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Volleyball: Notre Dame falls in first round of NCAAs

Chris Masoud | Sunday, December 6, 2009

Highlighted by a 15-game winning streak, Notre Dame’s 2009 season culminated in the longest losing skid of the year on Friday. Notre Dame fell to Ohio University in the opening round of the NCAA championships, the third straight loss and the final match in the careers of a senior class defined by winning.

“Although the outcome was not what we had hoped for, I’m extremely proud of our team and their effort tonight, and Ohio deserves plenty of credit for earning the win,” Irish head coach Debbie Brown said to und.com. “We’ve battled through injuries lately and persevered many times throughout the season. This team will miss our very special six-person senior class.”

The Irish (21-7) battled the Bobcats (27-6) to five sets (23-25, 25-16, 20-25, 25-15, 15-7), but in the end could not stop an overpowering offense defined by execution of the fundamentals. Lifted by 10 aces, Ohio finished with a .236 attacking percentage compared to Notre Dame’s .125.

Nevertheless, the stat line featured the impressive numbers Irish fans have come to expect from their main contributors. Junior middle blocker Kellie Sciacca led the Irish offensive with 16 kills, and sophomore outside hitter Kristen Dealy recorded her ninth double-double of the season with 10 kills and 16 digs. Senior outside hitter Christina Kaelin added 10 kills to round out the attack.

But the real story of the match was the exceptional play of Bobcat outside hitter Ellen Herman, who tallied three aces, 19 kills and 17 digs to lead all players. Herman’s success against Notre Dame dates back to the last meeting between the two schools, a 2007 matchup in which Herman logged 26 kills.

Although Friday’s loss is a bitter pill to swallow for a senior class that was one of the most highly touted recruiting classes in program history, it has made a remarkable run over the last four seasons. Although the seniors’ greatest legacy to Irish fans will be an outright Big East regular-season title and a 15-game winning streak, Brown believes their chemistry was just as significant.

“To say that any of them that don’t play in the matches as much as the others aren’t as important is entirely false,” Brown said prior to the match. “They all bring special things to the team. I think the attitude of all of them is great, and they all lead in different ways. They’re a very close class, and they have great comradery. It’s just a tremendous class, a tremendous group.”

In addition to Sciacca and Dealy, starting sophomore libero Frenchy Silva and sophomore Megan Barnicle will be called upon to fill up the gaps left behind the seniors.

Although the hopes of an NCAA title were dashed with a loss to Ohio, the Irish are poised to make a return to the tournament next year and beyond.