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ND Volleyball: Irish looking for fresh start

Joe Meixell | Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The best thing about Big East play coming up for the Irish is that everyone’s records are still the same within the conference.

Notre Dame (3-6) has a steep hill to climb, however, after being ranked fourth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll behind Louisville, St. John’s and Cincinnati and having below .500 non-conference start.

The main positive that the Irish can take out of their early losses is that they were against top quality opponents. Three of their losses came against No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 California and No. 19 Cal Poly in the Network/AVCA Division I coaches’ poll.

“The fact that our schedule has been very good is a real positive for us,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “This is a pivotal time to get on a winning streak and gain momentum heading into the Big East.”

Notre Dame has its focus set squarely on the Big East, and these non-conference losses cannot ruin the season.

“We want to win the Big East and advance significantly in the NCAA Tournament,” Brown said earlier this year.

Sophomore middle blocker Kellie Sciacca was named to the Diet Coke Classic All-Tournament team after she registered a team-high nine kills on a .350 average against No. 8 Minnesota.

Based on non-conference play, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Georgetown all sit atop the standings with 6-3 records, but those marks could be a little misleading.

“Nobody is tearing it up right now,” Brown said.

Senior middle blocker Jessie Nevitt, who was named Big East Player of the Week as she moved past 1,200 career kills with 46 in the ASU Sheraton Invitational over the weekend, leads Cincinnati.

“They have a good balance of youth and experience,” Brown said. “Their middle blocker Justine Nevitt is very strong leading their team.”

Connecticut blasted their way to a 6-3 record by beating up on some non-conference foes, but their losses to unranked Albany, Michigan State and UW-Milwaukee raise questions.

Huskie junior libero Jessica Isaac earned a spot on the MSU Showcase All-Tournament team as she combined for five assists and 36 digs, including a 20-dig performance against the Panthers.

Freshman libero Tory Rezin earned Big East Rookie of the Week honors and has been a pleasant surprise for the Hoyas. Junior outside hitter Jessica Hardy and sophomore middle blocker Vanessa Dorismond were also named to the Georgetown Classic All-Tournament team this weekend.

Losses to unranked American, North Carolina and Missouri State also make Georgetown’s early success suspect to a much tougher Big East schedule down the road.

Preseason favorites St. John’s (5-5) and Louisville (3-4) have had much more trouble opening their seasons, but they have also been subject to much tougher competition.

“St. John’s and Louisville both have had the toughest schedules so far,” Brown said. “They are both very strong and very physical.”

Much of the two teams strength comes from their connections to players from Eastern Europe, Brown said.

“They both rely pretty heavily on foreign players, which gives them a lot of big, physical, experienced players,” she said.

St. John’s has losses to No. 9 California, Missouri, and LSU in its fight to .500.

Leading St. John’s is senior libero Lena Lee with 164 digs.

The Red Storm has not lost at home since Nov. 11, 2005, going 24-0 during that time. St. John’s has won all 10 home matches in each of the last two seasons.

Louisville has also had a very difficult road, losing to No. 1 Penn State over the weekend. Senior outside hitter Tatyana Kolesnikova earned all-tournament honors at the Chicago Classic this weekend.

The Irish will start up Big East play in two weeks after hosting non-conference Liberty, UC Irvine, and Western Michigan this weekend in the Golden Dome Invitational.