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ND Volleyball: Irish to kick off season with Shamrock Invitational

Chris Masoud | Thursday, August 27, 2009

Notre Dame will open its season at home today at the 15th annual Shamrock Invitational.

The Invitational is the first step in what may be a very difficult schedule. However, Irish coach Debbie Brown said she believes her team is better prepared than ever to handle the punishing schedule ahead of them. Notre Dame will face eight NCAA Tournament teams from 2008, including No. 17 Michigan, No. 10 Florida and national runner-up Stanford.

“We had the opportunity to go through a couple weeks of two-a-day practices, and the team came in great shape and definitely motivated and competitive,” Brown said. “It’s definitely time for us to get out on the floor and compete against somebody other than ourselves, so we’re looking forward to that.”

The Irish maintain an all-time record of 35-6 (.854) at the Shamrock Invitational. The squad posted a 2-1 record last year after taking two games against IPFW and Nevada before falling to Valparaiso. However, this year’s field promises to be one of the most challenging in recent history. The Irish will face Denver, LSU and Stanford in an exhibition of elite volleyball.

“It’s the first match of the season so there’s no tape, nobody’s played yet,” Brown said. “Certainly each of the teams lost significant contributors to their teams, so we’re not going to know their lineup or the exact systems they’re playing until we actually see them. The first weekend is always a challenge that way.”

Notre Dame and Denver have never met before on the hardwood, but the Irish are 3-0 all-time against Sun-Belt Conference opponents. The Pioneers finished the 2008 season 25-7 overall, including a third-place finish in the conference championship.

The Irish are 2-5 against LSU all-time, and this year’s matchup will not be easier than any before. The Tigers were unanimously chosen to win the SEC West this season after finishing 18-10 last season and making an NCAA Tournament appearance.

But the toughest opponent of the weekend may be No. 5 Stanford, against which Notre Dame is winless in six tries. The Cardinal enter the weekend with a high ranking in the National Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll following a 31-4 record in 2008 and an unmatched 12th Pac-10 title.

Nevertheless, Brown is confident that her team’s experience on offense will be enough to carry them to victory.

“Both Christina Kaelin and Kellie Sciacca are certainly really strong attackers for us,” Brown said. “I think that we have really strong attacking from the other three positions as well, so I think really the strength is going to be in our balance more so than resting on any one or two people’s shoulders.”

The Irish are slated to take the court at 7 p.m. Friday against Denver, 6 p.m. Saturday against Stanford, and 1 p.m. Sunday against LSU at the Joyce Center.