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Tom Dorwart | Wednesday, December 7, 2005

When the sixth-seeded Irish head to College Station, Texas later this week for their Friday Sweet 16 match against 11th-seeded Wisconsin (25-6), they’ll be loose and confident – certainly not intimidated by the team that eliminated them in the second round of last year’s tournament.

“It comes from the wins that we have,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “It’s not a false confidence. It’s an earned confidence.”

The Irish will need to be confident in their seventh all-time meeting with Wisconsin, which comes into the tournament leading the all-time series with Notre Dame 5-1. The Badgers swept the Irish 3-0 in last season’s NCAA Tournament. They also knocked off the Irish the last time the team advanced to the Sweet 16, winning in four games in the 1997 NCAA Tournament.

However, the Irish have thrived in big games this season.

“We’ve stepped up in big matches and made big plays and had some really solid wins,” Brown said.

Those wins include a sweep against eighth-seeded Florida (32-2), a five-game triumph over Texas (24-5) and a four-game victory over 12th-seeded Southern California (17-11).

Although Wisconsin is a formidable challenge, the other side of the College Station bracket isn’t any easier.

It includes third-seeded Washington (28-1) and 14th-seeded Purdue (25-8). The two will square off at 8 p.m. Friday. Notre Dame and Wisconsin face off at 6 p.m. Friday in the opener at G. Rollie White Coliseum on the campus of Texas A&M University, where the Irish are 1-1 this year. They swept Tulane and fell to Louisiana State in five games in the Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic.

The Friday winners will clash Saturday at 6 p.m. for a berth in the Final Four, which will also take place in Texas – Dec. 15-17 in the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Overall, in Texas, the Irish are 4-1 this season. They are 3-0 in the Alamodome, where they won the University of Texas San Antonio’s Dome Rally. This has helped add to the attitude the Irish are taking with them to Texas.

“Everyone has more confidence,” outside hitter Adrianna Stasiuk said, comparing this year’s team with last year’s, which lost 34-36, 16-30, 16-30 to the Badgers in Madison, Wisc. “To put the ball away or do certain things.”

Senior All-American Lauren Brewster agreed this year’s team is different.

“We know we can do it,” she said. “We’ve done it before.”

Last year’s squad didn’t have quite the resume this year’s group has.

Last year, the Irish lost twice to a solid Nebraska team. One was a five-game loss after leading 2-0.

However, the Irish have experienced phenomenal success this season, and are ready to get down to business in College Station.

“We just think we can do some really special things this year,” Brown said after the Irish beat Northwestern last Friday to advance to their first Sweet 16 since 1997.