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ND Women’s Volleyball: ND loses to three top-25 teams

Sam Werner | Monday, September 15, 2008

Notre Dame went toe-to-toe with three top-25 teams in as many days at the Diet Coke Classic in Minneapolis, but the Irish (3-6) came up short against No. 16 Cal Poly, No. 4 Cal and No. 11 Minnesota.

“We do believe that we can play with anybody in the country,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “The problem we’re facing right now is that we’re just entirely too inconsistent and a little too error-prone.”

Against Cal Poly (5-2), the Irish started off sluggishly, dropping the first two sets 25-20, 25-16 before finding their footing and claiming the third set 25-19. Notre Dame appeared to have some momentum, pushing the fourth set to an 18-18 tie. The Mustangs rallied, though, and ended any hope of an Irish comeback, taking the fourth set 25-21 to earn a 3-1 win.

“I thought we started tentatively and then played pretty well at the end of the match,” Brown said. “But, again, I just think the tentativeness definitely cost us in that match.”

Senior middle blocker Justine Stremick made her season debut against Cal Poly after missing the first six matches recovering from offseason surgery. Stremick posted eight blocks and three kills in only three sets for the Irish.

“It was great to have Justine back,” Brown said. “Even though she’s not 100 percent, she has been cleared by the doctor, and I think she gave us a huge lift coming off the bench.”

Going up against Cal (6-1), the Irish played perhaps their best match of the season, pushing the No. 4 team in the country to five sets. In a match that saw 28 ties and 15 lead changes, Stremick and sophomore Kellie Sciacca paced the Irish with four blocks apiece. Sciacca also led the Irish with 14 kills in the match.

In the fifth and decisive set, the Golden Bears jumped out to a 7-1 lead. The Irish rallied, though, to tie the set 10-10. The teams traded points and a Beth Wildermuth ace made the score 14-14. Notre Dame couldn’t finish the job, though, and Cal earned the final two points to close out the set and the match.

“It was disappointing to come up short and not get that win because we did play them very well,” Brown said. “There were far more positives to that match than negatives, but certainly we were disappointed we didn’t come up with the win.”

In the final matchup of the tournament, against Minnesota (8-1), the Irish never seemed to get in a rhythm, falling in three sets, 25-19, 25-14, 25-21. Notre Dame almost recovered in the final set, pushing the match to a 20-20 stalemate, but the Golden Gophers rallied to claim the match.

“As a team we all struggled,” Brown said. “Especially today, with blocking, only having one block in the entire match.”

Despite the three losses, Sciacca was named to the all-tournament team. Against Minnesota, the sophomore tallied a team-high nine kills and a .350 hitting percentage. On the season, Sciacca is second on the team with 80 kills. She also leads the team with a .273 hitting percentage on the year.

“I think she did well,” Brown said. “She is a very, very strong offensive player for us and we do rely on her to carry a lot of the offensive load.”

The Irish return home next weekend to host the Golden Dome Invitational with Liberty, UC Irvine and Western Michigan.