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ND Volleyball: Opening volley

Meaghan Veselik | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Notre Dame will head to Pittsburgh this weekend to compete for their 10th Big East title.

Unlike last season, when the Irish (17-11, 10-4 Big East) went into the tournament at the top of the conference, this year’s squad has a lot more to work for.

“[The tournament is] huge because of two reasons, but the primary [reason] is that it gives the winner of the tournament an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and for us this year, that is huge,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “And obviously, anytime you can go to a tournament and win, and win a championship that would be obviously, the second part of it and certainly our goal.”

Notre Dame was not able to win one of its earlier goals for this season, a goal it achieved flawlessly last season with an undefeated conference schedule.

“Our goal was to win the regular season and we weren’t able to do that, so we have another opportunity here this weekend to win the tournament, which would be awesome to have a Big East championship this year,” Brown said.

Once again, the Big East features a number of powerhouse squads, with Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Villanova taking the top four seeds. Each of these squads defeated the Irish this season and threatens to take them down once again this weekend, but Brown isn’t letting that get her team down.

“One of the things that’s fun about it is that we’ve played each of these teams before, so to have the opportunity to see them again and to be able to make the adjustments and to be able to look at the little things, what we didn’t do well against them the time before, makes it a fun and challenging situation,” Brown said.

Of the four teams ahead of the Irish, only Cincinnati registered a 3-0 sweep.

At the opening of the conference season, the Bearcats were unanimously selected as the favorite in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll. Louisville, the defending tournament champion, was picked second, and Notre Dame followed in third. The Irish have struggled with Louisville in the Big East championship before, falling to the Cardinals in the title game in both 2008 and 2009 after defeating them in the regular season.

But Brown isn’t allowing her team to worry about the past. Instead, she’s working to keep them focused on being ready to play three difficult matches in a matter of three days against some of the Big East’s best competitors.

“The challenge is the tournament, always, that you play, if you win the championship, you play three matches back-to-back and its always good competition,” Brown said.

“It’s a matter of being sharp for three matches in a row.”

Notre Dame doesn’t have to look far for the key to its success and playing on top of its game. The Irish found that key much earlier this season, and were reminded of it this past weekend as they swept both Rutgers and Seton Hall when everything was about the team.

“Our main focus is on the team and whatever we can do,” Brown said. “All through out the season and it was really noticeable this last weekend, how the team was really united and everybody was really selfless and really happy for their teammates, whenever their teammates would do something well.

“I want to definitely implicate that as we go into the tournament. It’s definitely a team time, it’s something where everybody’s really focused on doing what they can to make the team better,” Brown continued.