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Wins over Pitt, BC give ND title

Mike Gilloon | Monday, November 22, 2004

PITTSBURGH – Their coach likes to call them the “two Laurens.” Others just call them Big East champions.

Notre Dame swept Pittsburgh 30-23, 30-26, 30-26 to win the Big East Tournament title behind the consistent, strong play of Lauren Brewster and Lauren Kelbley.

Brewster, named the tournament’s most outstanding player, recorded five blocks in the championship match and disrupted the Panther offensive attack all afternoon.

“Lauren [Brewster] does so much for us,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “Hitting out of the back row, playing defense and good serving … I’m just happy for her and happy for the team. It’ll be a fun bus ride back home.”

Kelbley should enjoy a rest on that bus as she played this weekend for the first time since Nov. 5 due to a nagging foot injury. However, her play was anything but painful. She led the Irish in kills for the match with 14 and had only two errors on 35 swings for a .343 hitting percentage.

“[Kelbley] was awesome all weekend,” Brown said. “The committee [that selects the tournament MOP] had a hard time picking between the two Laurens. Coming off of her injury and playing with a ton of heart and executing really well. She was huge for us at the net hitting and blocking.”

Brewster and Kelbley, first and second team all-Big East selections respectively, have now been a part of two conference tournament championship teams in their three years on the squad.

Notre Dame’s two freshman starters, Adrianna Stasiuk and Ashley Tarutis, played steadily in their first collegiate postseason tournament. Stasiuk was second on the team with 10 kills while Tarutis hit .429 and added 34 assists from her setter position.

“It’s really exciting [to win the tournament] because it’s my first year here,” Stasiuk said. Neither team performed particularly well offensively as the Irish and the Panthers hit only .191 and .225 respectively. However, Notre Dame’s defense forced Pittsburgh into making 24 errors.

“When your side is consistent it’s easy to force errors on the other team,” Stasiuk said. “We just controlled our side of the net and let their errors come.”

Notre Dame will head to California for the Baden Thanksgiving Tournament Friday and Saturday against UC-Irvine and Long Beach State. The NCAA tournament then starts Dec. 2 and Brown feels the Irish have a shot against whoever they draw.

“We know that we’re playing better volleyball now than we were a week ago,” Brown said. “We’re more confident and that’s important. We want to play our best volleyball at the end of the season.”

Notre Dame 3, Boston College 1

After losing to Boston College in the regular season, the Irish returned the favor in Saturday’s semifinal match with a four-game 25-30, 30-15, 30-26, 30-20 victory over the Eagles.

Notre Dame hit .339 for the match, paced by Brewster’s stellar second game in which the junior hit .900 with nine kills on 10 attempts and no errors. She could not have come through at a better time. The Irish looked sluggish in the game one loss, hitting only .222 with five errors and barely threatening the Eagles.

“[Brewster] just decided that [losing the match] was not going to happen,” Brown said. “She said ‘I’m going to take over’ and she obviously has the ability to do that.”

Kelbley was thrilled to be a part of a win on Saturday.

“It felt wonderful to get back on the court,” Kelbley said after posting a match-high 20 kills with only three errors for a hitting percentage of .425. “I’ve been waiting for this moment all week. It’s really hard to be on the sidelines and watch your teammates play.”

“[Kelbley] came up with a lot of really key swings,” Brown said. “I just think that the team is more comfortable and plays with a little more confidence when she’s in there.”

The Eagles scorched the Irish defense with a .316 hitting percentage in game one. But Brewster’s five blocks and Meg Henican’s three digs held Boston College to a percentage of -.083 in the pivotal game two. The outstretched arms of Kelbley and Emily Loomis at the net forced the Eagles into making 10 hitting errors compared with only two for the Irish.