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ND Volleyball: Irish happily surprised with No. 6 seed

Tom Dorwart | Wednesday, November 30, 2005

High expectations are nothing new for Notre Dame.

The No. 7 Irish have been ranked in the top-10 for most of the season. They went on a 15-match winning streak for most of September and October. They won both the Big East regular season and tournament titles for the ninth and 10th times, respectively, in the past 11 years.

But the most important news they received so far this season – their most exciting achievement – was announced Sunday afternoon.

The Irish (28-3) nabbed the No. 6 national seed for the NCAA tournament – Notre Dame’s highest-ever NCAA seed – despite dropping their final match of the regular season to Tennessee (21-8). The Irish will host the first two rounds of the 64-team tournament, beginning Thursday at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame’s early-round bracket includes Dayton, Texas A&M and Northwestern.

“I was surprised, I was thinking we’d get maybe about a 10 or 12 [seed],” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “But we’ll take it.”

The national seed was the fifth top-16 seed in program-history for the Irish and second in the past four seasons.

This is the seventh time the Joyce Center has hosted the early rounds. Notre Dame is 6-2 all-time at home in the NCAA tournament.

The winner of Friday’s second round will advance to the round of 16 in College Station, Texas, which will take place Dec. 9 and 10. The Final Four will be the following week in the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Notre Dame’s strength of schedule may have been a key factor in the team’s high seeding. Eight of its regular-season opponents made the NCAA field. Those include Louisville, Texas, Tennessee, LSU, Loyola-Chicago, Valparaiso, Florida and Southern California.

Playing Louisville twice and the other eight once, the Irish compiled a 7-2 record against their top opponents.

The Irish were down after their loss to Tennessee Saturday, but they’ve gotten over it.

“I think it [the high seed] really lifted our spirits,” Brown said. “We were all pretty down about it [the Tennessee loss], and to kind of be able to look ahead [was good]. Obviously we’ll have to look back at [the loss] and learn from it and not pretend that it didn’t happen – because it did.”

The saying goes, “You win as a team, you lose as a team.” But against Tennessee, the Irish didn’t lose as a team, Brown said.

This time of year, she said, they need everybody to contribute.

“We just had two or three players that didn’t have a good match for us,” she said. “And this time of year, we need to have everybody. That’s why we’ve won the tough matches in the past, like the Big East championship because it was a just a great, solid team effort. Everybody contributed really well.”

With a solid week of practice and extra energy because of their unexpected high seed, the Irish will be back in action Thursday, ready to make a run – as a team.