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ND Volleyball: Bearcats wrestle Irish in Big East

Kyle Cassily | Friday, November 17, 2006

Notre Dame enters the Big East tournament this weekend in an unfamiliar position, but will face a very familiar opponent.

The No. 5 seed Irish will play No. 4 seed and tournament host Cincinnati in the quarterfinals tonight at 6 p.m. at Fifth Third Arena. The Irish (16-11, 10-4 Big East) won the tournament last year by beating Louisville in the championship and split the regular season title with the Cardinals. But this season has been a rebuilding year as six freshmen have seen significant time.

“The team is very excited,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “We’re disappointed and a little bit frustrated with how things ended up. But they know it’s a new season now and everyone is starting at zero and zero. I think were going in with confidence and believing in each other.”

Junior captain Adrianna Stasiuk and sophomore outside hitter Mallorie Croal were named first team All-Big East at the postseason awards banquet Thursday at the University of Cincinnati. Sophomore middle blocker Justine Stremick was awarded second team All-Big East honors.

“I thought they were really well-deserved,” Brown said. “It’s great for each of them to be recognized – and for the team overall.”

Stasiuk missed several matches in the latter half of the season after suffering a high ankle sprain Oct. 22 against St. John’s, but Brown said that she is back to her dominating form.

“[Adrianna’s] definitely in a really good place with that,” Brown said. “We’re definitely keeping it heavily taped, but she’s playing really well.”

Notre Dame met Cincinnati at Fifth Third Arena a little over a month ago when the Irish were swept 3-0 by the Bearcats. It was the second loss in a three-game skid that also saw the team fall to conference powerhouses St. John’s and Louisville before dropping from first to fourth place in the league.

“I think it’s good [to play at Cincinnati again] because we’ve been there earlier in the year and played on the court before,” Brown said. “I honestly don’t see it as huge advantage for them. We’re very ready to play.”

In that Oct. 28 match against the Bearcats, the Irish were defeated 20-30, 28-30, 22-30. Cincinnati got out to a strong start in the first game, and the outmatched Irish could not recover, although they put up a fight in the second game.

“Last time we played them, our serving and passing weren’t very good at all,” Brown said. “That’s the basic fundamentals of the game. We need to serve well and put a lot of pressure on them.”

Brown said that in preparation for the quarterfinals, the team has been practicing different game and rotation situations with all of its substitutes in an effort to utilize the entire team.

“We’ve looked at every scenario we could have used them in to maximize all the talent that we have,” she said.

In other matches, No. 1 St. John’s will play No. 8 South Florida, No. 2 Louisville will face off against No. 7 Connecticut and No. 3 Pittsburgh will battle No. 6 Marquette – all matches will be held today, with the semifinals to be played Saturday and the championship Sunday.