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ND Volleyball: Big East winning streak ends

Meaghan Veselik | Monday, October 11, 2010

Notre Dame saw its 19-match Big East regular season win streak snapped by Louisville Saturday before dropping its second straight to No. 21 Cincinnati on Sunday.

“I think that we had some bright spots and I think that at times we struggled against both of these teams,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “I feel like some of the things in the past, in particular our serving, which has been very good for us, was not as good as we would have liked it to be, I mean that’s a big key for our success. We played against some teams that were physically higher above the net.”

Friday’s match at Cardinal Arena gave some of the Irish a sense of déjà vu as the two teams last meeting was in the final round of the Big East championships, where the 3-1 loss against Louisville (25-21, 23-25, 25-19, 25-17) knocked the Irish out of the title for the fourth straight year, and the 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-19) loss at Cincinnati makes the Bearcats the solo undefeated team in the conference.

Although the Irish (11-7, 4-2) managed to push the match into a fourth set and posted impressive numbers, they were not able to pull one over on the Cardinals, who out-hit them .291 to .173. It was the first time the Irish were out-hit in a league match in 21 consecutive games, dating back to the 2008 season. Louisville also out-blocked Notre Dame, 12-5, and made a fewer number of errors in each set.

The Irish defense was not where it has been in recent matches, a flaw that Brown felt strongly affected each of the matches.

“We felt like we know our blocking and defense could be a lot better,” Brown said. “That area was not as strong as it has been in the past.”

Notre Dame’s outside hitters continued to be dominant on the floor, but faced tough competition on the other side of the net in both matches.

“I think we stuttered a little bit [on offense],” Brown said. “I think there are some things that we did very well but I think overall, the team hitting percentage that we’d like to have and that we know we need to have to be successful, we struggled a little bit with.”

Freshman Andrea McHugh lead the team with 15 kills and seven digs and junior Kristen Dealy made 13 kills accompanied by four digs. Senior middle blocker Kellie Sciacca joined in the Irish offensive with 14 kills of her own while freshman Sammie Brown had 32 assists.

Junior libero Frenchy Silva had 18 digs in the match, but she was not able to compete with five Louisville players making double-digit efforts, even after the Cardinals lost starting libero Lindsey Mango to an injury in the first set.

The Irish had an experience similar to Saturday’s on Sunday at Cincinnati, but they were unable to hold much sway over each set in the match and did not post the strong statistics they have been up to this point in the season. They did manage to improve their hitting from Saturday’s low percentage to a .204, with a set-high .375 in the second set.

McHugh led Notre Dame once again in kills with 12, followed close behind by Sciacca with 11. Sciacca is now only three away from hitting the 1,000 career kills mark.

Sammie Brown led the defense with nine digs while Silva scooped up seven. Brown also had 30 assists in the match.

The Bearcats have now won 35 consecutive home games, a record that was consistent with the control they showed over their home court. On more than one occasion Cincinnati posted multiple unanswered kills and a number of players made more than one ace in the match. The Irish were able to close in on the Bearcats lead in each set, but were not able to overcome Cincinnati’s consistent hitting, including a .387 clip in the final set.

“These were the two toughest teams in the conference for us to play against, and I think there were some bright spots but I certainly think that we had some weaknesses that were exposed, and that we can learn a lot from it,” Brown said.

The Irish have a few days to recover and get back on track before facing another conference opponent on Oct. 15. when Notre Dame hosts DePaul.