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ND Women’s Volleyball: Season falls short of expectations

Michael Todisco | Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Irish coach Debbie Brown has high expectations for her team each and every season, making the 2010 campaign a significant setback in the recent success of the program.

“It is our goal to win the Big East championship and make the NCAA tournament every year, so this year was certainly a disappointment,” she said.

Although Notre Dame’s 2010 run was labeled a disappointment by Brown’s standards, the team’s season was fraught with individual and team successes. During the campaign, Brown earned her 450th win as head coach, senior middle hitter Kelly Sciacca recorded her 1000th kill and freshman outside hitter Andrea McHugh was named the region’s most outstanding freshman.

The Irish finished the season with a 19-13 overall record and an 11-5 mark in Big East play. The young Notre Dame roster showed promise and resolve throughout the season, but struggled when facing top competition.

The Irish lost a talented senior class at the end of the year. Kelly Sciacca and libero Angela Puente were key players for Notre Dame this season, while outside hitter Stephanie Slatt and defender Megan Dunne also made key contributions to the team.

Brown had nothing but kind words to remember the senior class by.

“I think so highly of the class as a whole,” Brown said. “They were all great people, great student athletes and wonderful ambassadors for the University. They each brought very specific talents and were very, very valuable to the team. I enjoyed coaching each of them and it was hard to say goodbye to them.”

Most notably, middle hitter Kelly Sciacca rounded out one of the most celebrated careers in Notre Dame volleyball history. Sciacca recorded the 1,000th kill of her career on Oct. 15 against DePaul. With that accomplishment, she became only the ninth player in Notre Dame history to finish with 1000 kills and 400 blocks.

While the senior class will be difficult to replace, the young contributors proved themselves on the court this season.

“I think the young players improved a tremendous amount this season,” Brown said. “We had several freshmen and sophomores on the floor each match. The experience they gained was very valuable and the seniors did a great job bringing them along.”

Amongst the talented young Irish nucleus, McHugh excelled during the 2010 campaign. McHugh earned not only the Big East freshman of the year award, but was voted the Northeast Region Freshman of Year by the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association.

“Andrea was amazing this season and earned some great accolades,” Brown said. “We knew she would be a significant contributor to the team, but didn’t necessarily foresee that she would perform at such a high level.”

Looking to next season, the Irish restocked their lineup with a talented triumvirate of high school stars. Toni Alugbue, Jeni Houser and Meg Vonderhaar are set to enroll at Notre Dame in the fall and should make an immediate impact on the Irish roster.

“We really are pleased with our recruiting class,” Brown said. “We have three really strong freshmen who will add considerable depth. They are all great offensive players, which is an area we really need to improve in. They are great competitors, all from great club programs, and we expect to see really good things out of them.”

Brown said that the returning players have already made great gains this spring to set up the Irish for a successful run in 2011.

“The returners have been working all spring to prepare themselves for the fall,” Brown said. “We are pleased with our offseason workouts and conditioning. We have improved everyone’s vertical jumps, which was a big goal for our team.”

Thanks to a strong offseason and an incoming crop of talented freshmen, Brown believes the team is poised to contend for a title next year.

“We always want to be in a position where we win Big East championships,” Brown said. “That will really never change and with the talent we are bringing back for next year, we think that is a very realistic goal.”