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ND Volleyball: Regular-season champs try for tournament win

Laura Myers | Friday, November 20, 2009

No. 23 Notre Dame is already the Big East regular season champion, but this weekend it will look to be crowned at the conference tournament as well.

 “Definitely one of our big goals at the beginning of the season was to win the Big East tournament,” senior captain and outside hitter Christina Kaelin said.

The top-seeded Irish (20-4, 14-0 Big East) begin the Big East tournament this afternoon against No. 8-seed Seton Hall (12-18, 6-8), which they defeated 3-1 during the regular season.

The Irish bring a 14-game win streak into the tournament after going undefeated in conference play. Their regular-season success, as well as the Big East title, gives them protection for the NCAA tournament — even if they were to stumble in the conference tournament, the Irish are almost assured a spot in the national race.

“Even if we were to drop the games, which we’re not going to,” senior captain and outside hitter Jamel Nicholas said, “going as the regular season Big East champs, if something were to happen in the tournament it wouldn’t matter.”

The Pirates qualified for the tournament in their last game of the season with an upset win over West Virginia. It is their first postseason appearance since 1994.

Seton Hall is a young team, composed almost completely of freshmen and sophomores. This contrasts with Notre Dame, which is stacked with veterans. However, the Pirates were one of only seven Big East teams that won a set against the Irish when they played earlier in the season.

The top eight teams in the conference were invited to the tournament and all will play today. The semifinals will be played tomorrow and the finals will be on Sunday.
If Notre Dame wins today, it will face the winner of the quarterfinal between No. 4-seed Louisville and No. 5-seed Syracuse.

Notre Dame has won nine conference tournament titles since joining the Big East in 1995. However, its last tournament win came in 2005, before any current players were on the squad.

The match against Seton Hall begins today at 3:30 p.m. If the Irish continue onward, the semifinal game will be Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and the championship will be Sunday at 3 p.m. The games will all be held at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville.

Nicholas had one explanation of Notre Dame’s strategy.

“Keep winning. Keep going,” she said.