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Volleyball: Irish end season with sweep

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Irish finished up their season in style with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) win over Xavier on Friday, sending their two seniors, middle blocker Justine Stremick and outside hitter Mallorie Croal, off into the sunset with a good taste in their mouths.

“We all would have rather been playing in the NCAA’s,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “But it was important for those two to go out with a win. We all have a lot of respect for Justine and Mallorie.”

Notre Dame (17-14; 9-5 Big East) did not disappoint on senior day, dominating all facets of the game against Xavier (16-15; 8-5 Atlantic 10) to pull out the sweep win and earn the team its 80th victory in the seniors four years.

“Overall, we did pretty well, despite a somewhat poor showing statistically,” Brown said. “Our main goal was to get everybody into the match and gain some experience.”

Freshman outside hitter Kristen Dealy and junior outside hitter Christina Kaelin had 10 kills apiece to lead the Irish in scoring, who hit .225 as a team. Sophomore outside hitter Kellie Sciacca tossed in eight kills with five blocks with Stremick nailing five more kills. Sophomore libero/defensive specialist Megan Dunne led the Irish with 14 digs, followed closely by freshman libero/defensive specialist Frenchy Silva’s total of 10.

But the real story of the day was the send-off for the seniors, who have been important leaders for the Irish for some time now.

Croal could not make it onto the court this year for any extended period of time because of injury, but she took over the role of doing whatever she could on the sidelines, according to Brown.

“Mallorie was just an outstanding leader,” Brown said. “She could not be the leader she was on the court because of her injury, but she did everything she possibly could off of it to help the team.”

Brown found the hard work and insights of Croal to her fellow teammates to be inspiring and an important aspect of the team down the stretch and through the surprising run to the Big East Championship.

“Mallorie tried everything to get back out there, but her ability to do everything you would expect a leader to do was important down the stretch,” Brown said. “She was an inspiration to us.”

The last month of the season saw Stremick coming on as the player and leader Brown always knew she could be.

“Justine is our dominant presence at the net,” Brown said. “This last month saw her playing up to the ability that she always had.”

Stremick came from a small town by the name of Langdon, North Dakota, and did not even play for a club team, but she found a way to keep rising to the occasion and become a key player on a Big East team, according to Brown.

“When she came onto the team as a freshmen, she had to sit and learn from some dominant players already on the team,” Brown said. “But she stepped up into the starting role sophomore year and just kept getting better and better. She is really pretty remarkable.”

After failing to reach their goal of making the NCAA’s this year, the Irish have to look to next season, as they would like to move beyond the inconsistencies that plagued them for most of this year.

“It is a little frustrating when you have an up and down year,” Brown said. “The early losses really hurt us, especially with all the injuries.”

But Brown believes the season ended on a high note with the team coming together in the Big East tournament, bolstered by the fact that the team is only losing two players to graduation and will boast six returning seniors and four juniors.

“Overall we improved as a team,” Brown said. “Nobody on this team ever crumbled, and no one threw in the towel.”

The expectations are even higher next year than this.

“We have very high expectations,” Brown said. “We felt that this year would be the year we made it back to the NCAA’s and returned to an elite status. That did not happen this year, so there is no question we want to make it there next year.”

The Irish will be back next fall looking to build on the momentum gained from a furious run at the end of the year.