Nov. 14, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - A trio of juniors - middle blockers Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) and Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) and libero Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) - led the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (16-7, 9-1) to a 30-23, 30-25, 30-19 win over West Virginia (18-13, 4-6) Sunday afternoon in the Joyce Center to clinch its ninth BIG EAST Conference regular-season championship in 10 years as a league member. The Irish will play their final regular-season home match on Tuesday, playing host to perennial power Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. (EST).
Cooper turned in the best performance of her career. She bested her previous career-best kill total by six, ending with a team-high sum of 14 on a match-best .455 attack percentage. She also led all players in blocks with seven, including two of the solo variety. Cooper also had 6.5 more points than her previous career high, ending up with a match-best 18.5.
Brewster and Henican both concluded their campaigns for major BIG EAST awards with strong performances. The latter led Notre Dame's defense with 24 digs, an average of 8.00 per game. She was consistent, notching eight in the first game, nine in the second, and seven in the final frame. It followed up a 25-dig performance on Friday against the conference's top offensive team, Pittsburgh. Henican helped Notre Dame outdig the best digging team in the conference by 13, holding a 58-45 advantage. The captain accounted for more than 40 percent of those digs. Henican also paces the serve-receiving unit that allowed just two aces by West Virginia and is surrendering only 1.01 per game this season, the second-best average in school history.
Henican has made a strong case to be the BIG EAST Libero of the Year, as she has captained the top defense in the conference, which has held league foes to a .134 hitting mark, by far the best in the BIG EAST. Coming into the weekend, Syracuse was second, holding opponents to .161 hitting. Individually, Henican averaged an incredible 6.00 digs per game in conference action, a mark that had never previously been accomplished by any league player prior to this season. She notched 15 or more digs in seven of 10 league matches, including four outputs of 24 or more (three of them coming in just three games).
Henican, who became just the ninth Irish player ever - and first since 1998 - to register 1,000 career digs on Sunday, is in the midst of perhaps the best defensive season by an individual in school history. Her dig average of 4.80 is on pace to shatter the previous Irish record of 4.10 by Christy Peters in 1993. She also has a shot at the record for total digs in a season (500 by Peters in '93), as she currently stands with the sixth-highest total in school history, with 408. Henican, who hit the plateau on Sunday, is one of only three Irish players ever to notch 400 digs in a season. She also had 419 in 2003. Henican has now had 24 or more digs in a three-game match four times this season, after that had been accomplished only twice in the first 24 years of Irish varsity volleyball.
Brewster ended with 13 kills and just two errors for a .407 hitting mark to go with seven digs and five blocks. She prevailed in a head-to-head matchup between the top two blockers in the conference, as league leader Alison Zemanski managed just a pair of blocks vs. the Irish, while committing a block error. It put the punctuation mark on a convincing campaign for BIG EAST Player of the Year, which has become a wide-open contest with the late-season injury to preseason player of the year Megan Miller of Pittsburgh that caused her to miss 40 percent of the conference season. Brewster averaged 3.66 kills on .326 hitting in league play, to go with 1.66 blocks and 2.03 digs per game. She has established herself as perhaps the top all-around defensive player in the conference, as she is the only player - at any position - to be averaging over 1.00 blocks and 1.00 digs. Brewster is by far the top defensive middle in the BIG EAST, and she is one of only three middle blockers/hitters in Division I to be averaging both 1.00+ blocks and 2.00+ digs per game (along with Texas A&M's Melissa Munsch and Nevada's Salaia Salave'a), as she has averages of 1.47 blocks and 2.18 digs.
For the second match in a row, Notre Dame's defense was the main story. The Mountaineers hit just .109 against the Irish, and they failed to top .140 in any game. In addition to holding an advantage in digs, Notre Dame nearly doubled up the Mountaineers in blocks, with a 13-7 margin. In addition to Cooper and Brewster, senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) took part in six blocks, to go along with her 10 kills.
Freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) also was a key part of the Irish defensive effort, as she scrambled for 16 digs - a total surpassed only by Henican - and also was in on four blocks. She added six kills and three service aces to go with five assists. Stasiuk completed a league season which has put her in the running for BIG EAST Rookie of the Year. She averaged 2.62 kills, 3.62 digs, and 0.75 blocks per game in conference play, to go along with 14 aces (0.44 per game). She and Pittsburgh outside hitter Diana Andreyko were the only players to win the league's rookie-of-the-week award on multiple occasions.
Notre Dame's offense, led by freshman S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.), hit over .320 in two games and finished with a .250 attack percentage for the match. The Irish had 51 kills (an average of 17.00 per game), while Tarutis finished with 39 assists to go with a match-high four service aces and five digs.
The first game was tight until Notre Dame broke a 16-16 tie by winning five consecutive points, including two on blocks by Brewster and Loomis. The Irish would build on that advantage slightly en route to a seven-point victory. The Irish hit .324 in the opening frame, as Cooper had kills on all four of her attempts. Notre Dame also had six blocks in limiting WVU to .080 hitting.
Defense was the story in game two, as neither team hit over .120, due in large part to 50 combined digs and eight combined blocks. The frame was tied 15 times and featured 10 lead changes, but Notre Dame won five consecutive points after the score was knotted at 25-25 to claim the victory. Tarutis ended the game with consecutive service aces. Notre Dame had 26 digs, including nine each from Henican and Stasiuk, while Brewster notched seven of the team's 18 kills. West Virginia turned in six of its seven blocks in the game.
The third game also was tight early, as it featured 12 ties in the first half of play. After it was deadlocked at 15-15, Notre Dame won six straight points end route to a game-ending 15-4 run. The Irish won the final five points, including getting a block from Brewster and Loomis on match point. Notre Dame had one of its best offensive games of the season, hitting 18 kills on .424 hitting. Cooper had six of those kills, and she also led the Irish to five blocks in the game.
Notre Dame has won six in a row and 11 of 12 all-time meetings with West Virginia. The Irish remained perfect in six matches with the Moutaineers in the Joyce Center. Notre Dame has dropped just two games in those tilts.
After Northern Iowa's first-ever trip to the Joyce Center, the Irish will head to Pittsburgh next weekend for the BIG EAST Championship, slated for Saturday and Sunday in Fitzgerald Field House. Notre Dame, the tournament's top seed, will play in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. (EST) against fourth-seeded Boston College, the only league team to have defeated the Irish. The other semifinal, between the second-seeded tournament hosts and third-seeded Syracuse, will be at 3:30 p.m. The semifinal victors will meet on Sunday at 2 p.m., and the winner of that match will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, slated to begin on campus sites Dec. 2-5. The Irish have won the BIG EAST tournament seven times in their nine years in the league, though they dropped a 3-0 decision in the title match to Pittsburgh in the Joyce Center in 2003.