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ND Volleyball: Golden chance to improve

Jared Jedick | Friday, September 19, 2008

Notre Dame looks to build momentum this weekend when it hosts the Golden Dome Invitational against Liberty, UC Irvine and Western Michigan.

The Irish (3-6) had a tough couple of weeks against some of the best competition in the country. They faced No. 11 Minnesota, No. 4 California and No. 16 Cal in a span of only three days.

“We have learned so much in the past few weeks,” head coach Debbie Brown said. “Now we need to apply what we have learned.”

The Irish want to build momentum this weekend to carry over into Big East play next week, but Brown said the team’s focus is still squarely on the Golden Dome Invitational.

“We are not looking ahead right now,” Brown said. “We are looking at each team we are about to face.”

Coming into its ninth Golden Dome Invitational, Notre Dame is 13-8 all-time, having won 10 of its last 12 matches in the event.

The Irish are entering some uncharted territory, however – they have not faced Liberty, UC Irvine or Western Michigan in a long time, according to Brown.

“We have played them before, but not recently,” Brown said. “I do know that they are having pretty good pre-seasons.”

Up first for the Irish on Friday is Liberty with an impressive 8-2 record and a decent schedule. The Flames won their first eight matches of the season before finally losing their first two games to Northern Iowa and No. 18 Kansas State.

Liberty likes to rely on its star sophomore outside hitter Nicki Scripko, Brown said.

“They try to get her the ball a lot,” Brown said.

To beat Liberty, Brown stressed the need to work hard to keep the ball out of the hands of Liberty’s best players.

“We need to work hard and serve aggressively,” Brown said. “We need to take their best options away.”

Up next on Saturday is a down UC Irvine squad (4-6). It has had a tough schedule, having faced No. 17 San Diego, No. 18 Kansas State, and No. 12 Oregon.

Leading the Anteaters in kills is sophomore Kari Pestolesi, who had 53 kills in four matches last week. Pestolesi also had 38 digs and 5 service aces.

Rounding out the field for the Irish on Sunday is a 7-1 Western Michigan squad that is a legitimate contender for the MAC title. The Broncos, however, have been struggling with injury lately. Senior middle blocker Ashley Vogl will miss the rest of the season after sustaining a right knee injury against Illinois State on Sept. 6, while junior middle blocker Tara Lowell remains out indefinitely because of a right knee injury sustained in preseason practice.

To take advantage of the these last three games before getting into the Big East, Brown said the team needs to improve in several areas.

“We need to improve the offense, make our passing more dynamic,” Brown said. “On defense we need to increase our range and set up the block. I want us to be aggressive and get good serves in.”

If the Irish can heat up this weekend and start up a winning streak, they will be well placed to start Big East play off right against South Florida next week.