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ND Volleyball: One last match, nothing at stake

Sam Werner | Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Even though Notre Dame came up just short against Louisville in the Big East tournament final Sunday, the Irish still have one more regular season match remaining before packing it in for the offseason.

With an at-large NCAA Tournament bid out of the question, the Irish (16-14, 9-5 Big East) will take the court one last time against Xavier Friday night in what will be the final match for seniors outside hitter Mallorie Croal and middle blocker Justine Stremick.

“We know it’s the last match of the season and we know we’re just going to make the best of it,” coach Debbie Brown said. “We want to go out, obviously, finishing the year on a high note.”

While Stremick will make her contributions on the court Sunday, Croal will be limited to the sidelines. The Villa Park, Calif., native suffered a serious ankle injury during the spring of her sophomore year and had surgeries after her sophomore and junior years, but was unable to fully recover. After Notre Dame’s Oct. 21 loss to Long Beach State this year, Croal decided that the pain was too great to continue, and elected to sit out the rest of the season.

“This injury that she suffered is just one of those things you don’t understand, but she still gave to the team in any way that she could,” Brown said. “She always put the team in front of herself.”

Croal has still attended every practice and has been instrumental, Brown said, in tutoring younger players.

“Because she’s such a good leader, even though she wasn’t on the court, she really helped the team mature and grow throughout the year,” Brown said.

Stremick was also hindered by injury early in the season after partially tearing her ACL last March, but has since returned to being one of Notre Dame’s most consistent players. Despite missing the team’s first six matches, Stremick has posted 165 kills, good for a .298 hitting percentage.

“Injuries are a part of sports,” Brown said. “But it’s just great to have her back.”

Against the Musketeers (16-14, 8-5 Atlantic 10), the Irish will face a team that is coming off a loss to No. 21 Saint Louis in the Atlantic-10 tournament. Junior outside hitter Kelly Ruth, who has notched 359 kills and a .220 hitting percentage on the season, leads Xavier.

Brown said while expectations were high for next season, the team wasn’t overlooking its final match.

“I’m not ready for next season yet,” she said. “We still have one more match.”