Nov. 21, 2004
PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (18-8) used outstanding defense to shut down rival Pittsburgh (21-8) in winning the title match of the BIG EAST Championship 30-23, 30-26, 30-26 Sunday afternoon in Fitzgerald Field House. Junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) was tabbed the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, finishing the event with 27 kills (3.86) on .319 hitting to go with a tournament-high 14 blocks (2.00).
The Irish averaged 21.33 digs and 4.33 blocks per game en route to holding the Panthers to a .191 hitting mark for the match. Pittsburgh came into the weekend as the league's top offensive team, leading the BIG EAST in hitting percentage, kills, and assists. Leading that effort was junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.), who ended with a match-high 25 digs, her fifth time with 25+ digs in a three-game match this season. She led an Irish defense that had 64 digs, while Brewster paced a front-row unit that notched 13 blocks. Freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) registered 14 digs to aid the effort, while sophomore DS Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) added 11 and senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) was in on five blocks.
Notre Dame claimed its eighth BIG EAST tournament title in 10 years of league membership. The Irish are just the third squad - in any sport - to have claimed eight titles since that 1995-96 season, joining Notre Dame's women's swimming and diving and Pittsburgh's men's swimming and diving.
With the victory, the Irish gained the BIG EAST's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship, assuring that they will compete in that event for the 13th consecutive season.
Offensively, Notre Dame was led by junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.), who finished with 14 kills on .343 hitting. Stasiuk added 10 kills - including perhaps the most important one of the match, to quell a comeback and put Notre Dame up 28-26 in the final game - while Brewster and Loomis had eight apiece.
Rookie S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) and junior S Kelly Burrell (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep School) led the Irish offense, which hit over .200 in ever game and .225 for the match. Tarutis had a match-high 34 assists to go with three kills on .429 hitting.
Pittsburgh started quickly, winning five of the first six points en route to building a pair of five-point leads (7-2 and 8-3). The Irish rallied with an 8-2 run to go ahead for the first time at 11-10. Notre Dame would never trail again in the game, though the Panthers tied the score twice (11-11 and 13-13) and pulled to within one at 19-18. The Irish eventually pulled away for a seven-point victory, which ended on consecutive blocks from Brewster. The Irish defense was the definitive factor in the game, using 22 digs and five blocks to hold the Panthers to .184 hitting. Brewster took part in three of those blocks, while Henican and Stasiuk contributed seven digs apiece. Notre Dame's offense was balanced, with seven players contributing kills, including four each from Brewster and Kelbley.
The second game was tight early, with the score being tied six times in the first 22 points, and neither team able to go up by more than two. After trailing 11-10, the Irish went on a 10-2 run to go up by seven at 20-13. Pittsburgh could not cut the lead to fewer than four before Notre Dame reached game point at 29-23. But the Panthers then got stubborn, cranking two kills and getting a block before a serve error gave the Irish a 2-0 lead. Notre Dame's defense again was effective, registering seven blocks and 25 digs in holding Pittsburgh to a .183 attack percentage. Henican led the effort with 12 digs, tying her season high for a game, which she had done twice previously. Brewster led the way in blocks with three, while Kelbley had four kills and no errors and Stasiuk also registered four kills.
Notre Dame took control of the final game quickly, building a 10-6 lead in the initial phase and maintaining an advantage the rest of the way. Trailing 27-20, Pittsburgh made a run in an attempt to prolong the match, winning six consecutive points to pull to within one. Stasiuk then came up with the biggest kill of the match, taking a Tarutis set on the right side and hammering it down the line into the Panthers' backcourt to stop the run. A Brewster kill put the Irish within a point of victory, and Pittsburgh's Gini Ullery stumbled when going up for a swing on the next point, allowing the Panther set to hit the ground and handing Notre Dame the victory. Kelbley led the way in the final game with six kills.
The sweep was the second for Notre Dame over its conference rival in as many weekends. The Irish registered a 30-25, 30-22, 30-19 triumph over the Panthers on Nov. 12 in the Joyce Center.
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 19-2 (.905) in the BIG EAST tournament. The only other defeat came in the title match of the 1999 event, when the Irish against Georgetown.
Sunday was the 23rd meeting with Pittsburgh, the most-common opponent in Notre Dame volleyball history. The Irish have won 18 of the contests, including 17 of the last 19.
The Irish improved to 17-4 all-time in Fitzgerald Field House, including 12-1 in BIG EAST Championship play.
Notre Dame will conclude its regular-season schedule next weekend, heading to Long Beach, Calif., for the Baden Thanksgiving Tournament in The Pyramid. The Irish will face a pair of teams that have been either ranked or receiving votes in the AVCA national rankings for most of the season, taking on UC Irvine on Friday at 5 p.m. (PST) before facing Long Beach State on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The full field for the NCAA Championship will be revealed next Sunday, Nov. 28, and the tournament will begin Dec. 2-5 at 16 campus sites.