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Irish ready to avenge last year

Anne Loughery | Thursday, August 19, 2004

For the freshmen, the numbers alone can be intimidating.Last year, the volleyball team finished the season with a 23-7 overall record and a No. 24 ranking. The Irish also earned their 12th consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament.Their success last season placed them at No. 25 in this year’s preseason USA Today poll. They were also picked to win the Big East Championship. Senior hitter Emily Loomis and juniors Lauren Brewster and Lauren Kelbley were named to the preseason All-Big East team. All three were honorable mention all-American selections in 2003.Needless to say, expectations are high for the team this season.But that hasn’t intimidated this year’s freshman.”They’re all really talented and doing a great job at practice,” junior Lauren Brewster said. “They’re really soaking everything in and applying it.”Brewster led the nation in 2003 in blocks. She was named honorable mention all-America and first-team all-Big East as well.This year, five new players will step onto the court to compete for the Irish – four freshmen and a sophomore. Coach Debbie Brown praises the team’s veterans – three of which are returning honorable mention All-Americans – for facilitating the newcomers’ transition and for providing a competitive atmosphere at practice.”The more scrimmaging we do, the better [the newcomers] look. We’re teaching them the systems in practice for the most part.”Helping the freshmen gain experience is of utmost importance, Brown said, especially since the Irish will face Loyola University Chicago Sept. 1. This year’s team features strong blocking, solid ball control and defense. However, backcourt defense is one area that Brown says needs improvement, and the Irish must replace setter Kristen Kinder, named first team All-Big East and honorable mention All-American.”We’ll get things done before we play Loyola. People ask me ‘So do you think you’re ready for Loyola?'” Brown said. “I tell them that we’re not ready now, but we definitely will be.” Brown added the hours the team puts in now should prepare them for the rigorous schedule they face this season. Following the Loyola match, the Irish face No. 2 Nebraska and seven other ranked teams, three of which are recent national champions. Twelve of their opponents made the NCAA Tournament last year, as did the Irish. There they lost in the first round to No. 19 Louisville, a disappointing finish for a good team.”We’re hoping to finish strong this year – stronger than we did last year – and I think we’ll have a lot of opportunities to prove ourselves,” Brown said.