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ND Volleyball: Irish title hopes fall short

By Conor Kelly | Monday, November 12, 2012

It was a weekend of ups and downs for the Irish as they followed a triumphant comeback victory over Cincinnati on Friday with a 3-0 loss at Marquette on Sunday in a match that would have given Notre Dame the Big East regular season championship.

With the loss, the Irish (20-7, 13-2 Big East) will be the No. 3 seed when they take on South Florida back at Marquette on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

It took five sets for the Irish to defeat the Bearcats (11-18, 9-6) on Friday, but they did it in dramatic fashion, coming back from two sets down to win 3-2 on Senior Day at the Joyce Center. After dropping the first two sets to the Bearcats, the Irish faced the prospect of their first loss since Sept. 29 and the end of their regular season title hopes, but the team rallied to take a close third set before dispatching Cincinnati with ease in the fourth and fifth sets.

“I was just so proud of how the team played and responded on Friday,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “The perseverance was incredible. I loved the way we got better with each game. We showed you can lose the first two games and still come back to win.”

Led by 22 kills from sophomore outside hitter Toni Alugbue and 46 assists from junior setter Maggie Brindock, the Irish kept their shot at first place in the conference standings alive with a gutsy performance.

“I thought we were overeager in the first two games and played tight,” Brown said. “After the second game we really settled down.”

Playing in their last home game, seniors Hilary Eppink and Marie Roof helped to key the comeback that preserved Notre Dame’s eleven-game unbeaten streak. Eppink notched 14 kills and a career-high nine blocks while Roof contributed four kills on six attempts.

“I think both of them played really well,” Brown said. “Both knew that they wanted to keep our dream alive, which I think was really important.”

Needing just one win to secure the Big East regular season title, the Irish traveled to Marquette on Sunday but fell to the Golden Eagles (24-5, 13-2) in straight sets.

“There was such a desire to win the conference championship, and the team was so focused on it that it makes it tough,” Brown said. “I didn’t feel we had anyone who was on today. That can’t happen if you’re trying to win a championship. It stings more because of the opportunity that we had.”

Brown said that, even down two sets, she never doubted her team would pull the game out as they did on Friday.

“I absolutely believed that we could still do it,” Brown said. “We just needed to execute better. We were not as sharp as we needed to be.”

Despite the disappointment of not winning the regular season, the Irish still have great opportunities ahead with the Big East tournament and the possibility of an NCAA bid. Notre Dame will have just one practice in the Joyce Center before departing for Marquette on Wednesday afternoon to face the Bulls at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu