That’s the way it is
Tom Dorwart | Thursday, November 17, 2005
Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way It is” blasts over the speakers in the Notre Dame locker room.
The Irish sit at their respective lockers, thinking about their match, running through scenarios – bumping, setting, spiking.
“When you want it the most there’s no easy way out./ When you’re ready to go and your heart’s left in doubt.”
The Irish join in. Some sing. Most yell – at the top of their lungs.
“When you question me for a simple answer/ I don’t know what to say, no/ But it’s plain to see, if you stick together/ You’re gonna find a way, yeah./ So don’t surrender ’cause you can win/ In this thing called love.”
The thing the Irish love is volleyball.
The thing is, they also love singing.
It’s what they do to relax before every match – home or away.
Before their coaches enter the locker room to discuss plays, their opponent and other pre-match formalities, the Irish jam.
“As a team, right before the coaches come into the locker room, we listen to Celine Dion,” senior middle blocker Carolyn Cooper said. “And we sing really loud.
“Every match. It helps us relax. Our team plays really, really good when we’re having fun. That [the singing] brings us together, and we all have fun, and we all go out and play.”
Fellow senior and pre-season Big East player of the year Lauren Brewster wasn’t as revealing.
“We have a lot of time in the locker room before the match when we hang out,” she said. “We’ll talk about the team that we’re playing, and we’ll listen to music.
“That’s about all I can say I think.”
When asked if she and her teammates are friends away from volleyball, she replied immediately.
“We get along very well,” she said. “We’re really good friends. We call each other, and we decide what to go do. We go out to dinner.”
When they go on road trips, they don’t do anything special, or so they say. The fact is, just by being together – by meshing – they’re doing something special.
“No real traditions,” Brewster said. “We just all fit together. We talk and laugh and listen to music.”
This season the Irish have been having lots of fun, and, thus, have lots to sing about. They are 24-2 overall and just clinched the top seed in the Big East tournament by winning their final two regular season matches to finish 13-1in the conference. The No. 8 Irish won the regular season for the tenth time in the past 11 years.
All this because of their outstanding team chemistry – on and off the volleyball court.
Cooper credits her team’s special season, in part, to her fellow seniors. The class of five, including Cooper, has led Notre Dame with solid play and an easy-going yet determined attitude.
“I think that over the years that we’ve grown closer as a class,” Cooper said. “We’re all really, really good friends. Our personalities just get along really well. We trust each other. We know each other – how we play. We know what to expect from each other.”
Cooper and her teammates are stoked to prove they are the outright Big East champions. While they earned the number one seed for the conference tournament, they tied Louisville with a 13-1 conference record. Notre Dame beat the Cardinals in four games two weeks ago but wants to prove it is definitely not a co-champ.
“Our team loves playing good teams, and we’re really excited to go into the tournament,” Cooper said.
“[To] show that we don’t need a share of the Big East championship. We want to win the Big East championship. We’re really excited about possibly playing Louisville again.”
It’s been eight years since the Irish made it past the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament. And this, Cooper says, is the year that changes.
“We’re really excited about going to the [NCAA] tournament and proving that we’re not just a first and second round team,” she said. “That we’re a Sweet 16 team. We want to go really far in the tournament. We need to go farther than the second round.”
Other years, obviously – considering the Irish have won the Big East title 10 out of the past 11 years – the Irish have had good, capable teams. Still, they rarely advanced to the Sweet 16, and they never advanced to the Final Four.
This, Cooper and Brewster are sure, is the year.
“We could have [advanced] in the past, and we just don’t ever… we fall apart in the tournament,” Cooper said. “We need to peak to have a chance to win. We need to peak and win the championship.”
There’s no easy road, especially now that the Irish have fallen to No. 8 in the polls after an upset loss last week at Big East rival Pittsburgh. While they’ll likely host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, it’s possible – if they get past those – they could be sent to Omaha or Stanford for the Sweet 16 – the sites which will most likely be swamped with Nebraska and Stanford fans, respectively. The other two Sweet 16 sites are University Park and College Station.