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Irish on top of their game as postseason gets started

Jared Jedick | Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It is win or go home time for the Irish.

With their win over Connecticut on Sunday, the Irish (14-13; 9-5 Big East) secured the fifth seed in the Big East Championship, putting them in decent position to make a run at winning the Big East title and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

“I think we have a really good chance at winning the tournament,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “We have been doing some things very well lately and I am very optimistic.”

Earning the top seed in the tournament was St. John’s (21-8; 12-2 Big East), followed by Cincinnati (25-5; 12-2 Big East), Louisville (15-10; 11-3 Big East), and Connecticut (21-8; 10-4 Big East). Rounding out the tournament qualifiers behind the Irish were Syracuse (17-14; 8-6 Big East), Pittsburgh (16-13; 8-6 Big East) and South Florida (17-12; 7-7 Big East).

The team is maturing and coming together at the right time of the year, according to Brown, who has seen the team improve as the year went on.

“Over the last couple weeks, we have been doing some very good things,” Brown said. “We played a very good game against St. John’s and managed to find a way to win against Connecticut this past weekend. We have a whole new outlook right now.”

The offense has been the strong suit for the Irish this year, led by a bevy of strong outside hitters. Junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin leads the Irish with a 3.2 kills per set ratio, followed by freshman outside hitter Kristen Dealy (2.68 kills/set), sophomore outside hitter Kellie Sciacca (2.4 kills/set) and junior outside hitter Serinity Phillips (2.52 kills/set).

Brown said the key to the team’s late season success can be attributed to the improved defensive play of the team.

“I was very pleased with how the defense played against Connecticut,” Brown said. “We held them to a very low hitting percentage.”

In earning the fifth seed, the Irish will get a second crack in the opening round at the Connecticut team that they defeated last weekend in five sets to end the Huskies’ seven game winning streak.

“It helps that we just played them,” Brown said. “It would be different if we played them earlier in the year, but we know exactly what to expect.”

The Huskies come into the tournament very hot, the loss to the Irish being the only real stumbling block towards the end of the season. The loss to Notre Dame was only the second loss Connecticut has suffered since Oct. 18th.

The key to defeating the Huskies again will be to bring back the strong offensive play to complement the good defense.

“We need to be much more efficient with our hitting,” Brown said. “I think the key to us being able to win will be to get our offense in a better place where we have more options.”

In the event that the Irish defeat Connecticut, they would play the winner of No. 1 St. John’s and No. 8 South Florida.

Assuming that the Red Storm avoid the upset, the Irish would once again play a team that they faced this past weekend in round two. Notre Dame played on of their best games of the year against St. John’s despite the loss, according to Brown, and she expects another strong outing in the event of the teams meeting down the road.

Although the attitude is different in the locker room because it is officially tournament time, the Irish still must hold on to an approach that emphasizes one game at a time.

“We can only take it one game at a time if we want to win,” Brown said.

Despite this, there is something special in the attitude for the team when it gets to be Big East Championship season.

“It’s win or go home time,” Brown said. “We know that this is it, and none of us want to go home.”

The Big East Championship begins this Friday in Pittsburgh and a champ will be decided by Sunday night.