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ND Volleyball: Fifth-seeded Irish return to conference tourney

Cory Bernard | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Today marks the 17th time in as many seasons of conference play the Irish will participate in the Big East tournament.

Despite losing its last two regular season matches, Notre Dame (15-11, 8-6 Big East) earned the No. 5 seed and will take on No. 4 Syracuse.

The Orange (19-11, 8-6) earned a higher seed than the Irish despite the schools’ identical conference records thanks to a 3-1 victory over Notre Dame in the final match of the regular season. The win clinched a tournament berth for Syracuse on its Senior Day.

Although her team limps into the postseason, Irish coach Debbie Brown said neither motivation nor confidence will be an issue.

“Both teams will be highly motivated,” she said. “[Syracuse’s] goal wasn’t just to make it to the tournament, either. At this time of year, if teams aren’t highly motivated they will go home pretty quickly. I think both teams benefited being able to play just last weekend and make the adjustments you need to make. It’s a good draw for us and we’re confident we’ll beat them this time.”

With history on their side, the Irish have reason to be confident. The program has won nine Big East tournament championships, posting a 29-7 overall record and reaching the final match in 13 of 17 tries. Brown said her squads always aim for a Big East title when they begin a season.

“It’s been something that we want to do every time,” Brown said of winning the conference. “We want to be winning the Big East in the regular season or the post season every year, or at least be in a position to do that. It would have been very disappointing had we not made the tournament, so we’re happy to be here.”

Though Notre Dame has consistently been one of the Big East’s top-performing schools, Brown said her staff has not made a point of educating the younger players on the program’s tradition.

“We haven’t specifically sat down with our players and said, ‘Here’s the history, here’s the tradition,'” she said. “I think each season is different ⎯ you take it one year at a time. We talked about winning the Big East championship from the beginning of the season and here it is already. Sometimes you don’t realize how the season goes by really fast, but this weekend is why we’ve been putting in the effort all year.”

Notre Dame takes on the Orange at 11 a.m. today in the Al McGuire Center at host-school Marquette.

Should the Irish defeat Syracuse, they would face the winner of a match between No. 1 Louisville and No. 8 Pittsburgh at 2 p.m. on Saturday. ESPNU will televise the championship match, which begins at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.