Nov. 20, 2005
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The eighth-ranked University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (27-2) won its ninth title in 11 years of league membership, prevailing 28-30, 31-29, 30-21, 23-30, 15-8 over #7 Louisville (27-2) Sunday afternoon in the final of the BIG EAST Conference Championship in the Kentucky International Convention Center and shown live by College Sports Television. Sophomore OH Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) posted 18 kills and 13 digs and was tabbed the tournament MVP, while senior All-American MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) had a match-high 19 kills on .359 hitting and seven blocks, and senior libero Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) posted 25 digs and broke the Irish career record in the category.
Notre Dame took control of the final game early, using a pair of kills and a solo block from Brewster to go ahead 8-3. The Cardinals won three straight points to cut the lead to two (8-6), but the Irish would then finish the game with a 7-2 run, including a kill by senior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) on match point #2. Notre Dame had nine kills on 15 swings for a .467 hitting mark, as well as three service aces.
The Irish continued their prowess in matches against top teams, extending their winning streak against top-15 squads to six straight and knocking off a top-10 Louisville team for the second time this season. ND won 30-28, 30-28, 27-30, 30-27 on Oct. 29 in the Joyce Center. Both of the Cardinals defeats this season have come against the Irish.
Though both resulted in Irish victories, Sunday marked a direct contrast to the regular-season meeting. In October, Louisville held statistical advantages in every category except serving and receiving. On Sunday, Notre Dame had edges in everything but blocking. The most notable aspect of that was the Irish defense containing a prolific Louisville attack. The Cardinals came into the week ranking fifth in Division I in hitting percentage (.315) and 10th in kills per game (16.77 per game). On Sunday, U of L managed only 60 kills - 12.00 per game and more than 13 in only the opening game - and made 26 errors (15 of them on Irish blocks) for a .205 hitting percentage. The Irish - led by sophomore setter Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.), who had 62 assists, matching the most ever by a Notre Dame player in the BIG EAST tournament (done first by Denise Boylan in the 2000 final vs. Rutgers) - matched their season high in kills with 83 and hit .227 for the match. It was the first time this season that the Cardinals had been outhit in a match. ND also had a season-high 107 points, compared to 88 for Louisville.
Notre Dame held senior OH Lena Ustymenko of the Ukraine, the BIG EAST Player of the Year, to only 15 kills (3.00 per game), well below her season average of 5.16 per game that led the conference and ranked 13th nationally.
As they have all season, the two Irish co-captains led Notre Dame's defensive effort. Henican posted 25 digs - tying the top performance ever by an Irish player in the BIG EAST tournament, a sum first done by her in last year's final vs. Pittsburgh. Her final dig of the match, which led immediately to a Stasiuk kill that put ND up 10-6 in the fifth game, was the 1,641st of her career, moving her ahead of Christy Peters (who had 1,640 from 1991-94) for first place on the Irish all-time list. Henican holds every Notre Dame digging record in the match, season, and career record books, except for three: career dig average, digs in a three-game match, and digs in a five-game match. She will hold the first mark upon the completion of her career, as she is averaging 4.04 digs per game during her career, and Peters' record is 3.72.
Brewster continued a season of outstanding performances against nationally-ranked opponents. She posted a match-high 19 kills on .359 hitting to go with seven blocks (three solo) for a match-high 24 points. In five matches against ranked teams, she is averaging 4.48 kills per game on .312 hitting to go with 1.62 blocks for 5.55 points. Brewster has positioned herself to break the Notre Dame record for career blocks next weekend, as she currently stands just three shy of the record of 699 done by Mary Kay Waller from 1985-88.
Senior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) also was big at the net, matching her career high with four solo blocks, while Kelbley had four blocks, as well, including three solos (matching her season high).
Junior DS Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) turned in an outstanding defensive effort, registering 16 digs, a career high for her when not wearing the libero jersey and the most in any match for her since Sept. 4. She also matched her career high in aces, with three.
Stasiuk became the ninth Notre Dame player to be tabbed the BIG EAST Championship Most Outstanding Player. For the tournament, she had 35 kills (2.92 per game), 33 digs (2.74), three aces, and three blocks for 39.5 points (3.29). She also made just two reception errors in 66 attempts (.970 reception percentage).
Freshman OH Mallorie Croal (Villa Park, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) turned in a huge performance off the bench for the Irish, finishing with 15 kills on .310 hitting in four games.
Kelbley added 13 kills for the Irish, and Cooper had 11 to go with a career-high four service aces.
The Irish improved to 22-2 all-time in the BIG EAST tournament and have now won 15 conference-tournament championships in 21 years of competing as a non-independent.
Notre Dame improved to 14-3 all-time against the Cardinals, including 7-1 in Louisville.
With the victory, this year's Irish squad established itself as the best in program history in knocking off elite teams. Notre Dame - which is 5-0 against nationally-ranked teams this season (all of whom were ranked 11th or higher at the time of the match) - had registered more than three wins over ranked teams in a season on just one occasion previously: 1993. That squad had five wins over ranked teams, but also lost seven matches against the AVCA top 25. This year's team also is the first to ever defeat four top-10 foes in the same season, after having downed #8 USC, #6 Florida, #6 Louisville, and now #7 Louisville. ND also topped #11 Texas. That '93 squad remains the only Notre Dame team ever to reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame earned the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Championship, which begins on campus sites Dec. 1-4. The Irish figure to be a prime candidate to be one of the 16 host teams for first- and second-round action. The full bracket will be announced on Sunday, Nov. 27 between 2:30-3 p.m. (EST) on ESPNews.
Louisville was led by senior MB Jennifer Hoffman, who had 16 kills on .393 hitting to go with six blocks. Ana Yartseva added 14 kills, while freshman MB Rui Liu had 12 blocks. Nicole Bateman delivered a match-high 27 digs.
Game one was tight early, and Notre Dame went up by three at 9-6. The Cardinals responded with an 11-2 run that put them in control. Louisville went up by as many as seven on four occasions, the final one at 26-19, but the Irish put together a late push. ND saved a pair of game points to pull within one at 29-28, before Yartseva ended the game with a crosscourt kill on a slide. The Cards had 20 kills on .372 hitting and got six kills on seven swings from Hoffman, as well as five from Yartseva. Notre Dame had a balanced attack, with five players accounting for three or more kills.
Louisville jumped out quickly in game two, building a 12-4 advantage on the strong serving of Ustymenko, who delivered four aces in five points at one juncture. As it has on other occasions this season when faced with a large deficit, Notre Dame would rally and tie the score at 18-18. The game was close from then on, featuring nine ties and no leads of more than two. A Cooper kill at 28-28 gave the Irish a game point, which was deleted by a kill from Hoffman. Croal then hit off the Cardinals' block to give ND another chance, which Kelbley converted to even the match. Croal provided the big spark in the game, checking in when ND was down 7-2 and finishing with seven kills on 11 swings for a .545 mark. The Irish held Louisville to just 11 kills on .167 hitting in the game.
Notre Dame led for most of game three, though Louisville edged ahead at 16-15. The Irish responded by winning six consecutive points and concluding the game on a 15-5 run (including each of the last four points). The ND defense was the story of the game, as it used six blocks and 24 digs to hold Louisville to 11 kills and 11 errors for a .000 hitting mark. Henican led the floor game with 10 digs, while Brewster was in on half of the blocks. Stasiuk was the offensive leader with five kills.
The Cards turned things around in the fourth game, putting together an 8-2 run to break a 5-5 tie and holding onto that edge the rest of the way. The Irish got to within two at 18-16, but Louisville then pulled away. The Cardinals had 13 kills on .333 hitting.
Notre Dame has one more weekend of regular-season action remaining before the NCAA tournament. Next week will be the first-ever Irish Thanksgiving Invitational in the Joyce Center. ND will play host to Rice on Friday at 7 p.m. (EST) and #25 Tennessee on Saturday at the same time in a match to be televised by Comcast Sports Net. Louisville will make the trip north for the event, taking on Georgia on Friday at 4:30 p.m. (EST) and Rice on Saturday at the same time.
#8 Notre Dame (27-2) 28-31-30-23-15 #7 Louisville (27-2) 30-29-21-30-8