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ND Volleyball: Squad begins Big East play

Meaghan Veselik | Friday, September 25, 2009

Notre Dame kicks off Big East competition this weekend with a match Friday at Connecticut and Sunday at St. John’s.

The Irish (6-4) were picked to finish second according to a Big East preseason poll after previously winning nine tournament titles with a regular-season record of 148-21 and falling to Louisville in the final round of the 2008 tournament.

“Our primary goal is to win the regular [conference],” coach Debbie Brown said. “It keeps us motivated and is our focus going into each opponent.”

The Irish have taken on top-ranked opponents so far this season, including No. 8 Michigan, No. 10 Stanford and No. 18 Florida State. The Irish upset the Cardinal 3-0 on Aug. 30, but fell 3-0 to the Wolverines on Sept. 6 and 3-2 to the Seminoles on Sept. 20.

“The caliber of play that we’ve had has greatly benefited us and shown our strength and weaknesses,” Brown said. “The level of competition is the best preparation we could have had.”

Friday’s match will be the 21st meeting between Notre Dame and Connecticut. The Irish lead the series 18-2 over the Huskies (7-8). In the 2008 regular season finale, Notre Dame came back from a four-point deficit in the fifth set by shocking Connecticut with eight unanswered points to win 3-2 at the Joyce Center. The two teams’ last meeting was in the first round of the 2008 Big East championships. The Irish came back from a late three-point deficit in the third set to take the win, pulling off their 11th sweep of the season.

Sunday Notre Dame heads to Jamaica, N.Y., to go up against St. John’s. The Irish lead the series 13-3 over the Red Storm(7-9), winning the first 11 matches of the series before splitting the last four. Last season St. John’s defeated Notre Dame 3-2 on Nov. 14 and were the top-seeded team heading into the Big East tournament. However, the Irish overturned the Red Storm’s lead in the semifinals of the conference championship to secure their 18th consecutive winning season. Three Notre Dame players posted double-digit kills in the win.

The intensity the Irish have shown this season has proved them to be a tough competitor although not ranked. A consistency in playing, depth and strong senior leadership this season have kept this Notre Dame team a force on the court.

“We’re working on being consistent each time we go out to compete and every day in practice as well,” Brown said. “Our greatest improvement is in our serving and putting pressure on teams with our serving. We’ve been working our side of the ball well and that’s how we score points.

“The coaching staff has been pleased with the intensity shown in practice and in our matches. We’ve been constantly evaluating our playing and made some big strides each weekend.”

The Irish take on the Huskies at 7 p.m. today in the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn, and will play the Red Storm Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Carnesecca Arena, in Jamaica, N.Y.