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Wirth: Team surges upward since Louisville

Joe Wirth | Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Success is nothing new for the Irish volleyball program. They have already clinched their 22nd consecutive winning season this year and remain in a tie for first in the Big East with Louisville and Marquette. Not all winning seasons, however, are created equal.

The Irish faced a demanding schedule early in the season and suffered losses to some highly ranked teams.

After getting off to a slow start, the Irish (19-6, 12-1 Big East) entered their Sept. 23 match against Louisville (23-3, 12-1) with an 8-5 record. The odds of the team getting their ninth win were not looking good. The Cardinals were a near unanimous pick to win the Big East in the preseason, the game was on the road, and the picture looked that much bleaker after the Irish lost the first two sets.

What followed was a rally that changed the entire complexion of the 2012 season. The Irish turned around the match and, with it, their entire season, won the remaining three sets and defeated No. 10 Louisville, 3-2.

“I am so proud of this team for capturing a signature win against a talented Louisville team on the road,” said head coach Debbie Brown said to und.com following the improbable comeback. “I was unbelievably impressed with our composure at the end of the fourth set and then I’m not sure if I have seen anything like set five before. It was a great team win for us.”

Since that game, the Irish are 10-1 and have been one of the hottest teams in the country. Their current 10-game winning streak is the longest for the program since their 15-game winning streak in 2009.

The team’s midseason turnaround cannot be attributed to one standout player – this streak has been the product of a total team effort that has carried the team into the thick of the Big East race.

Yes, there have been standout performances, like junior Maggie Brindock’s triple-double against Rutgers on Sunday. The ever-present playmaking ability of sophomore Toni Alugbue, who leads the team in kills and kills per set, also stands out. But the backbone of this team has been the supporting cast.
“It is not like there has been one girl carrying the team,” Brown said Oct. 25. “It has been a collective effort from all of the players.”

With their hot play and with only two games remaining, Notre Dame has its eyes set on the program’s 12th regular season Big East title. If they were to achieve this, it would be a great comeback story. However, obstacles remain.

The last two games offer significant challenges to Notre Dame. The Irish host a strong Cincinnati team that pushed the Irish to five sets in their first meeting, as well as Marquette (23-4, 12-1), the team responsible for the lone blemish on Notre Dame’s conference record.

The game against the Golden Eagles could have added significance, as it could be the game that decides the Big East champion.

“It has been one of our major goals since the beginning of the season to win the regular season championship for the conference,” Brown said prior to Notre Dame’s match against Seton Hall on Friday. “We continue to just take it one match at a time. To look beyond that at this time would be a mistake, we just want to take the challenge that each team brings.”

Spoken like a true coach. But if the Irish are to come out on top of the Big East at season’s end, there is no doubt they will have earned it.

Contact Joe Wirth at jwirth@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.