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Volleyball:Team looks to bounce back

Joe Meixell | Friday, November 7, 2008

One week after a disappointing five-set loss to Marquette, the Notre Dame will be back on the court looking to regain some Big East momentum.

A win Sunday against Rutgers (2-18, 1-9 Big East) would be crucial in positioning the Irish higher in the Big East standings. Notre Dame (12-12, 7-4 Big East) currently sits at sixth in the conference, a position that isn’t good enough for Irish coach Debbie Brown.

“It’s not where we’d like to be,” she said. “But we know that’s still within our control. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re in a great position for each of those matches.”

The Irish are led by junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin, who has racked up 286 kills on the year, and Kellie Sciacca, who has 223 kills on the season, good for a .328 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Serenity Phillips, recently returned from injury, has posted 201 kills, and posted 25 kills, 10 digs, and nine blocks against the Golden Eagles on Sunday.

Brown said that after the upset loss to Marquette, she didn’t change much in her practice routine, and continued to focus on what she had all season.

“Going into that match, we knew of our weakness in terms of the serving, blocking, and defensive side of the game,” Brown said. “We haven’t been able to hold our opponents to a lower hitting percentage. That has been the concentration even prior to last weekend, and it certainly has continued to be one of our primary focuses this week.”

Notre Dame only has three matches remaining in its Big East schedule, but Brown said that she wasn’t trying to crank up the intensity of her team just because their schedule was coming to a close.

“I think the pace of what we’ve been doing in practice has been good,” she said. “But it’s not like we’re panicking now because the time is less. I think we’ve been going at a pretty good pace and we’re continuing at a pretty good place as well.”

Against the Scarlet Knights, Brown said she wanted the team to continue having a consistent attack. Rutgers is led by sophomore outside hitter Caitlin Saxton, who has 188 kills on the season.

“I think we’ve played best when we’ve had a balanced offense, so certainly that’s important for us,” Brown said. “Again, we’re working hard at trying to bring the opponent’s hitting percentage down. We’ve worked hard on our block, changing up the defenses a little bit, and in particular stopping the opponent’s middle attack.”

This match marks the first time in three weeks Notre Dame will have to prepare for only one opponent. In previous weeks, the Irish have had matches on consecutive days.

“It’s always easier when you only have to prepare for one, for sure,” Brown said. “I think when we play those weekends back-to-back, the turnaround time from one match to another is short.”

Brown said that she planned to use the extra practice time to focus on her team’s own problems, as opposed to preparing for an extra opponent.

“Definitely that has helped and I think especially with the weaknesses that we’ve had,” she said. “We’ve been able to concentrate on our side of the net and the things we can do better.”

The match against Rutgers will be Notre Dame’s last before a crucial two-game home series against conference leader St. John’s and fourth-place Connecticut. Brown said, though, that it was important that her team didn’t look past Rutgers.

“Every match in the conference is critical just because there’s going to be a big group of teams that have anywhere between three and five losses,” she said. “So who you’ve beaten and your record is going to be very important in terms of advancing to the Big East Tournament and getting the best possible seed.”

The Irish will face off against Rutgers Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in Piscataway, N.J.