Nov. 26, 2004
LONG BEACH, Calif. - Junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) just missed a triple-double and freshman Long Beach native S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) had a successful homecoming, as the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (19-8) used outstanding defense to sweep UC Irvine 30-23, 30-28, 30-27 Friday in the Baden Thanksgiving Tournament in The Pyramid. The Irish had 13 blocks - with Brewster taking part in eight of those - to stifle the potent Anteaters (18-10) and gain a win against a squad fighting for an at-large bid to next weekend's NCAA tournament.
Irvine - which finished fourth in the Big West Conference and entered the week 43rd in the Rich Kern Percentage Index (which approximates the NCAA's RPI) - came into the match as the Big West's top offensive team, ranking 13th in Division I in hitting percentage (.287), 27th in the nation in kills (16.46), and 22nd in assists (15.23). Additionally, the Anteaters boast the Big West Player of the Year, senior OH Kelly Wing, who ranks second in conference history in career kills and third in the nation this year (5.91 per game). UCI senior MB Sami Cash came into the week third in Division I in hitting percentage (.454), while senior S Ashlie Hain was 10th in assists (13.79).
Notre Dame averaged 17.00 digs and 4.33 blocks per game in holding the Anteaters just over half of their season average in attack percentage, at .146. The Irish kept UCI under .050 on 13 kills or fewer in both of the first two games, and the Anteaters finished below their season average in both kills (15.00 on Friday) and assists (13.67). After hitting negative in both of the first two games, Wing ended with 14 kills (3.50 per game) and 11 errors for a .073 hitting mark, while Cash hit .235 and Hain had just 35 assists (11.67).
Brewster, one of only two Division I players to be averaging over 1.50 blocks and 1.50 digs per game, keyed Notre Dame's defense, finishing with a match-high eight blocks to go with 11 digs. She also had 10 kills on .333 hitting, falling just two blocks shy of her second triple-double of the season.
Other defensive standouts for the Irish were junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) - who had a team-high 13 digs, but fell short of a sixth-consecutive 20-dig outing - as well as senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) and junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy). Loomis ended with five blocks, while Cooper was in on four, with all of those coming in the opening game. Henican now has 488 digs on the season, leaving her just 12 shy of the Irish record, 500 by Christy Peters in 1993.
The match continued a recent trend of outstanding defense leading to Irish victories. Over the last six matches, Notre Dame is 5-1 while averaging 4.00 blocks and 19.38 digs per game in holding opponents to .165 hitting, while only one squad has finished over .200. In that period, Irish opponents have been held to below .200 hitting in 13 of 21 games, and have been over .300 just three times, with a high of .320 by Northern Iowa in a fifth game. During that stretch, Brewster is averaging 2.05 blocks and 2.57 digs per game, while Loomis and Cooper are contributing 1.33 blocks each. Henican is averaging a team-best 6.14 digs, while freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) is at 3.38 per game.
Tarutis, a former standout for Los Alamitos High School and the Golden West Volleyball Club, led the Irish to a .287 hitting percentage, while matching her season high for assists in a three-game match with 41 to win the battle with Hain, who is second all-time in the Big West in career assists. Spurned on by a hometown crowd that responded to nearly her every set, as well as her six digs, one ace, and one kill, Tarutis led Notre Dame to its first-ever win in four all-time matches in The Pyramid, as well as its 14th triumph in the last 17 matches. In the final game, her offense had 20 kills - 18 on her assists - and made just two errors for a .409 hitting percentage. It was the 13th time this season that Tarutis has set the Irish to a .400+ attack mark in a game.
Junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.), who has been hampered by a foot injury that has cost her to miss three matches over the past few weeks, ended with 14 kills on .357 hitting to lead Notre Dame's hitters. Stasiuk finished with 11 kills after being nearly perfect early on; she had seven kills on nine swings in the opening game. Loomis contributed eight kills on .333 hitting, including a number at timely points, while Cooper had five kills on 10 swings for a .300 mark.
In the opening game, UCI broke a 3-3 tie by winning three straight points, and the Anteaters held onto that advantage for the first portion of the game. Trailing 14-11, Notre Dame won five straight points - highlighted by two blocks and a Tarutis ace - to go ahead. Down 17-16, the Irish began another run - one that would give them control of the game for good - winning eight of the next nine points, with the lone UCI point coming on a Notre Dame service error. The Irish ended the game on a kill from Stasiuk, her match-leading seventh of the frame. Stasiuk took just nine swings for a .778 attack percentage, while Cooper led the defensive effort, taking part in four of Notre Dame's five blocks in holding the Anteaters to 11 kills and 10 errors for a .026 percentage. The Irish defense was particularly effective on Wing, who had three kills and four errors on nine attempts for a -.111 hitting mark.
Irvine went ahead early in the second game and stayed up by a few points for the first half of the set. Trailing by three for the eighth time (15-12), Notre Dame finally made a run, winning seven of the next eight points to go ahead for the first time (19-16). UCI rallied, though, winning five of the next seven points, and the Anteaters would go up by three at 27-24 and hold a 28-26 lead before the Irish won the final four points of the game to go up 2-0. Loomis ignited that run with a kill, which was followed by a Wing hitting error and a block from Loomis and Brewster before a bad Irvine set on game point. Notre Dame's defense was again the deciding factor, as it used six blocks to hold UCI to 13 kills and 11 attack errors for a .049 hitting mark. Brewster was in on five of those blocks.
In the third game, the Irish got out early, going up by as many as four (12-8 and 13-9), but UCI would not quit fighting, eventually coming back to tie the score six times. Notre Dame used kills from Cooper and Loomis to break an 18-18 deadlock and end that pattern, taking the lead for good. The Anteaters cut the lead to one at 27-26, but Kelbley then delivered a kill and an ace to give Notre Dame three match points. Following a Wing kill, Loomis converted a Tarutis set to end the contest. Irvine had 21 kills on .314 hitting, but lost an offensive tussle with the Irish, who had 20 kills on a .409 mark. Seven of those kills came on Kelbley's 10 attempts (.700).
The meeting was the first-ever contest between the schools, making UCI the 158th team - and seventh Big West school - ever to face the Irish in varsity competition. The Anteaters are the fifth Big West team that has fallen victim to Notre Dame, joining Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly, Idaho, and Pacific.
Notre Dame continued to fare well against first-time opponents. The Irish have won four first-time meetings in a row, as well as 11 of their last 13, dating back to 2000.
The Irish registered their first win on Thanksgiving weekend since 2001, but improved to 5-0 in the 14-year Debbie Brown era against unranked foes on the final weekend of November.
Notre Dame moved to 13-3 in matches away from home this season and also upped its mark to 12-2 in daytime matches.
The final Irish tuneup for the NCAA Championship will be a Saturday showdown with tournament host Long Beach State (22-5) at 7 p.m. (PST) in The Pyramid. Notre Dame - the regular-season and tournament champions of the BIG EAST Conference, and thus, automatic qualifiers to the NCAAs - will then wait for the entire 64-team NCAA Championship bracket, complete with the 16 first- and second-round sites, to be revealed on Sunday at 6:45 p.m. (EST) on ESPNews.