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ND Volleyball: Home sweet home

Chris Masoud | Monday, September 14, 2009

Finding themselves in a bit of a rut after losing three of their last four matches, the Irish return to the friendly confines of the Joyce Center to host the Notre Dame/adidas Invitational. The Irish will welcome any advantage they can get as they face off against Wisconsin and New Mexico State in the three-day event.

“Wisconsin and New Mexico State both are perennial NCAA Tournament teams, so it’s a huge benefit to play both of them,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “They’re teams that play a good schedule, they’re winning programs.”

Notre Dame (3-3) returns home after posting a 1-2 record at the Xavier Invitational last weekend, dropping the last two matches in straight sets against Tennessee and No. 7 Michigan. But Brown is confident her players will maintain their composure as they look to bounce back to their winning ways.

“It’s obviously early in the season, and I think we’re trying to find the best combination in terms of our lineup and figure out the way to use our athletes to the best of our abilities,” Brown said. “The practices have been really good and competitively I think we’ve done some good things too. It’s given us an opportunity to see what specific things we can work on and how we can get better.”

The Irish are 1-7 all-time against the Badgers (3-3), the lone win coming at home in 1987. Competing in the toughest conference in collegiate volleyball, Wisconsin is one of five teams in the Big Ten not ranked in the top-20 in the AVCA coaches’ poll.

Senior outside hitter Serinity Phillips, who leads the squad with 62 kills overall and 3.26 kills/set, is confident the Irish can right the ship.

“It’s definitely a mental thing,” Phillips said. “We have all the physical capabilities to do the best. We’re just focusing on certain aspects of the game: serving, just trusting each other, and confidence.”

This weekend’s showcase will mark the first meeting between the Irish and New Mexico State (4-3). Led by sophomore Kelsey Brennan, the Aggies are coming off their first WAC regular-season title in 2008 after compiling a 15-1 record in league play, including a win at No. 6 Hawaii.

Amassing a team-high 211 assists as the Irish’s lone setter, senior Jamel Nicholas believes the team’s experience and overall desire to win will be enough to carry them to victory.

“This is our fourth and final year,” Nicholas said. “We’ve been here, we’ve seen these kinds of situations now, we’re prepared for them, we’re just trying to guide the younger girls through it. I think we’re all really confident, so we just have to come out Friday using a lot of that confidence and get back on track.”

Hoping to add depth to the roster, Brown will be holding open tryouts for the setter position Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. in the Rolfs Recreation Center. Interested students should contact Dawn Mays at 574-631-4840 or dmays1@nd.edu to register by 5 p.m. on Sept. 18.

The Irish are slated to take the court at 7 p.m. on Friday against Wisconsin and again at 2 p.m. on Sunday against New Mexico State.