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Volleyball: Irish lose two of three

Kyle Cassily | Monday, September 11, 2006

No. 23 Notre Dame defeated Alabama in the opening game of the Northern Iowa Invitational, but dropped consecutive matches on the tournament’s second day to finish with a 1-2 record in the team’s first road contests of the season.

The Irish (4-4) were swept Saturday by Kansas State and lost 3-2 to host Northern Iowa in the nightcap after beating the Crimson Tide 3-1 Friday. The Alabama win made this season the fourth consecutive that the Irish have opened up with a win on the road.

“We didn’t play really well in any of the matches,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “Just statistically speaking we didn’t really play up to the level were capable of. We just had a lot of errors. Certainly we don’t think that will be a characteristic of the team.”

Senior co-captain and libero Danielle Herndon collected 65 digs in three matches to anchor the Irish defense. She was also named to the all-tournament team following the Northern Iowa loss.

“[Herndon] had an excellent weekend, especially defensively” Brown said. “She made a lot of really important digs and kept us in it – [she] was by a far our steadiest player.”

Co-captain Adrianna Stasiuk turned in an impressive performance on both sides of the ball as she blasted 30 kills and collected 40 digs.

Several freshmen contributed in a big way throughout the tournament, including two-time Big East rookie of the week Christina Kaelin and outside hitter Megan Fesl.

Kaelin had 49 kills – a team-high 20 against both Alabama and Northern Iowa – and Fesl blasted 14 kills against the Tide, the second-highest Irish total.

Notre Dame 3, Alabama 1

The Irish defeated the Crimson Tide in four games by scores of 30-25, 22-30, 30-19 and 30-26.

A service ace from freshman Jamel Nicholas and a Stasiuk kill in the fourth game propelled the Irish to an early lead and a 29-25 tally for game point.

In the first game, Alabama took a 7-1 lead before Notre Dame called a timeout to regroup. The timeout strategy must have worked, as Notre Dame went on a 4-1 run before tying the game at 15 behind several Stasiuk kills.

Kaelin opened the contest on consecutive kills to give the Irish a 24-22 edge, and the game was won after an Alabama serving error.

The Tide knotted the match at one apiece when it used a 4-0 run and Irish attack errors to take the second game.

Mallorie Croal gave the Irish a commanding 22-15 lead in the third stanza with her second kill of the game – she had eight kills for the match. Justine Stremick and Stasiuk closed out the game with a winning block for the 2-1 edge.

Kansas State 3, Notre Dame 0

The Irish were swept for only the second time in two years in Saturday’s 24-30, 21-30, 28-30 loss to the Wildcats.

Notre Dame committed 38 attack errors and had a .023 successful attack percentage. The team did not lead in the match until a 9-8 advantage in the second game.

The Wildcats controlled the net and out-blocked the Irish 20.5 to 14 to set a Kansas State block record – the previous mark of 18 was set Oct. 4, 1986 against Louisville.

The Irish made a comeback in the third game, taking a 22-20 lead at one point. But the Wildcats rallied on a crucial block by Sandy Werner and Megan Kroeker to push ahead 26-25. A Jenny Jantsch kill with a 29-28 lead closed out the win for Kansas State.

Northern Iowa 3, Notre Dame 2

The Irish could not hold a 2-1 lead as they fell in five games, 28-30, 30-20, 34-32, 21-30, 11-15 to the Panthers in the final game of the Invitational.

The two teams played a close fifth game, tying the score three separate times in the 15-point deciding set. The Irish rallied to tie the game at 8-8 and 11-11 on kills from Colleen Nolan and Serinity Phillips.

But Northern Iowa capped a 4-0 run after the Phillips’ kill with a match-ending service ace.

“Through the match I felt we were going to win,” Brown said. “[We] played with a lot more intensity, a lot more emotion and executed our game plan a lot better. All through the game I kept thinking we were going to come up with the play that would make it happen.”

Phillips had 10 kills and eight digs in the match, while Stasiuk collected 13 kills in the loss.

Phillips came off the bench for the match against Northern Iowa and “played very well and was very steady,” Brown said.

The Irish lost a close-fought first game, but came back to take the next two. The second game was won on a kill by Kaelin and the third came on a Panther setting error.

Northern Iowa forced the fifth game when it cruised on a game-sealing 7-4 run.

“This is a fast game. One or two errors are enough to put the other team over,” Brown said. “I couldn’t really say it was one thing. I felt like we played hard, we competed hard, and we were in it the whole time but they pulled it out in the end.”

This was the second consecutive Invitational in which the Irish have played, after a second-place showing in last weekend’s Shamrock Invitational. Notre Dame will play in the Sun Devil Volleyball Classic at Arizona State this weekend in a final tune-up before its 2006 Big East opener against Rutgers Sept. 23.