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Irish hope to finish strong against conference foes

Conor Kelly | Friday, October 7, 2011

Last weekend, the Irish jumped out with leads against Cincinnati and Louisville only to relinquish them later. The goal this week when the Irish travel to away contests at Pittsburgh and West Virginia is to finish the games strong.

“We played really well in the Cincinnati game,” senior Kristen Dealy said. “We outplayed them statistically in almost every single category and had them at game point. Against Louisville, we started out crushing them, and we could have won.”

Both teams are undefeated in the Big East and tied for the conference lead. Dealy said the way the Irish played against them is indicative of the team’s potential.

“We obviously need to win games,” Dealy said. “But especially with a young team, it’s a learning process.”

Irish coach Debbie Brown said that a week of focused practiced will help the Irish (10-6, 1-3 Big East) this weekend.

“We worked a lot in practice this week on specific situations like receiving short serves,” Brown said. “We know Pitt and West Virginia do some good things, but we’re feeling good about our preparation.”

Pittsburgh (12-6, 2-2) boasts two of the conference leaders in kills in sophomore Monica Wignot and senior Kiesha Leggs, a challenge that the Irish have prepared for.

“Against their hitters, it’s going to be very important to get good blocking,” Dealy said. “And then we need to turn that defense into points. Sometimes we play very good defense but struggle in getting points out of it.”

The challenge of executing, especially on the road, is not lost on Dealy.

“Pitt always gets pumped to play us,” Dealy said. “It’s a rivalry game I guess, so we have to be ready for that atmosphere. We have to match their competitiveness. We need to be on the top of our game.”

Tied for ninth in the Big East after facing teams with a combined 13-3 record against Big East competition, the Irish have an opportunity to make up ground this weekend.

“We talk a lot in practice about pushing through,” Dealy said. “We need to finish strong. Sometimes we battle throughout the 20th point only to let off the gas.”

The Irish take on the Panthers at 2 p.m. Saturday in Pittsburgh and West Virginia (3-12, 1-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Morgantown, W. Va.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu