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ND VOLLEYBALL: Irish survive near first round upset

Tom Dorwart | Friday, December 2, 2005

Relieved and excited, Irish players Meg Henican, Adrianna Stasiuk, Lauren Brewster and coach Debbie Brown took their seats in the interview room after a dogfight of a match against the Dayton Flyers in the opening round of the NCAA tournament – a 30-21, 30-25, 26-30, 28-30, 15-13 marathon victory for the No. 7 Irish (29-3). “We’re alive,” Brown said as she smiled and pumped her fists. “How’s that for an opening statement?”With the win, the Irish advance to tonight’s second round match against Northwestern. The Wildcats (20-11) eliminated Texas A&M (16-14) 30-26, 20-30, 28-30, 30-27, 15-12 in the first match of the evening. Notre Dame’s match started more than an hour late, but the Irish found a rhythm early. They jumped to an all too familiar 2-0 lead, but a young Dayton team kept fighting and tied the match at 2-2, reminiscent of Notre Dame losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee.”It was obviously a battle,” Brown said. “And we’ve got to give Dayton a lot of credit. I think they played very well. This time of year sometimes it’s tough.” The Flyers just wouldn’t go away. When the match headed to the fifth game, the tested Irish knew this match had to end differently from last week’s five-game loss to Tennessee. “We were just ready to go,” said Henican, who broke the Notre Dame single-match digs record with 43. “We looked at each other in the eyes, and we said, in the huddle, ‘We take it here, and that’s the only option. There’s no other way.'”The senior admitted, at times, the Irish hadn’t played their game. There were times when they had to “fight.” But their senior leadership, including Henican and Brewster, helped the team win the battle.”Our strength is that we are a team and that when we have to, we play together,” Henican said. Brewster, despite often being double-teamed at the net, finished with 16 kills. When asked about Dayton’s approach to defending the senior All-American, Brown said doubling her at the net was the correct strategy.”I would do the same if I were going against Brewster,” she said. “[It] opened up things for Mallorie [Croal] and Adrianna.” Croal, a freshman who shares time with fellow outside hitter/sophomore Ellen Heintzman, sparked the Irish. She pounded 18 kills and had five blocks.Stasiuk played a well-rounded match. She added 16 kills, seven set assists, two service aces, 19 digs and four blocks. The Flyers have one senior on their 24-11 squad, setter and leader Nicole Schott. Though young, Dayton showed plenty of character, Flyer coach Tim Horsman said. “We enjoyed playing tonight,” he said. “They’re a great team obviously. Notre Dame had a super year.”When asked about how proud he was of his team’s comeback and of being a bounce or two away from upsetting the No. 6 Irish, Horsman half-joked.”We’d like to have that bounce back,” he said.Schott, who finished with 60 set assists in her final match, said she knew her team could compete with the experienced Irish. “[The comeback] showed our character,” she said, choked up. “We knew we could do it. We knew we could compete with them tonight. I’m disappointed with the result, of course. We did everything we could, and it didn’t go our way.” In the fifth-game, the Irish looked looser than they had all match when they jumped to an early 6-1 lead.The relentless Flyers came back, making the Irish work hard for nearly every point. But Notre Dame was able to handle the pressure.”The season was on the line,” Stasiuk said. “No matter what your rank, you want to go on. I don’t know if it was really tense. They [Dayton] played really well. We just kept fighting.”With the second round match looming just less than 21 hours after last night’s victory, the Irish have no time to be tired. Fatigue should not be a factor tonight, Henican said. “It’s all adrenaline now,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how tired you are.”