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ND Volleyball: Irish poised to rebound, fight for Big East crown

Conor Kelly | Friday, August 19, 2011

After a 2010 season in which she saw her team go 18-13 and fall to Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals, Irish coach Debbie Brown has high expectations for improvement in the 2011 campaign. With a strong core of experienced players returning and a versatile group of newcomers, the Irish look poised to improve on the results of a year ago.

“Our goal, as it is every year, is to win the Big East tournament,” Brown said. “We have a tradition and expectation of qualifying for the NCAAs and advancing far. This team certainly has that capability.”

Brown praised the work of the team through their first three days of practice, citing the cohesion she saw immediately upon the team returning.

“We’re ahead of schedule at this point and feeling good,” Brown said.

The Irish return four of their top five offensive players from 2010, including kills and points leader sophomore Andrea McHugh. McHugh represented the United States this summer at the FIVB Junior World Championships in Lima, Peru. Though the United States fell to China in the bronze medal game, the experience helped the Irish prepare for the fall.

It is not star power, however, that Brown sees as her team’s greatest strength.

“I’m quite excited about this team’s versatility,” Brown said. “Most of our players are able to move all over the court, left and right, forward and back, especially the newcomers. I’m really pleased with the depth of this squad.”

The Irish will need that depth in order to compete in a tough Big East slate that includes perennial powerhouses Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and Villanova.

“The whole conference is strong, but these four finished on top last year, and I see them as our stiffest competition,” Brown said.

In addition, Robin Davis, who led the Irish in 2005 and has served as an assistant coach since 2009, was named associate head coach to assist Brown. Upon his arrival in 2005 Davis helped lead the Irish to five consecutive Big East titles.

The Irish will begin play at home against Eastern Michigan on Friday.