Nov. 28, 2004
LONG BEACH, Calif. - In the final regular-season match of her career, senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) turned in one of the finest performances of her career, and junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) delivered three huge fifth-game kills after facing match point, as the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (20-8) closed out the regular season with a thrilling 30-28, 22-30, 25-30, 30-22, 16-14 triumph over Long Beach State (23-6) Saturday evening in The Pyramid. Loomis finished with a match-high 29 kills, and the Irish won four straight points after trailing 14-12 in the final game to clinch their first-ever win against LBSU, national champions three times in the last 15 years.
The 49ers went up 5-1 in the decisive game, and they would hold on to that advantage until a kill from setter Jillian Mazzarella gave them a pair of match points, at 14-12. Kelbley, who has missed three matches over the past few weeks due to a foot injury, took a set from Long Beach native Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.) on the left side and crushed it crosscourt to keep the match going. On the next point, it was junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) who went one-on-one with Makini Thompson and stuffed the Long Beach outside hitter to tie the score. To conclude a long point featuring a number of near-finishes, junior setter Kelly Burrell (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep School) found Kelbley on the left side, and she pounded the ball off the LBSU block and out of bounds to give the Irish a match point of their own. Following a 49ers timeout, Burrell went back to Kelbley in the same spot and she again delivered, cranking her 19th kill of the match down the line and off two diving defenders to clinch Notre Dame's first win in five all-time meetings with The Beach. The Irish had 10 kills and no errors on .357 hitting in the final game to go with three blocks.
The match was one of Notre Dame's best of the season, as it featured the Irish showing tremendous heart in fighting back on numerous occasions and overcoming a Long Beach team that hit well, dug well, blocked well, and got an incredible performance from freshman MB Alexis Crimes, the Big West Rookie of the Year. A nearly-automatic point all night, she finished with 27 kills on .469 hitting to go with nine blocks.
The Irish, who earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after claiming both the regular-season and tournament titles in the BIG EAST Conference, will now wait one day to see where and when they will play next weekend. The full 64-team field for the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship will be revealed Sunday at 6:45 p.m. (EST) on ESPNews. The Beach, which finished tied for second in the Big West and was listed 30th in this week's AVCA national rankings, figures to be in line for an at-large bid to the event, while the Irish could be selected as one of the 16 first- and second-round sites. Notre Dame was 18th in the Rich Kern Percentage Index (RKPI), which approximates the NCAA's RPI, prior to registering wins over two NCAA contenders: UC Irvine (3-0 win on Friday; 43rd in RKPI) and Long Beach State (25th in RKPI).
Loomis was virtually deadly all night, using outright power, as well as finesse, to bang kill after kill off the hands of Long Beach would-be diggers. She made just five errors on 58 attempts to finish with a season-high .414 hitting percentage. It was the most kills for a Notre Dame player since Christi Girton slammed 31 against Connecticut on Oct. 29, 2000. Her performance brought her career kill total to 1,299, which ties her with Jessica Fiebelkorn (1989-92) for fifth on the Irish career kills list.
The senior also was a big factor in Notre Dame's blocking, taking part in six, including a match-high three solo blocks. Two of those solos came on back-to-back points early in the fourth game, helping the Irish set the tone for a must-win game.
With the win, Notre Dame clinched its sixth consecutive 20-win season and the 13th in the 14 years since head coach Debbie Brown took over the reins of the program.
The match also saw Kelbley become the 15th player in Notre Dame history to register 1,000 kills, finishing the match with 1,006. She also was a huge factor in Notre Dame's block, getting in on a season-high eight of them.
Cooper also was outstanding offensively, notching 12 kills and not making an error for a .462 attack percentage.
The Irish, ranked eighth in Division I in team blocking, finished just above their season average of 3.36, ending up with 18, two more than LBSU. Cooper matched Kelbley's team-leading total of eight, while junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) had four. Brewster also had 14 kills on .393 hitting.
Offensively, Notre Dame posted a .295 hitting percentage, the highest for the Irish in a five-game match since Sept. 18, 2002 vs. Purdue (.304). Tarutis ended with 62 assists, the second-highest total of her collegiate career, while Burrell posted seven, including the two with the score tied 14-14 in the fifth. Notre Dame hit over .350 in three games, including .450 in the fourth game. The Irish struggled with the Long Beach block in the games they lost, as the 49ers finished with 16 blocks, including 10 from Robin Miramontes.
Long Beach won the battle on the floor, finishing with 95 digs, including 40 from libero Heather Laudato. The Irish posted 78 digs, with junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) leading the way with 25 to mark her sixth time with 20 or more digs in the last seven matches. The performance allowed her to break the Notre Dame record for digs in a season, as it brought her tally to 513 for 2004. The previous best in the 25-year varsity history of the program was 500 by Christy Peters in 1993. Sophomore DS Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) turned in one of her best collegiate performances, tallying 17 digs. It was the second-highest total of her career and the most when not donning the libero jersey. Brewster, Tarutis, and freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) all ended up with nine. Stasiuk also had a match-best three service aces.
Game one was tight the entire way, featuring 17 ties and neither team ever leading by more than three. The beginning of the match was as close as possible, featuring 13 consecutive ties before The Beach finally opened up the match's first two-point lead with consecutive kills from Dyanne Lawlor to make it 15-13. After two more ties, Notre Dame went ahead for good on a kill from Brewster at 18-18. The first three-point lead for either team finally came on a crosscourt kill from Kelbley that put the Irish up 23-20, but Long Beach would come back to tie the score at 27-27 and 28-28. On the final occasion, Notre Dame got consecutive kills from Loomis and Brewster that ended the game. Loomis was the most effective Irish weapon in the opening frame, converting 11 swings into eight kills for a .636 mark, while Cooper had six kills on .667 hitting. Tarutis collected 19 assists in helping the Irish to 22 kills and .378 hitting. Henican notched eight digs, while Herndon had six.
Long Beach State took control of the second game from the beginning and never allowed the Irish to rally. The 49ers got up 13-6 early, the first of their nine seven-point leads, and Notre Dame could not get back to within fewer than five before The Beach claimed an eight-point win. The LBSU defense was the story of the game, as it used five blocks and 23 digs to hold the Irish to .184 hitting. Long Beach meanwhile had 20 kills of its own on a .333 mark. Loomis and Kelbley contributed five kills apiece in the game for the Irish, while Crimes had eight for the 49ers.
Partially on the strength of three blocks and a kill from Crimes, the 49ers won the first six points of the third game, again taking control of the action early. Trailing 27-17, Notre Dame put together a late run, winning eight of the next 10 points to pull to within 29-25, but an Irish service error would give the game to Long Beach State. The game was dominated by the 49ers' defense, which held the Irish to just .156 hitting. LBSU had six blocks - five of which Crimes was in on - and 22 digs in the game, while allowing only 14 kills.
It was the Irish that came out quickly in game four, winning six straight points to break a 6-6 tie and take control. Notre Dame stayed ahead the rest of the game, never allowing The Beach to get closer than four points en route to an eight-point victory that would force a fifth game. The Irish hit superbly in the game, cranking 20 kills on a .450 hitting mark, while also notching five blocks, with Loomis taking part in four.
Long Beach State became the 118th team to fall victim to Notre Dame since the inception of the varsity program in 1981. With the result, Stanford (6-0 vs. ND) now stands as the only team to have played the Irish more than three times without suffering a defeat.
The match was the seventh five-game affair of the 2004 season, with Notre Dame prevailing in three.
The Irish rallied to win after being down two-games-to-one for the first time since Nov. 7, 2003 vs. Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame improved to 14-3 this season in matches away from home, gaining its second win in as many days in The Pyramid after previously going 0-3 in the building. LBSU had been 17-2 in home matches in 2004 heading into Saturday.
The Irish registered their first perfect Thanksgiving weekend since 1991, Brown's first season, when they took two from Texas-Arlington. Notre Dame improved to 6-0 in the Brown era against unranked foes on the final weekend of November.