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ND Volleyball: Irish prepared for matchup with nation’s best

Conor Kelly | Friday, August 24, 2012

When the Irish first scheduled a trip to Lincoln, Neb., for a preseason round-robin with UCLA, Saint Louis and Nebraska, they figured they were getting a good chance to open play against three very respectable opponents. Months later, however, the three-game slate has turned into a veritable gauntlet, featuring two of the top four teams in the country with the No. 1 Bruins and the No. 4 Cornhuskers.

“There’s no time like the beginning of the year to go against the top team in the country,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said of her team taking on UCLA. “We will immediately know how good we are.”

The Bruins return much of the squad that defeated Illinois last December to claim the 2011 national championship, and the team’s preseason prospectus has been equally auspicious. A favorite to repeat as Pac-12 champions, UCLA garnered 54 of 60 first-place votes in the AVCA coaches’ poll released Aug. 13.

“It’s funny, because all we know of these teams we’re playing is what they had last year, and that’s all that they know of us,” Brown said. “We know that the majority of last year’s team is back for UCLA, but compared to where we were last year, we ourselves are much more advanced.”

The Irish return all but two starters from the team that fell to Cincinnati in the Big East final last year, but will nevertheless have to break in both new faces in new places and familiar ones in unfamiliar spots.

The task of replacing graduated four-year libero starter Frenchie Silva will fall to incoming freshman Taylor Morey, while sophomore Toni Alugbue will shift to the outside from her previous position at middle blocker to fill the spot of graduated outside hitter Kristen Dealy. Morey, a 5-foot-6 Indiana native, has impressed Brown enough to win the starting job in fall practice, despite her collegiate inexperience.

“We feel very comfortable with Taylor there and with Toni moving to a more attacking position,” Brown said. “They put us in a very good position to do well this weekend.”

If there’s a chance for a letdown after taking on UCLA, the Irish will need to guard against it in matchups against Saint Louis and Nebraska on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
And if it’s possible for the fourth-best team in the country to be overshadowed, it’s this weekend with the Cornhuskers. A team that won two games in the NCAA tournament and returns much of its squad will undoubtedly play second-fiddle to the Bruins, but Brown said her team is focused equally on both opponents.

“Against both these teams, and Saint Louis, we’re going in to compete hard on every point and come back with wins,” Brown said. “Every match the goal is to win. We’re not going just hoping to be respectable.”

The Irish open their season against UCLA on Friday in Lincoln, Neb.

Contact Conor Kelly at
ckelly17@nd.edu.