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ND Women’s Volleyball: Kaelin Making an immediate impact

Kyle Cassily | Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Notre Dame freshman Christina Kaelin was selected Monday as Big East Rookie of the Week, only two days after the Irish hitter put in a 24-kill performance against Bowling Green.

It was the first time an Irish player had accumulated more than 20 kills in a single match since current junior Ellen Heintzman had 22 kills in five games on Nov. 26, 2005.

Kaelin, however, set her mark in just three games.

“A week ago I didn’t know where I was going to be in the starting lineup,” Kaelin said. “I thought it was a big shock – I didn’t even know they gave out that award. It was a good honor.”

And the honor is only the start of a homecoming of sorts for the Louisville native. Born in South Bend, Kaelin moved away from the city at the age of two, but has always felt a connection with the school.

“Just growing up, [Notre Dame] was the place to be,” she said.

She chose to spend her collegiate career with the Irish over hometown – and Big East rival – Louisville, as well as Saint Louis University and Purdue.

The Irish recruiting process – which she described as laid-back compared to the other schools – started with a letter from the team her freshman year and concluded with several campus visits and the ultimate decision.

“It’s such a perfect fit for me,” she said of Notre Dame. “My teammates especially, they’re really supportive. Especially the upper classmen, who have made the transition to college really smooth.”

The rookie is one of seven incoming freshmen on this year’s squad that made up a recruiting class named third-best in the nation by Volleyball Magazine.

She was named a Mizuno/Volleyball All-American and was a member of Volleyball’s Fab 50, a list of the top incoming high school seniors.

Those lists – and months spent poring over potential players – were the reason why Irish coach Debbie Brown was not surprised by the announcement of the Big East honors.

“We do have high expectations,” said Brown of her incoming players. “We know we have several of them that were ranked very highly coming in. That they’re honored with a conference rookie of the week is not real surprising to me because I know that they’re a pretty talented group.”

Brown credits Kaelin’s outstanding showing against Bowling Green to the team’s setters as well as to the young hitter, but she said that Kaelin showed initiative on the court, especially in the third game.

“[Kaelin] did a good job of mixing up her shots,” Brown said. “[The setters] were making comments, ‘We knew Christina wanted the ball, so we gave it to her.'”

For the match, Kaelin put up a .465 hitting percentage – 24-for-43 – and made four hitting errors. But there is still room for improvement, Brown said.

The Irish coach wants to evolve Kaelin into an all-around package who can play all six rotations by developing her blocking skills to complement the front-line three rotations she played against Bowling Green.

“We’re thrilled to have her,” Brown said. “We know that throughout her career she’ll get better and better – and not just this year.”