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ND VOLLEYBALL: Poised to take flight

Tom Dorwart | Thursday, December 1, 2005

Notre Dame is fired up, and it hopes its fans are too.

The sixth-seeded and No. 7 ranked Irish – who captured the Big East’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament two weeks ago – hope to ride a wave of energy from a boisterous home crowd during opening round action of the NCAA tournament, beginning tonight at 7 p.m. against the Dayton Flyers (24-10) at the Joyce Center.

“We’ve never played on Thursday night before,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “Thursday night is a little bit different.

“We’ve had great crowds recently, even on Thanksgiving weekend, so I’m hoping that the word will get out and that we’ll get a nice big crowd that will help us.”

Notre Dame is 6-2 all-time in home NCAA tournament action. The Irish have only one loss at the Joyce Center this season – a five-game loss to Tennessee (21-8) in last weekend’s Irish Thanksgiving Invitational.

Northwestern (19-11) and Texas A&M (16-13) will face off at 5 p.m. in the first match of the night.

The winners of the two matches will meet in Friday’s second round for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Irish have had a solid three days of practice in preparation for tonight’s first round match and believe they’ve scouted the Flyers well.

“We have a good idea of what their strengths are,” Brown said. “We’ve had good practices Monday, yesterday and today. We know what we need to expect, and we know how we need to play.”

The Irish say their goal is plain and simple – play as a team, with everyone firing on all cylinders. Notre Dame has reiterated throughout the season that it needs to have every player contribute and it cannot take any opponent lightly.

Dayton won its conference tournament to receive the Atlantic 10’s automatic bid. The Flyers finished first in the West Division of the Atlantic 10 and swept Temple in the conference tournament championship, earning its third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Northwestern and Texas A&M each received at-large bids.

The Wildcats finished with a strong record in the Big 10, what the Rich Kern Percentage Index (RKPI) considers the nation’s toughest conference.

The Aggies finished sixth in the Big 12, recognized as the second-toughest conference in the nation.

Now, the Irish hope to play like they preach.

In practice Wednesday evening, Notre Dame concentrated on more detailed aspects of what it would like to accomplish throughout the match tonight.

“We went over a lot of stuff to really help us,” sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis said. “We want to focus on the little things.”

But the Irish say there is no way they are going to look ahead to the Sweet 16 and a trip to College Station, Texas.

“Every team we play right now is going to be a really good team,” middle blocker Carolyn Cooper said. “This tournament has very tough competition. [The Flyers] look to be a good match.”

With a home crowd and a group of players who say they enjoy doing the little things right, Brown has great expectations this NCAA tournament.

“I think the team is really focused and determined to make great things happen,” she said.