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ND Volleyball: Team loses in championship game

Conor Kelly | Sunday, November 20, 2011

Notre Dame nearly became the lowest-seeded team in Big East history to win the conference tournament over the weekend.

In a rematch of the regular season finale, the fifth-seeded Irish dispatched fourth-seeded Syracuse 3-1 (27-25, 25-17, 21-25, 25-19) before upsetting top-seeded Louisville (25-22, 22-25, 25-21, 25-19) in the semifinals. Notre Dame’s run came to an end in the final contest of the tournament, as the Irish fell to a determined Cincinnati squad 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 27-25).

“I thought it was a great showing for the team,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “Obviously we’re disappointed not to have won, but I’m proud of how we stepped up.”

On Friday at Marquette’s AL Maguire Center, the Irish avenged their defeat to the Orangemen a week before, a match in which Syracuse needed a win to clinch a berth to the Big East tournament. This time, the Irish were the ones desperate not to stop the program’s streak of 17 straight first-round Big East tournament victories, and that showed on the court.

Freshman Jeni Houser, who was named to the Big East all-tournament team, paced the Irish with 17 kills, slugging at a prodigious .533 rate. Junior Hilary Eppink contributed 12 kills and an efficient .429 hitting percentage.

“Houser has really come into her own as a hitter,” Brown said. “She just hits the ball so hard. I think she’s matured a lot over the season. There’s a learning curve that comes with being a freshman.”

The Irish again reversed their regular season result against the top-ranked Cardinals on Saturday, defeating the Big East regular-season champions in four sets. Notre Dame overcame 24 kills from Big East Player of the Year Lola Arslanbekova on the way to victory. Arslanbekova’s production came on 56 attempts as the Irish held her to a .268 hitting percentage thanks to the blocking efforts of Eppink, freshman Toni Alugbue and junior Marie Roof.

Senior captain Kristen Dealy, also named to the all-tournament team, notched 13 kills in the victory while sophomore Andrea McHugh posted 11. The sophomore duo of Sammie Brown and Maggie Brindock piloted the Irish attack, combining for 40 assists.

On Sunday, the Bearcats denied Notre Dame’s bid for its 10th Big East championship title with a straight set victory in a match decided by just a few points. On a day when the Irish could not seem to get over the hump, small runs by Cincinnati proved to be the difference.

“We fought hard today, but we just couldn’t get a break when we absolutely needed it,” Brown said. “That’s the difference in the match.”

The loss makes the Irish a long shot for an NCAA tournament bid, as Sunday’s match was likely the last for seniors Dealy and libero Frenchy Silva. The co-captains have been starters since they entered the program as freshmen in 2008 and have made their mark on a young team.

“It’s hard to overstate how important those two have been to our program through their years here,” Brown said, “So it was definitely a bittersweet ending for them. They’ll really be missed.”



Contact Conor Kelly at [email protected]