Nov. 12, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) just missed a triple-double and junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) notched 25 digs to lead an outstanding defensive effort, which gave the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (15-7, 8-1) a sweep of conference-rival Pittsburgh (19-7, 7-2) Friday afternoon in front of a crowd of 4,773 in the Joyce Center. The Irish prevailed in a battle of two of the three teams atop the BIG EAST standings, and Notre Dame will attempt to secure at least a share of its ninth league title in 10 years of conference membership when it plays host to West Virginia on Sunday at 2 p.m. (EST).
Facing the top offense in the BIG EAST, the Irish defense averaged 4.33 blocks and 19.00 digs per game in holding the Panthers to a .127 hitting mark, including percentages of less than .080 in two games. Notre Dame ended with 13 blocks and 77 digs to hold large margins over Pittsburgh in both categories.
The captain of the Irish and the anchor of the defense, Henican notched six digs in the opening game and five in the second before exploding for 14 in the final frame, including five on a single point. She won the battle of two of the top liberos in the league, outdigging the 2003 BIG EAST Libero of the Year, Megan McGrane, by nine. Henican's performance marked the third time this season that she has had 25 or more digs in a three-game match, after that had been accomplished just twice in the first 24 years of varsity Irish volleyball.
Three other Irish players hit double figures in digs, as freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) had 13, Brewster notched a dozen, and rookie S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) finished with 10.
Brewster led a resurgent Irish blocking game that finished with 13 on the match, including five in each of the first and third games. She had two solo blocks and assisted on six more to be in on more than 60 percent of her team's blocks. Junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) also had a pair of solo blocks, as well as two block assists. She also scrambled for seven digs.
Notre Dame's trio of '03 AVCA honorable mention All-Americans led the offensive output. Kelbley, who missed last Sunday's contest due to an injury, returned to the court with a team-high 14 kills on .281 hitting, while senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) notched 13 on a .344 attack percentage. Brewster was perfect offensively, with 12 kills on just 22 errorless swings for a .545 hitting mark. Junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) ended just one shy of her career high in kills, with seven, while Stasiuk added six.
Tarutis guided Notre Dame's offense, which hit over .310 in two games and ended with a .287 attack percentage. She notched a match-high 41 assists, winning a battle with the conference's assist leader, Azadeh Boroumand, who finished with 37.
Pittsburgh OH Gini Ullery carried an enormous portion of the offensive load for the Panthers, who were without their top player, Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year MH Megan Miller. Ullery took 72 attempts and finishing with a match-high 24 kills. Freshman OH Diana Andreyko ended up with 14 kills.
The match was played immediately prior to the pep rally for the contest between the schools in football on Saturday. The crowd was the second-largest ever to take in Irish volleyball in the Joyce Center, behind only a pre-pep rally attendance of 8,643 in 2003 against Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh for the 17th time in 22 meetings, though the Panthers were victorious twice against the Irish in 2003, when the schools were regular-season co-champions of the BIG EAST.
The Irish began quickly, winning four of the first five points of the match. Pittsburgh came back, though, and the first game was deadlocked for the fourth and final time at 14-14, just before a 4-0 Irish run. Notre Dame then built up an advantage of as many as eight (28-20), but had trouble closing out the game. Pittsburgh won three straight points after being down 29-22, but a kill from Brewster finally ended the frame. Notre Dame hit .314 in the game and got five kills apiece from Loomis, Kelbley, and Brewster. Pittsburgh turned in 22 kills on .263 hitting. The Irish won a battle of good digging, holding a 25-24 advantage, and they also had all five of the game's blocks.
In the second game, Notre Dame got out quickly again, taking an 11-4 lead before the Panthers would rally. Pittsburgh got within three on one occasion (14-11), but otherwise could not close the margin. Notre Dame led by eight a number of times before winning the game by that amount. The Irish held Pittsburgh to just 14 kills and 10 errors for a .075 hitting mark, due in large part to 24 digs and three blocks. Kelbley had five more kills, while Loomis and Brewster both notched four without an error.
The third game was tight for the first half, but Notre Dame then broke a 15-15 tie by winning five consecutive points to incite a game-ending 15-4 run. A kill by Brewster put the exclamation point on Pittsburgh's first 3-0 loss since Sept. 11. The Irish hit .311 in the final game, while the Panthers mustered only a .036 attacking mark.
Notre Dame is the first team in the conference to register eight league wins. Syracuse, which is 7-1 in league action with the only defeat a 3-0 decision vs. the Irish on Oct. 2, had a chance to reach that number on Friday evening in a home match against West Virginia. Pittsburgh will play at Syracuse on Sunday at 2 p.m. to complete a weekend in which it takes on both of the other league-leading teams.