Sept. 11, 2005
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Senior middle blockers Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) and Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) were outstanding, and the Irish once again prevailed in close games, as the 19th-ranked University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team concluded a dominating weekend with a sweep of #6 Florida (30-28, 31-29, 30-28) Saturday in the UTSA Dome Rally in the Alamodome. The Irish, now 6-0 with three wins over top-15 teams, lost just a single game in three matches in one of the nation's top in-season tournaments. The Gators, who had not been swept in more than two years, are the second-highest-ranked team ever to fall victim to Notre Dame.
Brewster led all players in three categories, finishing with 20 kills, seven blocks, and 24.5 points. She made just two errors for a .429 hitting mark. Meanwhile, Cooper had a match-high .455 attack percentage, converting half of her swings for 11 kills, while making only a single error. She also took part in four blocks.
It was Notre Dame's seniors - also OH Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.), OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.), and setter Kelly Burrell (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep School) - that were the driving force behind perhaps the most-impressive weekend in program history. ND dropped the opening game of Friday's match against #8 USC before rallying to beat the Women of Troy in four games. The Irish then swept Oklahoma on Saturday before continuing with a 3-0 win against the Gators. Notre Dame came into the weekend with just three all-time victories against teams ranked among the top eight in the nation, but that changed. The Irish had previously taken down top-10 foes in the same month just once, when they beat #3 Nebraska and #9 Illinois in September of 1993.
"I am just really proud of the way we competed and didn't back down from this challenge," said Irish head coach Debbie Brown. "Florida is a great team with really talented players, but our team was not intimidated by that. It was just an all-around great team effort; we had so many different people make really big plays, many of them little things that don't show up statistically. But in such a close match, all of those little things are important. It just illustrated the tremendous fight and character of this team."
"This was a match against a team that has a chance to go to the Final Four," said Florida head coach Mary Wise, who has led the Gators to the national semifinals seven times. "They have all the pieces and are the real deal. They might be a top-five team right now. We got beat by a better team today, but to come out of this tournament 2-1 - we're a much better team now than we were."
This marks the first time ND has ever downed top-10 teams in the same weekend, while Florida is the highest-ranked team to ever lose 3-0 to Notre Dame. The Gators had not been swept since Aug. 22, 2003, when they fell in three games to #1 and eventual undefeated national champion USC. It was the first time the Gators had been swept by a lower-ranked team since the 1999 NCAA quarterfinals, when #4 UF fell to fifth-ranked Pacific. Florida had not lost to a team ranked as low as the Irish since Sept. 4, 1998, against unranked Ohio State (3-1) and had not been swept by a team ranked as low as 19th since Oct. 31, 1994, when unranked Florida State knocked them off.
As has become a habit with this veteran group, Notre Dame simply raised its level at the ends of games, playing big on big points to claim three hotly-contested frames. The Irish have now played 12 games decided by four points or fewer this season and have won 10 of them - including all eight in the UTSA Dome Rally.
As has also been the case this season, the statistics did not bear out Notre Dame's success, though the Irish did finish with slight advantages in most categories. A big story in the match was the prolific ND block, which not only saw seven different players combine for 13 blocks (4.33 per game), but also dictated many of the decisions made by the Florida offense. Kelbley, who also had 10 kills, joined her classmates in leading that effort, finishing with four blocks (including two solo).
In addition to the blocking, Notre Dame's floor defense - which has been defined by a scrambling, never-give-up-on-a-ball attitude for most of this season - was a frustration to the Gators offense, which hit just .172 for the match and did not reach the .200 mark in any game. Leading the floor game was sophomore Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) - who was the libero in the first two games before playing at opposite in the final frame - who had a team-high 24 digs. Sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) had 13 digs for her fifth double-double of the season, while junior Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) had 12 digs and Henican added 11.
Tarutis ran her record as a starter to 26-8 (.765), including 4-1 (.800) against top-15 teams. She played the entire match and set her offense to 54 kills (18.00 per game) on a .202 percentage. Tarutis finished with 46 assists, a career high for her in a three-game affair.
Notre Dame was forced to make a lineup switch mid-match, as freshman OH Mallorie Croal (Villa Park, Calif./Mater Dei H.S.) left the match early in game two with a concussion. Sophomore OH Ellen Heintzman (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart Academy) took her spot for the remainder of that game, but the Irish then moved Stasiuk into a hitting role and inserted Herndon into the libero for the third game.
The Irish beat Florida for just the second time ever and the first time since 1994. Notre Dame also ran its winning streak in neutral-site matches to nine. It dates back to the 2003 NCAA tournament.
The Gators were led by senior OH Jane Colleymore, an All-American and the SEC Player of the Year in 2004, who had 14 kills and a team-high 15 points. Sophomore OPP Amber McCray notched 12 kills, while sophomore OH Marcie Hampton contributed 11 to go with 13 digs. The Florida block also was strong, ending with 12 for the match, including five from sophomore MB Kisya Killingsworth, who also had seven kills on .312 hitting. Sophomore setter Angie McGinnis had 41 assists to go with 15 digs, while senior libero Rachel Engel led all players with 29 digs.
The match opened with some strong hitting, as all of the first nine points ended on kills (Florida led 5-4). After being down 11-8, ND got a kill from Cooper, who then served up a run of eight straight points - which included three kills and two blocks from Brewster - to go up 16-11. The Irish maintained that edge for much of the rest of the game, but the Gators came back to tie the score at 28-28. ND responded with kills from Croal and Kelbley to win the game, the first time the Irish have taken the opening game in six all-time meetings with Florida. Leading the way offensively for the Irish was Brewster, who had eight kills on .316 hitting to go with a pair of blocks. ND also had 25 digs, including seven each from Stasiuk and Tarutis and six by Henican.
Notre Dame got off quickly in game two and never trailed, going up by as many as four (10-6 and 12-8). The Gators finally tied the score at 25-25, but ND again moved ahead and had a pair of game points after going up 29-27. Kills by Colleymore and McCray erased those, but a kill by Henican and a McCray attack that sailed long gave the Irish the game. Notre Dame had seven blocks in the game - with six different players taking part - while Stasiuk added nine digs. Cooper was the offensive leader with six kills and no errors on eight attempts.
Following the intermission, the teams traded points for the first half of the third game, though Florida held the lead for much of the time. The Gators did not get up by more than two until a block by McGinnis and Killingsworth made it 18-15. The Irish used kills from Henican, Kelbley, and Brewster and a Brewster/Cooper block to pull ahead at 20-19. The rest of the game was tight, but Florida edged ahead at 28-26 before the final Irish push ended the match. Down two, kills from Cooper, Henican, and Kelbley set the stage for a solo block by Kelbley on match point.
Notre Dame was scheduled to resume action next weekend in the Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans, La. In light of Hurricane Katrina, the Irish will not make that trip, but a finalized plan for next weekend has not yet been made, as to whether ND will play any matches at all and where they would be contested. Check back to the official site of Irish athletics, und.com, this week for more information.
#6 Florida (7-1) 28-29-28 #19 Notre Dame (6-0) 30-31-30