.”

The team believes the turnaround has already begun in the preseason with hard work during practice from everyone.

“We had a great preseason and we are looking to improve,” sophomore middle blocker Kelli Sciacca said. “Everything is falling into place. We have a go-get-’em philosophy and we have made great strides in the preseason.”

The team was unhappy with last year’s results and plans to bounce back.

“I think I can speak for the entire team when I say we weren’t pleased with how last season turned out, but we’re ready come back,” junior middle blocker Tara Enzweiler said.

“We look fantastic,” Phillips said. “We are gelling great and our entire starting lineup is playing every position very well.”

Adding to the mix are contributions from all areas of the team, including a promising freshmen foursome.

“We expect a lot out of the freshmen,” Brown said. “They bring us a lot more depth.”

Freshman middle blocker Megan Barnicle has been slowed down by an infection in her foot, but the other freshmen are ready to contribute right away, including outside hitter Kristen Dealy, libero/defensive specialist Frenchy Silva, and setter Beth Wildermuth.

Dealy is making surprising contributions for a first-year player and Brown believes she is playing above her years.

“Kristen is a great all-around player. She’s a good scorer, passer, and defensive player,” Brown said. “She understands the game very well.”

Adding versatility away from the net is Silva, who plays both the libero and defensive specialist positions.

“[Silva] is a defensive specialist,” Brown said. “She is incredibly quick and has great overall skills.”

Rounding out the freshmen is Wildermuth, who gives the team the flexibility to alter their formations and improve their match-ups.

“Beth is great setter for us,” Brown said.

The combination of experience, depth, and youth is what the Irish intend to utilize to reestablish themselves as a Big East power this year.