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ND Volleyball: Irish fall to Bulls in first round of Big East tourney

By Conor Kelly | Monday, November 19, 2012

Coming off a winning regular season and holding the third seed in the Big East tournament, Notre Dame hoped and expected to survive past the tournament’s first-round matchup with South Florida, but the Bulls had something else in mind Friday at the Al McGuire Center at Marquette.

Behind 18 kills from senior J’Beria Davis, the Bulls (18-13, 7-8 Big East) cruised past the Irish for the 3-1 (25-17, 18-25, 25-23, 25-19) upset, ending Notre Dame’s hopes for a Big East tournament title and putting its chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament into jeopardy.

The Bulls jumped on top of the Irish (20-8, 13-2) early, taking an easy win in the match’s first game, but the Irish appeared to get the match back under control in the second game, winning 25-18. As it was the whole night, however, Notre Dame never got into a rhythm and the Bulls capitalized on each Irish misstep.

“USF certainly played fantastically,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “We expected them to play at a high level, but I think that was certainly the best we’ve ever seen them play. It felt like every one of their shots was finding open court and that they were able to get a hand on everything we sent over the net.”

Having escaped deficits numerous times during their 11-game Big East winning streak during the middle part of the season, the Irish were confident that they could overcome the early deficit, but Davis and the Bulls proved too much.

“We knew going in that she was a very good player,” Brown said of Davis, who hit .467 on the match. “We’ve faced other great hitters for other teams throughout the year have contained them much better, however. It was really a matter of execution.”

Execution was the issue of the night for the Irish, Brown said, especially on defense, as Notre Dame allowed the Bulls to hit .292 on the match. In addition to Davis, Big East Freshman of the Year Erin Fairs recorded 12 kills for the Bulls while fellow freshman Ciara Brown had 11.

Despite a huge match from Irish junior Andie Olsen, who recorded 14 kills, South Florida bottled up the Irish attack, limiting sophomore outside hitter Toni Alugbue to just six kills.

The loss, Notre Dame’s first ever in volleyball to South Florida, marked the first time the Irish failed to win a game in the Big East tournament, a disappointment for a team that finished with an impressive regular season.

The Irish will have one more chance to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee when they travel to Ohio on Friday to take on the Bobcats in a final tune-up before postseason play continues. The NCAA selection show will be Sunday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu