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Volleyball: Irish sweep earns team spot in Big East tourney

Joe Meixell | Monday, November 12, 2007

Feeding off the momentum from two wins last weekend’s , Notre Dame defeated Cincinnati (18-10, 9-5 Big East) and No. 17 Louisville (20-5, 13-1) to secure a spot in the Big East tournament.

“It feels unreal. We just played out of our minds,” sophomore outside hitter Megan Fesl said.

With the two weekend victories, Notre Dame earned the No. 4 seed in the Big East yournament. There will be a quick rematch when the Irish face fifth-seeded Cincinnati on Friday at 11 a.m. in Milwaukee, Wis.

“I know that our confidence has gone up so high, and we know the task that we have ahead of us. We’re going to work really hard this week at practice to prepare for this weekend,” Fesl said.

The Irish (13-12, 9-5 Big East) beat the Bearcats 3-1 (31-33, 30-23, 30-28, 30-20) in a match that featured a noisy crowd of 7,523 fans in the Joyce Center – the second largest gathering in the program’s history. Notre Dame made four service errors in the first game but benefited from a lack of Bearcat scoring in game two. Cincinnati only hit .054 in the second game.

The Bearcats offense heated up early in the third game until the Irish came up with big blocks. Notre Dame was trailing 23-18 when it used teamwork to rip off a 12-5 run and take a crucial 2-1 lead. After that, the Irish made sure that the Bearcats would not make a comeback and hit .471 in game four.

Junior middle blocker Justine Stremick scored a team high 16 kills for the Irish while Fesl, freshman middle blocker Kellie Sciacca, and senior captain Adrianna Stasiuk all recorded double digit kills with 14, 11 and 11, respectively. Senior setter Ashley Tarutis topped the team with 51 assists, while notching six kills and six digs. Stasiuk topped the team with 14 digs.

Cincinnati was led defensively by sophomore libero Jaime Frey – she had a game-high 17 digs. Freshman setter Annie Fesl, sister of Notre Dame’s Megan Fesl, recorded 43 helpers while senior outside hitter Jenny Custer led with 16 kills.

Notre Dame knocked down Louisville 3-1 (30-28, 30-16, 25-30, 30-28) to ruin what would have been an unblemished season in the Big East for the Cardinals. It was the final home game for the Irish, and Notre Dame’s two senior players – Stasiuk and Tarutis – were honored before the game. Before the game, Stremick played the National Anthem for the seniors – and the crowd – on her saxophone.

“I was really involved in music when I was in high school. I did a lot of band, choir, piano kind of things,” Stremick said. “It was actually something I learned in high school. Someone gave me kind of a jazzy rendition of the National Anthem. I actually play it once a year here – usually Senior Night. Ashley Tarutis requested that I do it.”

After winning a closely-contested first game, Notre Dame found itself going back and forth in game two. The score was 15-13 in favor of the Irish at the media timeout, and then they played to near perfection, capitalizing on Cardinals’ mistakes and closing out with a 15-3 run.

After a few early ties in the third game, the Cardinals pulled away and led the Irish by five throughout most of the second half. The Cardinals continued their great play into game four, and it had appeared that Irish might slide.

The turning point, however, came when the Irish were down 12-9. Stasiuk was serving to only two backcourt recipients from the Cardinals and blasted three service aces in a row. From there, the game was tied and the Irish went on to squeak out the win in game four.

“We have a bunch of great athletes on our team,” Fesl said. “We went into the match believing that we could win. We were in a good mind frame, and everything just seemed to click.”

Both seniors ended their final home games with double-doubles. Tarutis had 58 assists and 11 digs, while Stasiuk scored 11 kills and 11 digs (her 19th this season). Fesl was the leading scorer of the game – she racked up 21 kills.

“Everyone worked off each other, and there was great passing, great setting and really intelligent game play,” Fesl said. “I think that helped my game just working off my teammates.”

Louisville was led by junior outside hitter Jana Matiasovska, senior middle blocker Svetlana Dukule, and sophomore outside hitter Justine Landi. They recorded 16, 15 and 11 kills, respectively while Landi added a team-high 14 digs.