ND Volleyball: Irish to play best of Big East
Jared Jedick | Friday, November 14, 2008
Having clinched a spot in the Big East tournament, the Irish are now poised to finish their season strong against two of the elite teams in the Big East – St. John’s and Connecticut.
The Irish (13-12, 8-4 Big East) earned their spot in the tournament with a dismantling of Rutgers last weekend in three sets (25-13, 25-16, 25-8). This win had the largest margin of victory for the Notre Dame program since the modern 25-point set era began.
Riding this momentum, the Irish will run into the best team in the Big East, St. John’s (20-7, 11-1), and the team just ahead of them in the standings, Connecticut (20-7, 9-3). A couple of victories this weekend could have a great effect on Notre Dame’s seeding in the tournament.
“There’s a strong sense of excitement on the team right now because this is a huge weekend for us as we prepare to head into the Big East tournament,” coach Debbie Brown said. “Each match is really important for us not just in terms of tournament seeding, but because we want to be playing our best volleyball towards the end of the year as we head into the postseason.”
The Irish could leapfrog Connecticut in the standings with a weekend sweep or a head-to-head win with a Connecticut loss against DePaul. The Irish could also drop behind Pittsburgh in the standings if the Panthers can win one of their games and the Irish go winless this weekend.
Notre Dame has been riding its potent offense all season long, which it hopes will carry it through the stretch run. In the Big East, Notre Dame is second in hitting percentage (.277), assists per set (13.27) and kills per set (14.18). Sophomore outside hitter Kellie Sciacca is second overall in the conference with a hitting percentage of .415 while junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin holds the second spot with 3.82 kills per set. Jamel Nicholas holds the third spot in the conference with 11.13 assists per set and Kristen Dealy is ranked sixth with .390 aces per set.
St. John’s currently holds the top spot in the Big East conference and is sitting atop a nine-game winning streak, including last weekend’s victories over South Florida (15-12, 5-7) and Georgetown (12-13, 5-7). The Red Storm won the Big East tournament last year and were picked to go second in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll.
Red Storm senior setter Wioleta Leszczynska pitched in last week with 68 assists and eight kills in the two wins.
The Huskies will present an equally formidable challenge to the Irish, as they are riding a six-game winning streak, including sweeps of Georgetown and South Florida.
The Huskies have been bolstered by a strong freshman corps. Freshman outside hitter Jordan Kirk had an outstanding match with 12 kills against the Hoyas and freshman setter Annie Luhrsen led the Huskies through USF with a match-high 28 assists.
The Irish will begin the Big East tournament a week from Friday at a time and location yet to be determined.
Hilary Eppink of Indiana and Marie Roof of Michigan signed letters of intent to play for Notre Dame next season.
“We’re very excited have these exceptional student-athletes join the program,” Brown said. “Both Hilary and Marie have the potential to step in and contribute to the overall success of this team.”
The two players intend to start play for the Irish in the fall of 2009.