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Irish run comes up just short in Big East Championship

Jared Jedick | Monday, November 24, 2008

The Irish brought some inspired play to the Big East Championships, beating two consecutive higher-seeded opponents in No. 4 Connecticut and No. 1 St. John’s before finally falling to No. 3 Louisville in the finals match 1-3 (25-23, 28-26, 25-15, 25-22).

The Irish (16-14) reached the Big East tournament for the 13th time since joining the Big East in 1995, and Louisville (18-10) won the finals for the second time in the past three years.

Notre Dame kept pace with Louisville throughout most of the match, at times even dominating the Cardinals, and yet they could not sustain the strong play long enough to defeat the Cardinals.

Senior middle blocker Justine Stremick paced the Irish with 18 kills and four blocks, while junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin and sophomore outside hitter Kellie Sciacca added 12 kills apiece. Freshman outside hitter Kristen Dealy had 11 kills and 11 digs, and sophomore Megan Dunne pitched in with 15 digs and freshman Frenchy Silva had 10 digs. Junior setter Jamel Nicholas had 49 assists.

The first set started off well for the Irish with a quick 9-4 lead. Louisville stormed back, however, tying the set 14-14. The two teams traded points all the way to the wire until Louisville squeaked out the 25-23 victory.

The Irish outplayed Louisville for most of the first set with six more kills in the set, but they suffered from several faults and receiving errors that were very costly.

The poor play continued into the second set as the Cardinals built an 11-3 lead. Things turned around quickly, however, as the Irish went on a 6-0 run to get back in the game. The Irish took the lead at 14-13. The Irish had set point at 24-23, but could not convert and Louisville took the second set 28-26.

Coming out of the break, the Irish were on fire, seeming to take control of the match in the third set. The Irish hit at a .419 clip as they took the set in convincing fashion, 25-15.

The Irish hoped that the momentum they had built up would carry over into the fourth set, but it was not to be. The Irish played catch-up throughout the set, getting as close as one point at 23-22, but the Cardinals were able to finish the Irish off and claim the Big East’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

The loss ended the Irish’s title run and hopes of making the NCAA tournament. The Irish still have one more match against Xavier coming up, but the team has a bright outlook for next season with many returning players.

The Irish came on at the end of the season both offensively and defensively to build momentum going into the Big East Championships.

Fifth-seeded Notre Dame swept an impressive Connecticut team to open the tournament before knocking off the No. 1 seed St. John’s in convincing 3-1 fashion. These victories showed what the team is capable of when they are at their best.

Stremick and Dealy both earned all-tournament honors for their impressive efforts on the unlikely run.

Coaches and players were unable to commit following Sunday’s game because they were returning to campus.