Nov. 16, 2004
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Junior middle blocker Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) notched a career-best 27 kills, but it was not enough as the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (16-8) lost a 30-28, 28-30, 29-31, 30-22, 15-13 decision against Northern Iowa (22-8) Tuesday night in the final regular-season contest in the Joyce Center. The Irish could not overcome the absence of junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) who was sidelined due to injury for the third time in four matches, in a contest that featured four two-point games and 40 ties.
The decisive frame was tied six times, and the Irish were up early by a 4-3 count. UNI then went ahead, but never by more than two until Notre Dame forced the final deadlock at 12-12. After a Panthers timeout, they got consecutive kills from junior MB Stephanie Germann and junior OH Rachael Tink to garner two match points. The Irish saved the first on a kill from Brewster, but sophomore MB Trista Humpel then ended the match with her fourth kill of the game.
The contest, which took two hours and 30 minutes to complete, was the longest in the Joyce Center since the current rally-scoring format was adopted in 2001. It was just the third time in the 25-year history of Notre Dame volleyball that four games in a match were decided by two points, following up a five-game win over California in the National Invitation Volleyball Championship on Dec. 6, 1991, and a 3-2 loss to Santa Clara on Sept. 24 in the 1993 Golden Dome Invitational. The only time a team held a lead of more than five points was in the fourth game, when UNI pulled away at the end.
Brewster topped her previous career high in kills - accomplished against Virginia Tech last season - by five en route to posting the highest kill total for an Irish student-athlete since Christi Girton had 31 against Connecticut on Oct. 29, 2000. The current junior, who was named the BIG EAST Player of the Week on Monday, had a .273 hitting percentage and was on the verge of her second triple-double of the season, ending up with nine digs and eight blocks.
Notre Dame won the battle of two of the top 10 blocking teams in Division I. The Irish finished with 18.5 - an average of 3.70 per game - after notching 11 in the first two frames, while UNI ended under its season average (3.38) with a total of 15. The Irish, who led the nation in blocking in 2003 and rank 10th this season with an average of 3.26, were led by Brewster's eight blocks, which all came in the first two games. A total of seven players were in on multiple blocks, with junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) taking part in seven. Freshmen OH Ellen Heintzman (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart Academy) - who started in place of Kelbley - and OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) had five apiece.
The Irish had three players with 15+ kills, as Stasiuk and senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) - who was playing in her final home match - both ended with 15. Loomis turned in her 14th career double-double, notching a season-high 12 digs, while also taking part in four blocks. Stasiuk added eight digs, five blocks, and four assists to her kill total.
Notre Dame registered 83 digs, led by 22 from junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.). It was the third consecutive match that she had 20+ digs. Sophomore DS Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) had one of her best performances of the season, scrambling for 12 digs to match her top total in 2004. The Irish had four players in double figures in digs, as Loomis and freshman S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) both turned in a dozen, as well. Northern Iowa had 81 digs, but the Panthers snapped Notre Dame's streak of 28 consecutive victories when outdigging the opponent. The last time the Irish lost when digging up more balls was Nov. 15, 2002, when Miami claimed a five-game triumph.
Tarutis shattered her season best in assists, which had been 51. She ended with 63 assists, marking the most for an Irish player since Kristen Kinder had 68 against Virginia Tech last season. The Irish offense struggled, though, finishing with a .179 hitting mark after failing to hit .240+ in any game.
The first game was close early until Northern Iowa built what would become, by comparison, a huge lead of 14-9. Notre Dame came back, but UNI took the lead for good at 19-18 on a kill from Tink. A Heintzman kill cut the lead to 28-27, and a Brewster kill saved a match point, but the Panthers finally got another Tink kill to win the game. Northern Iowa had 21 kills in the game, including eight on 11 errorless swings (.727) from freshman OH Laura Rowen, who ended with a team-high 21 kills on .341 hitting. The Irish had five blocks - with Brewster being a part of all of them - but a .171 hitting mark hurt their cause.
The second game saw the Irish go up by four early (7-3) before UNI won five straight points and eventually built its own four-point advantage (14-10). But Notre Dame would rebound and the rest of the game featured dueling mini-runs. The Irish went up by four late (26-22) on a bad Panther set, but Northern Iowa got back to within one at 28-27. Notre Dame got kills from Brewster and Loomis on two of the next three points to even the match. Neither team hit .200 in the game, while the Irish had six blocks. Brewster turned in nine kills on .429 hitting to lead the way, while Loomis added a quartet of kills on 10 errorless swings (.400).
Game three was tied 11 times, and neither team got up by more than three the entire time. A UNI attack error gave Notre Dame a 29-26 advantage and three game points, but the Panthers fought back to tie the ledger. Kills from Heintzman and Cooper then ended the game for the Irish, who had 24 kills, including 20 on Tarutis assists. Brewster accounted for 10 of those kills, while Notre Dame also scrambled for 25 digs.
It appeared the fourth game also would be tight, but the Panthers edged ahead out of an 11-11 tie - the ninth of the game - and would never trail again, using a 15-4 run to take control. Notre Dame hit just .082 in the game, ending with only 11 kills, due in part to 22 UNI digs and four blocks. Northern Iowa had 22 kills, including eight of Tink's 20 and seven from Rowen.
Notre Dame played a five-game match for the sixth time this season and the fourth time in 11 matches at home. The Irish have won two of those contests, including one in the Joyce Center.
It was the first-ever trip to Notre Dame for Northern Iowa, which has won each of the three all-time matches against the Irish.
Senior DS Kelly Corbett (Mountain View, Calif./St. Francis H.S.) made her second career start in her final time on the Joyce Center Sport Court, eventually playing in two games and corralling a pair of digs.
Notre Dame will return to action this weekend in the BIG EAST Championship, slated for Saturday and Sunday in Pittsburgh's Fitzgerald Field House. The Irish, top-seeded as the regular-season league champions, will play first in the semifinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. (EST) against fourth-seeded Boston College, the only BIG EAST team to have topped Notre Dame this season. The other semi will feature the second-seeded tournament host and third-seeded Syracuse, and the victors will meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. with the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line.