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ND Volleyball: Brown expects rookie impact

Eric Retter | Saturday, August 19, 2006

As the Aug. 26 season opener against Bowling Green nears, almost half of Notre Dame’s players are preparing to play their first game in an Irish uniform.

After finishing the 2005 season 30-4 and ranked No. 12 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA), Notre Dame bid farewell to five seniors, including second-team All-American Lauren Brewster and Lauren Kelbly, who received All-American honorable mention.

Head coach Debbie Brown then signed seven freshmen, earning the attention of recruiting followers. Volleyball Magazine listed Notre Dame as the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, behind Texas and Penn State, while Prepvolleyball.com ranked the Irish fifth.

In large part because of the young team’s potential, the AVCA ranked Notre Dame No. 21 in its preseason poll despite the fact that the Irish return only two starters from last season’s team.

“I think the impact [the freshmen] are going to have as a group is going to be huge,” Brown said. “There’s no question that as a group they’re going to play a major part in the team’s success, counting this year and obviously into the future.”

Outside hitters Megan Fesl and Christina Kaelin and middle blocker Kim Kristoff – all of whom were listed as part of Volleyball’s Fab 50 high school seniors last year – will lead the class.

The trio represents the first time that the Irish have signed three Fab 50 players since 1997, when Denise Boylan, Christi Girton and Jo Jameyson all entered Notre Dame. All three entering freshman were also All-Americans, according to Prepvolleyball.com.

They will be joined by setter Jamel Nicholas, also a Prepvolleyball.com All-American, middle blocker Tara Enzweiler, outside hitter Serinity Phillips and defensive specialist/libero Colleen Nolan.

Throughout fall practice, Brown has raved about the progress her rookies have made.

“The freshmen are coming in and just stepping up and being right in the middle of things,” Brown said. “If someone walked into our gym right now there’s no way they would know who the freshmen are and who the upperclassman are, because [the freshmen] are fitting in very well and doing a great job.”

And they’re competing for almost every starting spot.

“I think it’s wide open,” Brown said. “The coaching staff is going to have a tough time picking the starting lineup, because it’s just really competitive and [the players are] pushing each other every day.”

Brown, however, does not see this as a negative.

“It’s going to be a good problem to have,” she said. “I’m seriously just not even in a position to say at this point who could or who might or might not be [in the starting lineup].

“But I can guarantee you that there will be at least two and maybe three and maybe four freshmen that are going to be starting and having significant roles.”