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ND VOLLEYBALL: Irish top ASU for championship

Tom Dorwart | Monday, September 5, 2005

Lauren Brewster loves volleyball so much she doesn’t want to stop playing – even for a timeout.

“It’s harder because the timeouts were longer,” she said, referring to the lengthened time outs because of College Sports Television’s airing of Saturday’s match. “You’re all ready; your adrenaline is going; you just want to get back in there and you just have to sit down and take another minute.”

She and her Notre Dame teammates enjoyed playing so much this weekend that they played the maximum 10 games in two matches – though, in this case, they would much rather have finished off their opponents quicker.

“I think that in both cases, in both last night and today, we played really good fifth games,” coach Debbie Brown said. “I think that’s good. You feel like, ‘OK, I think if we get to the fifth game, then we know how to be tough, and we know how to compete hard.’

“We would prefer not to be in that situation, but I think it showed good mental toughness.”

The Irish (3-0) won their own The Inn at Saint Mary’s Shamrock Invitational, beating 11th ranked Texas (1-1) and unheralded but scrappy Arizona State (1-4).

At least, after this weekend, the Irish know they can play under pressure.

Texas came back from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth game Saturday evening, and Arizona State hung around for a fifth game Sunday afternoon.

Serenaded by chants of “Let’s Go Irish” and “We are ND” from a small but boisterous crowd, the Longhorns looked flustered throughout the opening two games against the Irish.

The Irish looked unstoppable.

Notre Dame took the first two games 30-21, 31-29, with a synchronized offensive attack, led by sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis’ accurate setting and 51 set assists.

“I feel really good about the energy we had and the way we executed,” Tarutis said. I couldn’t be happier with the way we started.”

With seniors Meg Henican, Brewster, Lauren Kelbley and Carolyn Cooper and freshman Mallorie Croal rotating on the front line, the Irish set up their seemingly unbreakable defense. The front line’s blocks helped junior libero Danielle Herndon have a career night.

“The block was set up really nice,” she said. “And I think that’s a huge part in being able to dig.”

Herndon – at times putting her body on the line – dove, stretched and leaped for every ball she could get to. She had a career-high 20 digs. When told of her career night, she laughed.

“I didn’t even know [about it]. It was a lot of fun.”

The momentum shifted in the third game, though, and the Longhorns proved their top 15 hype. Six-foot-five freshman Lauren Paolini played more like an experienced senior, pounding 13 kills and nabbing three blocks, and sophomore setter Michelle Moriarty had an astounding 47 set assists in the third game alone. The Horns took the hard-fought game 30-28. They rode their momentum into the fourth game, dominating 30-22.

Then in game five, the Irish let loose. They became the aggressor, and, again, Texas was on its heels.

“I loved the way they [the Irish] came out and finished really, really strong,” Brown said.

For most of the match, despite the shaky third and fourth games, Notre Dame had more energy than Texas. An energetic crowd was crucial to the Irish maintaining focus, however – especially against Arizona State.

From the opening serve, the Sun Devils made the Irish aware they weren’t going to be a pushover. Their 1-3 record was deceiving. Notre Dame won the first game 30-20, but was closer than the score indicates.

The Sun Devils appeared overmatched by the Irish talent, but the underdogs carried their emotion into the second game. They won 30-28.

They won again 30-21, and suddenly, the Irish looked beatable.

“We just reminded them that we’ve got to take it a point at a time,” Brown said. “We wouldn’t allow ourselves to get any momentum because we were a little bit tired, a little bit fatigued, so we just said, ‘We can’t save anything,’ and ‘Just go all out on every point.'”

Croal reached over the press row tables and bumped a ball back into play. Fellow freshman Madison Clark was getting floor burns diving for balls. Tarutis pancaked a ball – setting her hand completely flat on the floor and bouncing the ball off. And Herndon was her usually self.

“You have to have that kind of defensive effort to stay in matches, and I was really pleased the pursuit on defense, not giving up,” Brown said. “ASU played great defense; their libero was just unbelievable. It was good that we tried to stay with that.”

The Irish won 30-20, 28-30, 21-30, 30-23, 15-10.

In addition to Brewster, Henican, Croal and Tarutis made the all-tournament team.

“It’s a new season; it’s a new team,” Brown said.