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ND Volleyball: Irish begin Big East play

Joe Meixell | Friday, September 26, 2008

Notre Dame is prepared to begin conference play tonight and Sunday with two big matchups against South Florida and Georgetown.

Conference play is like a new start for the Irish (5-7), who have been hovering around .500 for most of the non-conference season.

Despite the heated nature of playing against familiar teams in the Big East and the games meaning more, Notre Dame’s approach will stay the same.

“[Big East play] is not really different for us,” head coach Debbie Brown said. “We take every match seriously. The non-conference and conference seasons build on one another. It’s just another part of the season.”

The Irish are looking forward to the Big East season and want to see a strong showing early.

“We are definitely going in with an intensity,” Brown said. “We will be determined and fired up.”

The Irish have been game-planning this week to fill the void left by junior outside hitter Serinity Phillips, who is out with an ankle sprain. Phillips was on the all Big East preseason team.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Brown said. “[Phillips] will definitely not play this weekend. She is going to stay at Notre Dame and we are going to try and get her ready for next week, but that is still uncertain.”

To counter the loss of Phillips, the Irish have been experimenting with some different combinations.

“We want to try and get a rhythm with different lineups,” Brown said. “We want to try and be balanced and move people around in the lineup. Our best two hitters [junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin and [freshman outside hitter Kristen] Dealy need to get the ball.”

Brown also wants to utilize some formations that the team is not necessarily used to.

“We want to experiment with people for a better block and use different weapons,” Brown said.

First up on Friday is a trip to South Florida (9-5). The Bulls currently sit at third in the Big East thanks to a strong non-conference showing to start the season.

USF is led by junior outside hitter Marcela Gurgel who earned All-American honors last year. Gurgel currently ranks fourth in the NCAA in kills per set at 4.75 and ninth in aces per set at 0.63.

Gurgel had a season high 23 kills and four aces in their match last year against Notre Dame. The Irish pulled out the home match with a four-set victory.

“South Florida depends pretty heavily on their outside hitter Gurgel,” Brown said. “We need to be concerned about Gurgel, but we can’t just concentrate on her.”

Sunday’s match comes against a much-improved Georgetown (7-6) squad. The Hoyas sit at sixth in the Big East with a decent non-conference season.

“Georgetown will be much improved from last year,” Brown said. “They were near the bottom last year and they have no returning players to carry them, but we are Notre Dame and we will have a target on our backs. We expect to be pushed.”

Senior setter Caitlin Boland is fifth in the Big East, averaging 10.78 assists per set.

The Hoyas rank fifth in the Big East and No. 60 in the nation with 1.64 service aces per game. Look for the Hoyas to try and exploit this advantage.

The Irish will continue Big East play next week with matchups against Louisville and Cincinnati.