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Irish lose in finals of tournament

Sam Werner | Monday, September 22, 2008

The Irish took down Liberty and UC Irvine before falling just short against Western Michigan this weekend at the Golden Dome Invitational.

Junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin led the Irish (5-7) with 40 kills on the weekend. Against Liberty, the Louisville native posted a .733 hitting percentage, 10th-highest in Notre Dame history.

“Kaelin was outstanding the first two matches, for sure,” Notre Dame coach Debbie Brown said. “She carried a huge offensive load for us, and she’s one of those players who wants the ball every time. She’s aggressive and mixes up her shots.”

Kaelin said it was just a matter of fundamentals.

“I was really working on keeping the ball in front of me and taking nice, high, aggressive swings,” she said.

Friday night against the Flames (9-4), the Irish put in a dominating performance, winning 25-10, 25-20, and 25-17. Notre Dame played a nearly flawless offensive game, committing only one hitting error the entire match. The Irish were almost equally as dominant on the defensive side, holding Liberty to a .090 hitting percentage. Chelaine McCarty led the Flames with 11 kills.

The next night, UC-Irvine (5-8) put up a better fight, but the Irish again prevailed, and once again it was Kaelin leading the way.

The all-tournament team honoree posted a match-high 17 kills against the Anteaters, good for a .533 hitting percentage.

In a match Notre Dame won 25-22, 25-23, 25-23, UC-Irvine certainly staged their fair share of rallies, forcing 31 ties and 11 lead changes. The second set was even tied 23-23 before a pair of Anteater errors swung the match in favor of the Irish.

After two convincing wins, the Irish looked to complete the weekend sweep against Western Michigan. They got off to a good start, winning the first two sets 25-16 and 25-17.

Something happened after the second set, though, and the Broncos came out firing in the third. After falling behind 8-4, Western Michigan ripped off a 15-3 run to stake a 19-11 lead that they never relinquished, taking the set 25-16.

The Irish appeared to right the ship when they claimed a 7-3 lead in the fourth set, but again the Broncos rallied to claim a 11-10 lead. Notre Dame probably had its best chance to close out the match when they trailed by only three late in the set, but the Irish couldn’t complete the comeback, and lost the set 25-20.

Two key blocks by senior Justine Stremick gave Notre Dame hope in the fifth set when they trailed 12-9, but, again, the Irish couldn’t finish the job, falling 15-9.

“I think as much as anything, Western turned it up after the first two games,” Brown said. “They played a lot better.”

After the second game, the Broncos focused on loading up the middle, which, in turn, opened up seams on the outside, Brown said.

Brown also said that she wouldn’t say much to her team after the match.

“Everyone’s down already so we don’t need to blast them,” she said. “We know it’s not what we wanted to do.”

This weekend concluded preseason play for the Irish, who have competed in tournaments in Minneapolis and Idaho, as well as two in South Bend.

Notre Dame begins Big East play next weekend with a Friday night matchup against South Florida in Tampa. Brown said her team was full of potential, but heading into the conference season, she wasn’t sure if they always capitalized on that potential.

“We keep getting these glimpses of what we can do, and then we stumble,” she said. “I think that our confidence probably isn’t as high as it could have been if we had finished out strong [against Western Michigan].”