Notre Dame Clinches Big East Title
Harris, Lee lead Irish to 3-1 win over Pitt
|Angie Harris has helped Notre Dame win 13 of its last 14. (file photo)|
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame senior outside hitters Angie Harris and Jaimie Lee came up with the big plays in the final regular-season match of their career as the Irish clinched their third straight Big East Conference regular-season title with a 15-2, 15-13, 14-16, 15-5 victory over visiting Pittsburgh at the Joyce Center Arena.
Notre Dame (19-6, 9-0 BIG EAST), which has won 13 of its last 14 matches, wraps us the conference regular season next week at Rutgers (Nov. 15) and Seton Hall (Nov. 16). The Irish then will return to Seton Hall as the #1 seed in the six-team BIG EAST Tournament, to be held Nov. 22-23 at SHU's Walsh Gymnasium.
The Irish extended the nation's longest active wining streak versus conference opponents to 72 matches, fourth-longest in Division I volleyball history and just one victory behind the third-longest conference winning streak, set by Texas from 1984-91 (73). The streak has covered the entire tenure of seventh-year Irish head coach Debbie Brown, including Notre Dame's final 37 matches in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and the first 35 in the BIG EAST.
Lee made a strong final push for BIG EAST player of the year, with the conference coaches set to vote on the various awards during the coming week. Lee, the 1996 BIG EAST player of the year, totaled a match-high 21 kills on .405 hitting. It marked Lee's 18th double-digit kill match of the season, out of 23 matches she has played. Lee has raised her season hitting percentage to .297 (fifth-highest in the BIG EAST) while her .449 hitting in conference action is tops among all BIG EAST players. She ranks second among BIG EAST players for kill average, both overall (4.31/gm) and in conference matches (4.73/gm).
Harris totaled 14 kills while equaling her career high with a match-best 20 digs. She has recorded 10-plus kills in 12 straight matches and in 20 of 25 matches this season. Sunday's effort represented the 80th double-digit kill match of Harris' career, equaling the Notre Dame record set by Christy Peters (1991-94). Harris also added to her long-standing Notre Dame record ace total, serving five aces--including three straight late in the second game to help push the Irish to a 2-0 lead. Harris now has 227 career aces, nearly 100 more than the previous Irish record holder Alicia Turner (135). Harris has served five-plus aces in 14 career matches, including three matches with five aces this season.
The Irish made quick work of the opening game, sporting a .462 hitting pct. thanks to 12 kills and no errors on 26 swings. Pittsburgh had its chances to tie the match after stretching to a 13-11 lead in the second game but Harris served three straight aces for a 14-13 Irish lead. A service error from Harris gave Pitt a sideout but Irish freshman opposite Christi Girton recorded one of her 11 kills and then combined with classmate Denise Boylan for a game-ending block.
Notre Dame held a 14-13 lead in the see-saw fourth game and served for the match three times. But Pitt earned three sideouts and tied the game en route to extending the match to a fourth game. Sophomore middle Mary Leffers totaled nine kills in the match on .348 hitting.
The Irish used a .345-.111 hitting advantage in the fourth game to close out the match.
Marcia Thiesen led Pittsburgh (13-11, 5-4) with 14 kills while a mid-match adjustment saw the Panthers total 13 blocks in the final three games (to Notre Dame's five).
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT WATCH:
Villanova joined Notre Dame as the second team to clinch a spot in the BIG EAST Tournament, after a 3-1 win Sunday at Rutgers ... eight teams remain in the running for the final four spots, with Connecticut (6-3) leading that group ... three teams are tied with 5-4 records--Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia--while three others are 4-5: Rutgers, Seton Hall and Providence ... Georgetown (3-6) saw its chances fade with a loss Friday at Rutgers ... next week's schedule includes: Pitt and WVU at UConn and St. John's, Syracuse and Notre Dame at Seton Hall and Rutgers, and PC and BC at Georgetown and Villanova.
Notre Dame had won 15 straight games--covering parts of six matches--before losing the third game to Pitt on Sunday ... the Irish have lost just seven games in 35 BIG EAST matches over the past three seasons, with Pitt owning four of those game victories (twice in 1995, once in '96 and Sunday) ... Harris heads into next week with 1,430 career kills, 41 behind Zanette Bennett (1985-88) for second all-time at Notre Dame ... Lee's 1,283 career kills leave her 16 behind Jessica Fiebelkorn (1989-92) for fourth on the Irish career kills list ... Harris needs 51 digs to become the sixth member of Notre Dame's 1,000-kills/1,000-digs club ... Lee has 60 career double-digit kill matches (fifth in Irish history ) and 11 career 20-plus kill matches (fourth all-time at Notre Dame) ... Harris now was 33 career matches with 10-plus kill and 10-plus digs, fourth all-time at Notre Dame and just one behind former teammate Jenny Birkner.