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ND Volleyball: Hitting the Big East

Meaghan Veselik | Friday, September 24, 2010

In 2009, the Irish defeated every team in Big East regular season play before falling in five sets to Louisville in the conference tournament’s championship match. This year, they don’t plan to let that happen, as their conference season begins this weekend against West Virginia tonight and Pittsburgh Sunday.

“The team is really excited to start conference this weekend because we know we can be just as competitive and successful as last year, if not better,” Irish senior co-captain Angela Puente said. “Conference play almost feels like a separate season altogether so we’re ready to take huge steps toward an incredible season.”

Notre Dame’s (7-5) preparation to take those huge steps has come in the form of a string of tournaments against highly competitive teams, including then-ranked No. 18 Arizona and No. 18 Dayton. The competition has done a good job of preparing the Irish for their conference schedule, Irish coach Debbie Brown said.

“Every year we go into the Big East, we feel that we’re in a competitive spot to be challenging for that championship, both in the regular season and the tournament, and certainly, that’s our goal,” Brown said.

An essential part of achieving that goal for Brown and the Irish is making sure they are tapping into all of the talent on their roster.

“We have to continue to get better every time we play and each time we get into the practice gym, make sure that we’re maximizing our opportunities,” she said. “It’s a matter of continuing to develop our talent and to learn how to utilize the strengths of each of the individual players that we have to make it that much better.”

The Irish are coming off of a challenging weekend in which they hosted the Notre Dame Invitational and fell to Delaware, Santa Clara and Dayton, but it did give the team a chance to see its hard work pay off.

Junior outside hitter and co-captain Kristen Dealy was the solo Irish player named to the All-Tournament Team after finishing with 40 kills and 48 digs. Junior Frenchy Silva totaled 54 digs across 11 frames (4.91/set) for one of her best tournaments yet.

A break from the aggressive tournament schedule is another positive the Irish are looking forward to with the start of the conference season, although the preseason has helped Notre Dame get to where they are today in terms of their success.

“I think we have done a good job of working out the kinks so that by the time we reach the end of the regular season, we will be in a good place to move on,” Dealy said. “West Virginia and Pitt should both be solid teams, but I think if we come out with confidence and play to our potential, we won’t have a problem winning our first two matches.”

The Irish will begin Big East play tonight against West Virginia at 4 p.m. and Pittsburgh Sunday at 2 p.m., both in the Purcell Pavilion.