Nov. 18, 2005
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The eighth-ranked and top-seeded University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (25-2) defeated eighth-seeded Villanova (21-11) 28-30, 30-24, 30-26, 30-23 Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Conference Championship in the Kentucky International Convention Center. The Irish - aiming for their ninth tournament title in 11 years of league membership - will face fourth-seeded Cincinnati (18-11) in Saturday's semifinals at 1 p.m. (EST).
Friday's contest was in contrast to the schools' regular-season meeting, in which Notre Dame prevailed 30-13, 30-25, 30-23 last weekend in the Joyce Center. That match saw the Irish hold advantages in every statistical category - including .326-.125 in hitting percentage and 16-3 in blocks. The Wildcats held just a few brief leads at the beginning of games, none of more than two points. On Friday, Notre Dame finished with edges in every category but kills (62-60), but Villanova held several leads - of as many as four points - and also orchestrated a 14-2 run to make the third game tight after the Irish had opened up a 13-point advantage.
In the end, Notre Dame's big blocking - led by senior All-American MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) - was too much for Villanova, which finished with a .103 hitting percentage. The Irish - who came into the match ranking fifth in Division I in blocking (3.52 per game) - had 17 blocks (4.25 per game), including nine in the third frame, for their second-highest total in a four-game affair this season (tied for third-highest in any match). Brewster, who is second in the BIG EAST and 22nd nationally in blocking, was in on eight (2.00), including a pair of solo efforts. That matched her second-highest sum in a match this year, but also marked the ninth time she has had seven or more blocks in 2005. Sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) took part in a career-high five blocks, while senior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) also had five (two solo). Sophomore OH Ellen Heintzman (Louisville, Ky./Sacred Heart Academy) fell just one shy of her career high in blocks, with four. Senior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) and sophomore OH Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) both had three blocks.
Brewster also led Notre Dame's offense, pounding kills on exactly half of her 30 attempts for a .400 hitting mark. It was the sixth consecutive match in which she hit over .350 and the 13th time in the last 14 that she has been above .300. She had a match-high 20 points, her eighth time with 20+ points this season. Kelbley added 13 kills, and Stasiuk had 10. Cooper and Heintzman - who was playing in her hometown as a collegian for the first time - both posted nine kills, with the senior doing it on .381 hitting. As a team, Tarutis led her offense to a .227 attack percentage, accruing 51 assists.
Senior co-captain and libero Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) - who earned all-conference honors for the first time when she was tabbed to the first team on Thursday - led all players with 19 digs, and Tarutis had a dozen digs for her 15th double-double of the season. Stasiuk also had a double-double (her ninth of 2005), with 10 digs to go with her 10 kills. Cooper was just one shy of her career high in digs, ending up with six, a total shared by Heintzman.
The Irish had a slim advantage in serving, finishing with four aces and eight errors, while Villanova had three aces and nine errors. Stasiuk led all players with three aces, matching the Notre Dame record for aces in a BIG EAST tournament match, done first by Denise Boylan in the 1999 final against Georgetown.
Notre Dame has won all 15 all-time matches against Villanova. No team has played the Irish more times without claiming a victory.
ND improved to 20-2 in the BIG EAST Championship since joining the conference in 1995.
The Irish - who have reached the conference title match in all 14 previous years of the Debbie Brown era - beat Cincinnati 30-24, 30-27, 30-27 on Oct. 30 in the Joyce Center in a match televised live by ESPNU. Notre Dame has won all four all-time meetings with the Bearcats.
Notre Dame has won 25 matches for the first time since 2000 (26-7) and the 11th time in the 26-year history of the program. The Irish have matched the top 27-match record in program history, first done in 1994.
Leading the Wildcats was freshman OH Alona Cherkez from the Ukraine, who had 17 kills and 16 digs. Junior MB Adrian Semrau posted 13 kills on .312 hitting, while senior OH Dana Kabashima notched 10 kills. Sophomore OH/MB Kacy Sellers - a second-team all-conference pick - had eight kills, 11 digs, and seven blocks, while freshman OH Dana Tartazky from Israel registered eight kills on .400 hitting in two games off the bench.
Villanova prevailed in a tight opening game to snap a nine-game losing streak against the Irish. Notre Dame went up 16-13 on a solo block by Brewster, but the Wilcats would win four straight points - with a kill and an ace from Kabashima and a pair of Semrau kills - to go edge ahead. The Irish would tie the score twice, but never lead again, as Villanova went up by as many as four (27-23) en route to victory. ND got a Brewster kill and a block by Brewster and Tarutis to save a pair of game points, but Nguyen ended the game by finding the center of the court for a kill from the left side.
The Wildcats continued to be dangerous in opening games against the Irish, as four of their six all-time game victories against Notre Dame have come in the first games of matches. It was a complete reversal of last weekend's first game between the teams, when the Irish prevailed 30-13 en route to a three-game sweep. Cherkez led all players with six kills in the game, while Semrau added four. Villanova - which came into the match ranking 13th in the BIG EAST in the category - used four blocks (Sellers and Kabashima both had three) to limit the Irish to .167 hitting. ND actually outhit VU (.167-.106) and had a 17-13 dig advantage, but still lost the game. Brewster was in on all three Irish blocks.
The Irish - who have won seven of eight two-point games against nationally-ranked teams - continued to struggle in two-point affairs vs. BIG EAST opponents. ND is now 3-5 in such situations, including 1-5 against unranked conference teams.
Notre Dame rebounded in game two, never trailing en route to evening the match. The Irish went up 8-4 early and allowed their lead to be cut to a single point just once from then on (11-10). A kill by Kelbley ended the game. Notre Dame had 21 kills - all but one from Tarutis assists - on .390 hitting in the game, while holding Villanova to a .135 attacking mark. Brewster and Kelbley had six kills apiece.
Following the intermission, the Irish were a different team. Game three opened with a Heintzman attack error, but Notre Dame then proceeded to win eight consecutive points to take control. The story of the game was the Irish block, which accounted for nine points. Brewster, Cooper, and Heintzman were all in on three blocks, and Villanova hit .062 in the frame. ND went up by as many as 13 midway through the game (24-11), but Villanova would rally with a 14-2 run to pull within one at 26-25. The Irish finally responded by winning four of the final five points, including a solo block by Cooper on game point. Stasiuk served up three aces for Notre Dame, which had only nine kills on .054 hitting in the game.
Villanova continued its momentum early in game four, taking a 10-7 lead before the Irish used a 9-2 run to go ahead for good. The Wildcats cut the lead to two at 22-20, but Notre Dame then ended the game on an 8-3 run.
Villanova (21-11) 30-24-26-23 #8 Notre Dame (25-2) 28-30-30-30