Nov. 20, 2004
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - For the 10th consecutive season, the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (17-8) will play in the title match of the BIG EAST Championship. The top-seeded Irish avenged their lone regular-season league loss in Saturday's semifinals at Fitzgerald Field House, beating fourth-seeded Boston College (20-12) 25-30, 30-15, 30-26, 30-20. Notre Dame will take on defending champion Pittsburgh in Sunday's final at 2 p.m. (EST) in search of its eighth BIG EAST tournament championship.
Freshman S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) and junior S Kelly Burrell (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep School) orchestrated a Notre Dame attack that was effective, averaging 18.50 kills per game and hitting .339 for the match. The Irish also set season highs for kills (26, 3rd) and hitting percentage (.500, 2nd) in a game. The match hitting percentage was the best in 2004 for the Irish in a match longer than three games, and it was one of the highest in school history, as the four-game Notre Dame record for hitting is .379.
She had a bevy of hot hitters to work with. Junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.), who missed three of the last four Irish matches with an injury, returned to the lineup and was effective, posting a match-high 20 kills on team-best .425 hitting. It was the fifth time this season and seventh occasion during her career that she has hit the 20-kill plateau. In two matches playing with her injury, Kelbley is now averaging 4.86 kills per game on .361 hitting, to go with 2.00 digs and 1.00 blocks.
Junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) ended up with 19 kills to go with a .366 attack percentage. She also had 11 digs - for her seventh double-double of the season - and led Notre Dame with seven blocks. One of only two unanimous first-team all-BIG EAST selections, she has been outstanding of late, averaging 4.73 kills per game on .366 hitting to go with 2.60 digs and 1.87 blocks over the last four matches.
Another junior middle blocker, Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy), was nearly perfect offensively, posting 11 kills on 21 attempts without making an error, for a career-high .524 hitting percentage.
The Irish also got 12 kills from senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) and nine from freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.). Tarutis rolled up 53 assists, notched three kills on six attacks, and registered 12 digs for her 11th double-double of the season.
Notre Dame's defense limited BC to a .168 hitting percentage, almost half of its mark in the regular-season contest between the teams. The Irish had seven players combine for 13.5 blocks, with Brewster leading the way and Loomis and Cooper adding five apiece. Notre Dame also held a digging advantage against the scrappy Eagles, 74-70. Junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) accounted for 20 digs, while Stasiuk had 14.
As in the regular-season matchup, Boston College came out hot in the opening game, building a large early lead. Following three early ties, the Eagles used an 11-4 run to go up by seven for the first of four times, at 15-8. Notre Dame could not get closer than four the rest of the way, as the Eagles went on to a five-point victory. BC, which had 19 kills and only seven errors for a .316 hitting percentage, was led by senior OH Katie Andersen, who made no errors in converting 10 swings into seven kills for a .700 attack percentage. The Irish made just five errors, but had only 13 kills to hit .222. Kelbley led the way with four on .429 hitting.
Notre Dame snapped a 10-match losing skid when dropping the opening game of a match, rallying for victory for the first time since Sept. 26, 2003, against Villanova.
The second game also was deadlocked three times in the initial phases, but this time it was Notre Dame that pulled away. The Irish went on an 11-3 run to take control, and they would never look back en route to their third game victory of the season in which they have at least doubled up the opponent's score. Notre Dame turned in its best offensive game of the season, with 17 kills and only two errors on 30 swings for a .500 hitting mark. They were led by near-perfect hitting from Brewster, who finished the game with nine kills and no errors on 10 attempts to for a .900 attack percentage. She also took part in five blocks to lead Notre Dame's defense, which held BC to just seven kills and 10 errors for a -.083 hitting mark. The Irish had seven blocks as a team, with seven different players participating in them.
Boston College rebounded in the third game and led early on, going up by as many as five (12-7 and 15-10) before the Irish rallied. After a 21-21 tie, Notre Dame went ahead for good on a kill by Kelbley. BC could not get closer than two (26-24) from then on, and another Kelbley kill - her ninth of the game - gave the Irish a 2-1 advantage. Notre Dame notched 26 kills, its most in any game this season, and had a .367 hitting mark. Cooper was outstanding, with six kills on .667 hitting, while Brewster and Loomis had four kills apiece. The Irish had no blocks in a game for just the third time this season, but they registered 28 digs, including nine from Henican.
In the fourth game, Notre Dame used a run keyed by Loomis to go ahead for good. Trailing 7-6, the Irish senior delivered a kill and then a solo block and, after consecutive Brewster kills, notched another kill to go up 11-7. Notre Dame would stretch its lead to eight at 18-10 and then not allow BC to get back within five the rest of the game, en route to a 10-point victory. Kelbley had six kills on .545 hitting in the final game to lead the way.
The Irish resumed their domination against Boston College. Notre Dame had won all 10 matches and 30 of the 31 games before the Eagles pulled off a three-game upset in the Joyce Center earlier this month.
Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will meet for the second time in as many weekends. The Irish prevailed in three games on Nov. 12 in the Joyce Center, but the Panthers were without senior MH Megan Miller, the BIG EAST Player of the Year who had missed four consecutive matches due to a knee injury before returning against Syracuse.
Last year, Pittsburgh beat the Irish in three games in the Joyce Center in the final of the BIG EAST Championship to claim the league title for the first time since Notre Dame joined the conference in 1995.
Notre Dame improved to 18-2 in the BIG EAST tournament. The only other defeat came in the title match of the 1999 event, when the Irish lost in five games against Georgetown. In 20 years of conference tournaments - also including time in the North Star and Midwestern Collegiate Conferences - Notre Dame has won 13 championships and reached the title match 18 times. The last time the Irish failed to be in the conference championship tilt was when they finished fourth in the 1990 MCC tournament.
Sunday will mark the 23rd meeting with Pittsburgh, the most-common opponent in Notre Dame volleyball history. The Irish have won 17 of the previous contests, including 16 of the last 18.
The Irish improved to 16-4 all-time in Fitzgerald Field House, including 11-1 in BIG EAST Championship play.