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ND Volleyball: Irish seek perfection again

Meaghan Veselik | Friday, August 20, 2010

Losing six seniors has yet to slow the Irish down as they enter their season with two returning players named to the all-Big East preseason team, a third-place ranking in the Big East preseason poll, and six highly recruited freshmen who have already made headlines in the volleyball world.

Just over a week into practice, Irish coach Debbie Brown said she has a strong, positive outlook for the upcoming season.

“We’re very excited about the new players that we have on our team and think that the returning players are doing a great job,” Brown said. “There are definitely different levels of experience and personalities than before but we’re liking what we’re seeing on the practice court so far.”

Notre Dame registered a perfect 15-0 record against the Big East in 2009, finishing the year 21-7 overall for the team’s 19th winning season, each of which have been under the direction of Brown. Her peers named her the 2009 Big East coach of the year and the AVCA Division I Northeast Region coach of the year for the third time.

Senior middle blocker Kellie Sciacca and junior outside hitter Kristen Dealy take the reins from their graduated teammates. Both were named to the All-Big East preseason team after their impressive performances on the court last season. Sciacca led the Big East in league play with a .429 hitting percentage in 2009 and was second for the Irish in blocks with a total of 90. Dealy ended the 2009 season second in kills and points for the Irish.

Sciacca and Dealy are only two of the top four leaders on this Irish team. Along with senior libero Angela Puente and junior libero Frenchy Silva, Sciacca and Dealy regularly meet with the team’s coaches to discuss the dynamics, goals, strengths and weaknesses of the team. Sciacca and Puente will also be serving as the Irish co-captains this year, though leadership responsibilities fall on all four of the players, as well as other teammates.

Known to bring in strong recruiting classes in the past, the Irish coaches have done it once again as PrepVolleyball.com ranked the six freshman players the 13th-best recruiting class in the nation. The top-15 ranking gave Notre Dame the highest ranking of any Big East member. The six, Maggie Brindock, Samantha Brown, Sammie Brown, Andrea McHugh, Andrea Olsen and Nicole Smith, are a balanced and accomplished group hailing from California, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas. “With freshmen there’s a newness, an energy, about them,” Brown said. “They bring lots of enthusiasm to the court, but the returners are doing a great job of that as well.”

Despite a very different team, Brown and the Irish continue to have many of the same goals as last season — and then some.

“We want to compete at a high level early and know that’s a challenge. It’s always a goal to win the Big East and we feel a position to challenge for that from our success last season,” Brown said. “We’re working towards the championship, but not stopping there. We want to go to the NCAA Championship Tournament and advance farther than last year.”

More important than titles or trophies to Brown and her coaching staff is seeing the players grow and improve on the court.

“We’re working hard to make sure we’re improving and getting better as the year goes on,” she said. “A huge goal is to see marked improvement, individually and collectively as a team.”

The Irish will start their season at 7:00 p.m. on Aug. 27 when they host Marshall to launch the Shamrock Invitational at Purcell Pavilion with conference play beginning Sept. 24 against West Virginia at Purcell Pavilion.