Dec. 4, 2004
MADISON, Wis. - After holding leads as large as six - including 29-23 - and failing to convert on 10 game points in the opening game, the University of Notre Dame women's volleyball team (21-9) could never recover, as the Irish lost 36-34, 30-16, 30-16 to 14th-seeded Wisconsin (21-9) Saturday evening in the UW Field House in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. The Badgers used exceptional blocking, racking up 15.5 for the match, including 10.5 in the opening game, en route to holding the Irish to a -.015 attack percentage.
After trailing 17-16, the Irish would go up 29-23 in that first game, but they would be unable to close out the game. After saving 10 game points, Wisconsin finally got one of its own at 34-33, but a kill from Loomis extended the game. Junior MB Sheila Shaw gave the Badgers another chance with a solo block, and sophomore OH Maria Carlini finally ended the game - the longest in NCAA tournament action for Notre Dame since the inception of the rally-scoring format in 2001 - with a kill that found the left sideline. It was Wisconsin's first two-point lead of the game.
In the decisive run, the Badgers had three kills and three blocks on game points, while Notre Dame made a total of six attack errors (three coming on UW Blocks) when within a point from victory, while also committing a ball-handling error. Sparking Wisconsin was a trio of players: Shaw, Carlini, and senior OH Aubrey Meierotto. Meierotto had a kill, a solo block, and a block assist over the game's final 18 points, while Shaw was in on three blocks (one solo), and Carlini had a solo block and two kills, including the one that ended the game and delivered the knockout blow to the Irish.
The Badgers defense was led by Shaw, who took part in eight blocks. Meirotto and Carlini were in on five each. Wisconsin also held a 61-46 advantage in digs, with libero Jocelyn Wack registering a match-high 16 to lead the way. That defense held the Irish to just 31 kills and 33 errors for its first negative-hitting night of the season.
The pattern was an unfortunately familiar one for the Irish in the NCAA tournament. Each of Notre Dame's last three NCAA defeats has followed a similar formula: dropping a tight, two-point opening game and then, failing to challenge opponents in the ensuing two games. In 2002, the Irish lost the opening game 30-28 against Michigan State in a second-round matchup in the Joyce Center before dropping the final two by 30-20 and 30-23 scores. A year ago, it was 32-30 (with the Irish leading by as many as six) in the opening frame against #19 Louisville in the first round before the Cardinals registered consecutive 30-21 wins to close out the match.
Junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) led Notre Dame offensively with 13 kills on team-high .265 hitting, while senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) contributed eight. Brewster also had 10 digs to finish with her 11th double-double of the season, while posting a team-best 15 points. Loomis concluded her career with 1,321 kills, the fifth-highest total in program history.
Junior captain L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) led Notre Dame's floor defense with 13 digs to finish with 553 on the season, a school record.
The Irish had five blocks in the first game and eight on the match, with Loomis, junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy), and junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) all taking part in three.
Closing out games was a difficulty for the Irish all season, as they finished with a 69-71 (.493) on game points, but they had lost games after being one point away from victory just twice previously (fourth games against both Fresno State and Michigan). Notre Dame also ended up with an 8-9 (.471) record in two-point games in 2004.
The Irish won just once - the BIG EAST semifinals against Boston College - in eight matches in '04 when losing the opening game, and Notre Dame has now lost 11 of its last 12 (dating back to last year) when dropping that pivotal first game. In NCAA action, the Irish have lost six in a row when losing the opening game.
The Irish held leads of as many as six (on three occasions) and had 10 game points in the opening game, but they could not prevail. After the teams split the first six points of the match, Notre Dame won five in a row - including a pair of kills, a Brewster ace and a solo block by Cooper - to force an early Badgers timeout. The Irish lead would grow to as many as six (10-4 and 11-5) before Wisconsin would rally. The Badgers deadlocked the score at 16-16 and won the next point to briefly take the lead, but Notre Dame then responded with an 8-1 run that once again put it in control until the late Badger comeback. The Badger blocking proved to be the defining factor in the game, as they finished with 10.5 in the frame, with Shaw taking part in seven of them. Notre Dame ended with 16 kills - including six from Loomis - but 17 errors for a -.019 hitting mark, while Wisconsin won the game by hitting .191. Notre Dame had five blocks of its own and also outdug the Badgers 20-18, but it was not enough.
Notre Dame saw its season end in the UW Field House for the second time in four years, as the 2002 squad lost to #20 Michigan State in the opening round of the NCAAs at Wisconsin. The Irish also have lost eight in a row against Big Ten Conference opponents in the NCAA Championship, dating back to 1994.