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ND Volleyball: Notre Dame prevails in Big East tourney

Tom Dorwart | Monday, November 21, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a back-and-forth, nail-biter match, Notre Dame (27-2) defeated No. 2 seed and seventh-ranked Louisville (27-2) 28-30, 31-29, 30-21, 23-30, 15-8 to win the Big East tournament championship in Louisville, Ky. Sunday.

It was a roller coaster ride, just as Irish coach Debbie Brown predicted.

“I expected that,” she said. “I expected that it would be a very hard-fought match. The previous match [at Notre Dame in the regular season], I think each game was decided by two points or maybe three. There was nothing that was going to be different.

“I think we executed well. I think we served well.”

Notre Dame beat the Cardinals in four games on Oct. 29.

To say the least, senior libero Meg Henican – who, heading into the tournament needed 61 digs to break the Notre Dame career record, broke it after a 25-dig performance – and her Irish teammates had a fun time.

“It was really fun,” she said. “It’s games like this that we play for, this competition. A team like Louisville, who, like coach said, we have a tremendous amount of respect for them … it just makes it that much more fun.”

Brewster also enjoyed the competition.

“It’s [Louisville] one of the more difficult teams to hit and block against,” she said. “But it’s also really challenging and fun. You look back over the five games, and I think they’re such a good net team, the way they block and the way they hit. It’s so hard to defend.”

While Brewster had some incredible blocks – seven blocks in the match – she said the overall defense was one of the main reasons the Irish won.

“Our defense was really good,” she said. “When I missed a block, they [her teammates] were there to get the dig. Meg saved me a couple of times. We like challenges.”

In addition to Henican’s career day, junior Danielle Herndon had 16 digs.

Sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis again paced the offense with 62 set assists.

With the Louisville band and cheerleaders on hand and the majority of the Kentucky International Convention Center crowd wearing Cardinal red, the Irish fell behind early. After dropping the first game, the Irish fell behind 11-4 in the second game.

Still, as usual, Notre Dame stayed confident. The Irish welcomed the roar of the crowd. They were hardly flustered.

“They [Louisville] came up and played in our facility and this is like coming in and playing in theirs,” Brown said. “It’s just a good atmosphere to play in, and I think that’s what we had up at Notre Dame – a lot of people there, big crowd. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who the crowd is for.

“It’s just an awesome atmosphere to play in.”

Sophomore outside hitter and Big East tournament MVP Adrianna Stasiuk said the Irish never got flustered given the magnitude of the match.

“We weren’t nervous at all,” Stasiuk said. “The whole game, we were just competing really hard against them. There weren’t any nerves. Neither team was really up tight I don’t think. It was just a really fun match between two really good teams.”

Senior Lauren Kelbley nailed 13 kills. Fellow senior Carolyn Cooper added 11.

No doubt, the Irish proved their mettle – and their depth. Freshman Mallorie Croal entered the match after the first game and provided a huge spark for the Irish. She pounded 15 kills.

Stasiuk finished with 18 kills and 13 digs.

“I’m a little hard on myself,” she said. “It was definitely a team effort. Everyone played awesome. Everyone was playing together, and that’s what we want.”

Despite Louisville’s early leads in the first few games, Kelbley said she and her teammates remained focused and confident.

“We did; we pulled together,” she said. “We looked in each other’s eyes, and we knew that we could do it. Both teams were playing great, so it wasn’t that we were struggling as far as our skills or anything. We just had to find the edge and shut Louisville down.”

Brown considered the second game a must-win.

“I think finishing strong in game two was huge for us,” she said. “It’s a whole lot different going into the break 1-1 rather than being down 2-0.

“I was out for the TV [interview between games], and they said, ‘How big was that?’ and I said, ‘It was huge, absolutely huge.'”

En route to the championship, the Irish beat No. 8 seed Villanova 28-30, 30-24, 30-26, 30-23 Friday afternoon and No. 4 seed Cincinnati 30-20, 30-20, 30-14 Saturday afternoon.

Friday against the Wildcats, Stasiuk registered a double-double with 10 kills, 10 digs, three blocks and three aces. Brewster had 15 kills on .400 hitting. She also nabbed eight blocks. Kelbley added 13 kills. Cooper pounded nine kills, and Henican recorded 19 digs.

Against the Bearcats, Brewster and Henican each had a stellar defensive match – with 11 blocks and 18 digs, respectively.