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ND Volleyball: Notre Dame travels west for Kansas Invitational

By Conor Kelly | Friday, September 20, 2013

With just three matches remaining before Notre Dame begins its inaugural season in the ACC, the Irish (5-3, 0-0 ACC) will travel to Lawrence, Kan., for the Kansas Invitational this weekend. 

The tournament will feature four teams from four different conferences, giving Notre Dame a number of different looks before beginning the conference season. The Irish will open Saturday morning against North Dakota State of the Summit League before taking on the SEC’s Georgia later in the night. Notre Dame finishes play Sunday against the host Kansas, of the Big 12.

The weekend will present a challenging slate for an Irish team looking to win in its final preseason tournament.

“Those are two really strong conferences,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said of the SEC and Big 12. “And those are two teams [Georgia and Kansas] that have done really well. We’re looking forward to playing at that level of competition.”

Though conference play has yet to begin, Brown said the results of these games can be important in determining NCAA seeding at the end of the season, so Notre Dame has dual goals of refining its play while earning victories.

“The two go hand in hand,” Brown said of her team’s objectives. “I think having the opportunity to play tough opponents in our pre-conference schedule is good.”

The Irish open against a young North Dakota State (0-9) squad that has won just one set – in a 3-1 loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 7 – thus far. For a team featuring eight freshmen, Brown said the youth of the Bison has shown in the early going.

“They’re a young team that is going through a tough stretch,” Brown said. “But we expect them to play us tough.”

Later in the day, the Irish will take on Georgia, whose only blemish on its record is a loss to No. 12 Nebraska on Sept. 7. Notre Dame will have to contend with the frontcourt duo of senior outside hitter Brittany Northcutt and junior middle blocker Lauren Teknipp, who have already combined for 152 kills on the year.

On Sunday, the Irish will face 7-3 Kansas, who recently swept the Inntowner Invitational in Madison, Wis.

Due to Notre Dame’s stringent policy regarding missing class, the Irish will once again be forced to play three matches in two days, a feat that can take a toll on the team.

“Kansas was super accommodating to our class policy, allowing us to start on Saturday morning [at 10:30],” Brown said. “It’s challenging for sure and not something that we normally have to deal with in the regular season. It’s tough on the body.”

Aside from winning games, Brown said there is one facet of the game in which she’d like to see her team improve over the weekend: offense. Despite the efforts of junior outside hitter Toni Alugbue and middle blocker Jeni Houser, who have notched 98 and 89 kills, respectively, the Irish have hit just .191 as a team, something Brown is looking to improve upon.

“We just need to generate more kills,” Brown said. “We need to keep improving our offense.”

The Irish will take the court against North Dakota State at 10:30 a.m. at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center in Lawrence, Kan. Notre Dame then faces Georgia later Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Kansas on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu