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ND Volleyball: Senior leaders prepare for final chance at Big East title

Joe Meixell | Thursday, August 27, 2009

Notre Dame has won nine conference titles in its 15 years as a member of the Big East -but no current players can attest to these victories.

The Irish captured their last Big East crown in 2005, when captains Christina Kaelin and Jamel Nicholas, as well as the four other seniors on the team, were no more than recruits. But the women still have one more chance, and the captains agreed that they plan to make the most of it.

“It’s a now or never kind of attitude,” Nicholas said. “We’re all pumped about it. We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder to go out there and get it done.”

The seniors came to Notre Dame in 2006 as a recruiting class named one of the best in the nation by Volleyball Magazine. But key injuries and a couple heartbreaking losses have stopped the Irish from living up to their potential.

“We’ve come so close, but so far we haven’t been able to come away with a big championship,” said Kaelin, who sat out her sophomore season because of a torn labrum.

Because of her injury, Kaelin could do nothing but watch while Notre Dame fell to Louisville in the semifinals of the Big East tournament in 2007.

“It was definitely tough to sit on the sideline and not contribute on the court,” she said.

However, she credits the injury with helping her to learn the technical aspects of the game, which she used to her advantage last season when she led the team in several categories and earned a second team all-Big East honor along with fellow senior Serinity Phillips and junior Kellie Sciacca.

“I learned to be able to analyze the game, and I think that helped me out last year,” Kaelin said. “I’m not one to think about strategy or technical stuff, so I think being out helped me think about different shots.”

In 2008, Notre Dame once again lost to Louisville in the Big East tournament, this time in the final round.

Kaelin said the seniors are especially ready to make a run at the conference again this season.

“We definitely want to prove ourselves, that we weren’t just highly touted high school players,” she said. “We want to prove that we can come together and win at the next level. And this is our last chance to do it.”

The Irish have also fallen short of making the NCAA playoffs the past two years after earning an at-large bid in 2006, when the current seniors were freshmen.

“It was a valuable experience to be there,” Nicholas said. “We can tell the younger girls what needs to be done. It’s definitely a goal to get back there.”

The surest way to make the tournament would be to win the Big East, something the seniors have learned is easier said than done. But both captains established the conference championship as a clear goal for the season.

“We need to come out and prove ourselves again,” Nicholas said. “We’re really looking to re-name ourselves in the Big East, to win the title for sure. We want to get back on track with the winning tradition at Notre Dame.”