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ND VOLLEYBALL: Irish set for the Billikens

Joe Meixell | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

They’ve epitomized and, perhaps, defined the word “team.”

They hope to continue their successes tonight at 7 p.m. against St. Louis at the Joyce Center.

After two big, emotional wins on the weekend, the No. 5 Irish (20-1, 10-0 Big East) take on the Billikens (13-12) tonight in a mid-week non-conference tilt. Staying level-headed after such an emotional high might be the biggest test for Notre Dame, but it knows it cannot take any opponent lightly and cannot play flat-footed.

“[St. Louis is] definitely another team we need to respect,” sophomore outside hitter Ellen Heintzman said. “At practice today, we spent a lot of time scouting and talking about how, even though we did have two big wins this weekend, they were just two more wins.

“St. Louis is just as big a team as these past two.”

After two complete team efforts in weekend victories over then-No. 6 Louisville and Cincinnati, the Irish are hoping to continue a 13-match winning streak.

Notre Dame has not lost since playing LSU in September, and the Irish have been recognized for their play. With their new No. 5 ranking, the Irish are now the highest ranked team in school-history. The teams ahead of Notre Dame include Nebraska and Washington, who are both undefeated.

Every match, it seems like a new player sparks the Irish team. Heintzman, who didn’t play too much prior to the Connecticut match several weeks ago, credited her team’s success to, simply put, her team.

“It really is a fun and exciting atmosphere that this whole team has created,” she said. “We’re just enjoying every minute of playing – everybody is. It just makes it even better.”

Team chemistry and confidence are building, and the unselfish teammates have accepted their roles for each match.

“We’re all just so confident in each other,” Heintzman said. “We’ll look at each other on the court and just never doubt our capabilities.”

Heintzman was one of several surging players to spark the Irish over the weekend. While she accepts whatever role she’s given for the remainder of the season, she said, obviously, she has enjoyed playing, and playing well.

“It’s always exciting to get out on the court, especially in such high-emotion games,” she said.

St. Louis, a member of the Atlantic-10 Conference, is led by coach Anne Kordes. The Billikens are in their first season in the A-10 Conference.

They beat IPFW in their last match 3-1 as senior All-American Aida Antanaviciute registered a double-double with 22 kills and 14 digs. Senior libero Erin McClanahan had a career-high 29 digs against IPFW. The Billikens have played well throughout the season but have been hampered by recent injuries to some key players. The Billikens have also played a challenging non-conference schedule. They have already faced tough squads including Kansas State, Kansas, Pacific and Purdue.

Cleary, the conference matches are important for the Irish. They are leading the Big East and trying to repeat as regular season champs.

But from here on out, every match – even non-conference – is equally important as the Irish are vying for a top seed in the NCAA tournament which begins in early December.

“It was actually brought up today,” Heintzman said. “It’s always in the back of our minds. It would be a great accomplishment to get a great seed, and it would help us out. But it’s not going to make things any easier. We’re still going to have to play tough teams.”

What will make things easier are more team efforts like the two the Irish gave last weekend.