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ND Volleyball: Squad to face Big East challengers

Sam Werner | Friday, October 10, 2008

Notre Dame hopes to continue its hot start in conference play this weekend when the Irish take on conference foes West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

Currently, Notre Dame is tied with three teams for first place in the Big East with a 3-1 conference record. One of those teams is Pittsburgh, and Irish coach Debbie Brown said a win against the Panthers would be big for Notre Dame’s conference title hopes.

“I think it’s just really important to win to give us a legitimate shot to win the regular season,” Brown said “We just want to make sure we’re putting ourselves in the best possible position.”

Saturday, the Irish play the Mountaineers at the JACC. West Virginia is currently 0-4 in the Big East this year, but Brown said her team should still take them seriously.

“West Virginia’s had a little bit of a shaky start,” she said. “But I think they have some players that are very capable of playing a high level.”

Sunday, against the Panthers, Notre Dame will face a tougher challenge. So far, the Panthers have conference wins over Villanova, South Florida and Seton Hall. Senior outside hitter Kelly Campbell leads Pittsburgh with 3.26 kills per set and 235 total kills on the season.

“We think Pittsburgh is pretty balanced,” Brown said. “They have good middles, good outsides, a pretty experienced setter.”

Brown said the only thing that could affect her team’s preparation with Pittsburgh was the fact that coach Toby Rens is in his first season with the Panthers.

“You kind of feel like you know a team pretty well, but when a new coach comes sometime they change the systems up a little bit,” Brown said.

Brown added that in practice, her team has been focusing primarily on its serving, mostly because the Irish tallied a season-high 17 service errors last weekend against Cincinnati.

“We’ve been working on a lot of things,” she said. “Serving, blocking, and defense have been the main things because we think that’s the area of weakness that we have right now.”

This weekend marks the first time the Irish will play a Big East game on its home floor. Brown said that, despite positive results on the road, it would feel good to finally play a conference game at the JACC.

“It was tough being on the road for the first four matches,” she said. “But overall I think it went very well.”

Brown said the team sleeping in their own beds and eating their regular food would help, and that an extra day of practice would benefit the players.

Junior outside hitter Serenity Phillips had missed two weeks because of an ankle injury, but played last weekend against Louisville and Cincinnati. Brown said while Phillips was not yet at full strength, she would be able to contribute against the Mountaineers and Panthers.

“Serenity played last weekend and she’s getting better and better everyday,” Brown said. “She’s a huge part of our offense and our defense as well.”