Aug. 22, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -
Coming off its 21st consecutive winning season and an appearance in the final match of the BIG EAST Conference Championship, the Notre Dame volleyball team has big expectations entering the 2012 campaign.
A preseason third-place pick in the BIG EAST, the Irish lost graduated senior standouts Frenchy Silva and Kristen Dealy, but return 12 Monogram winners that offer a wealth of match experience. Five newcomers join the squad eager to help the team return to the BIG EAST Championship match.
Veteran head coach Debbie Brown named this season's tri-captains, as senior Marie Roof and juniors Andrea McHugh and Maggie Brindock are expected to show leadership both on and off the court.
Roof, an opposite side hitter, is coming off a 2011 season where she played in 24 matches and tallied 15 kills, 15 blocks and 68 digs. As one of only two seniors on the team along with Hilary Eppink, Roof will be called upon as both a captain and senior leader.
"Marie is a great blocker and a smart, steady player," said Brown. "We will count on her a lot this season."
The 2010 AVCA Northeast Region and BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, McHugh turned in a productive sophomore campaign as an outside hitter, starting all 30 matches and tallying 281 kills, 40 service aces, 347 digs and 43 blocks. She finished first on the team in service aces, second in kills and digs and sixth in blocks. The 0.37 service aces per set put her fourth in the conference.
"Andrea has been one of the steadiest players on our team the past two seasons," said Brown. "She is an all-around player and has continued that steady play throughout the preseason."
The starting setter from a year ago, Brindock assisted on a team-high 777 points, and also recorded 62 kills and 162 digs.
In addition to the captains, the Irish will rely heavily on right side hitter Toni Alugbue, middle blocker Hilary Eppink and opposite side hitter Jeni Houser.
Alugbue turned in a strong freshman campaign, recording 184 kills and a team-high 98 blocks.
"We moved Toni to the outside this preseason and she has played very well from that position so far," said Brown. "We are excited to see her start the season there."
Eppink, who is the only other senior on the team, had 192 kills and 94 blocks last year as a junior.
"Hilary worked incredibly hard in the offseason and is now in the best shape she has been in here at Notre Dame," said Brown. "She has started the last two years and is our most experienced middle blocker."
Houser, who was named a preseason all-BIG EAST selection after earning second team accolades as a freshman, led the team in kills with 320 and also chipped in 79 digs and 70 blocks. In all, the Louisville, Ky., product scored a team-high 364.5 points, good for a 3.47 per set average.
"Jeni has tremendous power from the opposite side position," said Brown. "She is a fiery player who will dictate the personality of the team. When it's crunch time, she wants the ball."
Elsewhere around the court, Sammie Brown (376 assists) is expected to split time with Brindock at setter, while Andie Olsen (37 kills, 11 blocks) and Sam Brown (42 kills, 28 blocks) will rotate heavily across the front line.
Nicole Smith, Kathleen Severyn (11 service aces) and Meg Vonderhaar (25 kills) will also be ready for playing time. Smith is looking to return from a knee injury that sidelined her for the duration of the 2011 season. Smith and Vonderhaar play at right outside hitter, while Severyn is a libero and defensive specialist.
Expected to take over for the graduated Silva is freshman Taylor Morey, who comes to the Irish from Muncie, Ind. There she led Burris Laboratory School to three state titles and four conference crowns on her way to earning Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year accolades as a junior. She also earned all-state honors three times and all-conference accolades four times.
"Taylor is our most consistent passer," said Brown. "She has great reach on defense and a great jump float serve. She does a good job of keeping the mood energetic when we are on the court."
Annie Flynn, Hanna Muzzonigro, Haley Bonneval and Erin Klosterman are other newcomers who are looking to make an immediate impact.
Ranked the 22nd-best recruiting class in the country, Notre Dame's four-person freshman class features a middle blocker, right outside hitter, setter and libero.
Flynn was a two-time all-conference performer for Mater Dei High School in Newport Beach, Calif., while Muzzonigro led Pine-Richland High School in Gibsonia, Pa., to a trio of sectional titles. Bonneval, who was Louisiana's 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year, rounds out the foursome.
Joining the Irish squad as a sophomore is Klosterman, who attended nearby St. Mary's (Ind.) last season. As a prep she helped her Marian High School in Leonard, Mich., to state championships in 2009 and 2010.
As has become a staple under Brown's watch, the 2012 schedule is littered with elite opponents, as UCLA, USC, Nebraska, San Diego, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette each appeared in last season's NCAA Tournament. Overall, the Irish will do battle with four preseason ranked teams, including defending national champion and preseason No. 1 UCLA, No. 4 Nebraska and No. 5 USC all in the first three weeks of the season.
"We want to play strong to open the year," said Brown. "We knew all three of those teams would be strong teams, but it is really good for us. We want to play the best; because that is the only way you can get better. It helps you see exactly what you need to work on. It also gives your team a chance to rise to the occasion and beat a top-five team."
Notre Dame gets out of the gate with a matchup against UCLA (Aug. 24) in Lincoln, Neb. One day later, Notre Dame faces St. Louis (Aug. 25) in Lincoln before heading to Omaha to challenge Nebraska (Aug. 26).
Returning to Purcell Pavilion to open the home portion of the schedule, the Irish will welcome UAB (Aug. 31), Buffalo (Sept. 1) and Eastern Kentucky (Sept. 2) to the Shamrock Invitational.
Notre Dame travels west for the USC Tournament (Sept. 7-8) with bouts against Cal Poly, San Diego and the host Trojans in Los Angeles, Calif. The event will be a homecoming of sorts for several California natives on the Irish roster along with Brown, who captained USC to a 72-1 two-year record and national titles in both 1976 and 1977, including a 38-0 run in 1977. Brown's 1977 squad is still considered one of the all-time greatest at any level of volleyball.
USC paid tribute to Brown during the 2008 season by naming her a program "All-Time Great," an honor shared with Trojan teammate Sue Woodstra. A permanent banner with Brown's name and jersey number now hangs from the rafters of USC's Galen Center.
The Golden Dome Invitational will feature games against Xavier (Sept. 14), Loyola Marymount (Sept. 15) and Kansas (Sept. 16).
League play begins with trips to Cincinnati (Sept. 21) and Louisville (Sept. 23). Notre Dame fell to both the Bearcats and Cardinals during the 2011 regular season, but avenged its loss to Louisville in the second round of the BIG EAST Conference Championship before putting up a valiant fight to Cincinnati in the league's title match.
Four straight home matches over the following two weeks include meetings with Marquette (Sept. 29), Syracuse (Sept. 30), Connecticut (Oct. 6) and St. John's (Oct. 7).
A three-game roadswing to DePaul (Oct. 12), Georgetown (Oct. 19) and Villanova (Oct. 21) will be followed by a home twinbill with Pittsburgh (Oct. 26) and USF (Oct. 28). The matchup with Pittsburgh will be played at the Joyce Center Fieldhouse.
Notre Dame travels to Seton Hall (Nov. 3) and Rutgers (Nov. 4) before playing host to Cincinnati on Nov. 9 to close the home schedule.
The regular season comes to an end at Marquette (Nov. 11) while the BIG EAST Championship will be played Nov. 16-18 at an undetermined site.
The Irish will tune up for the NCAA Championship at Ohio (Nov. 23).
The first three rounds of the NCAA Championship will be held at campus sites with the semifinals and championship match set to be played Dec. 13-15 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
The coaching staff remains intact from 2011, as Brown will have the services of associate head coach Robin Davis and assistant coach Christy Pfeffenberger for the second year in a row.
Davis enters his ninth season with the Irish, while Pfeffenberger begins her second campaign.
One new face joining Notre Dame as a volunteer assistant coach is long-time Bowling Green head coach Denise Van De Walle. Van De Walle retired in 2011 after 29 years at the helm of the Falcons. During her tenure with BGSU, she went 527-378 and still remains the winningest coach in Mid-American Conference history.
Operations specialist Alisha Ewing also returns for her fifth season.
With a talented and seasoned team with plenty of big-match experience, the Irish look to stand atop the BIG EAST for the first time since 2005 and make a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.
"I don't set any goals for the team because I think it is really important for us as a group to decide together," said Brown. "We are excited. We feel we can compete with any team we have on our schedule and we are ready to get going."