August 18, 1998

“Don’t fear the unknown” could very well serve as the rallying cry for the 1998 Notre Dame volleyball team, as it looks to extend the program’s place among the nation’s elite programs.

“This season should be very interesting, because so many things are up in the air,” said eighth-year Irish head coach Debbie Brown.

“We have so many people that can play different positions and we have a couple question marks as far as injuries go. There are just too many unknowns at this point, but we are excited about our overall talent level and the team’s attitude.”

Such uncertainty stems from several areas:

  • A group of 10 returnees from last season’s 25-9 squad, led by just two healthy players with major starting experience-senior middle blocker Lindsay Treadwell and sophomore setter Denise Boylan.
  • A potentially dominating player-junior middle blocker Mary Leffers-who is working through surgery and rehabilitation from an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her right knee, suffered late in the 1998 spring season.
  • A leftside hitter position that holds the considerable void of ’98 graduates Angie Harris and Jaimie Lee, one of the top classmate combinations in NCAA history.
    Debbie Brown
    Debbie Brown enters her eighth season at the helm of the Irish.
  • A rightside hitter position that is looking for a return to the stability and consistency of 1997 graduate Jenny Birkner, who played all 140 matches of her four-year career.
  • An inexperienced team that could look to juniors Mandi Powell (just 82 career games played) and Emily Schiebout (53 career games) to fill two of the open starting spots.
  • A third junior, Lauren Stettin, who fills the important role of backup setter but is looking to return from offseason back surgery.
  • A two-member senior class that is led by Treadwell, who gets her shot as team captain after playing a major role during her first three seasons.
  • Versatile frontline players such as Christi Girton and fellow sophomore Jo Jameyson, who each could end up playing on the left, middle or right side.
  • A desperate need for passing after the loss of Harris and Lee, with Girton, Powell and Treadwell ranking among the team’s top primary passing candidates.
  • A group of five newcomers who comprise each of the primary four positions, led by national Fab-50 selections Marcie Bomhack and Malinda Goralski plus versatile Kristy Kreher and late additions Michelle Graham and Emily Tarpoff.
  • Competition in the improving BIG EAST Conference, which sent two teams to the 1997 NCAAs (Notre Dame and Villanova) while finishing seventh in the national conference power rankings.
Irish Huddle
10 players return from last year’s Irish squad which finished 25-9.

“We’re a young team but we have very good athletes with good skills-the only thing we lack is experience,” said Brown, whose 1998 squad includes seven former national “Fab-50” prep players. “The team could just keep getting better and will begin to gel as we get experience. And Treadwell’s leadership will be a real key ingredient.”

One noteworthy change could be in the area of set distribution. “Last year, with Angie and Jaimie, we knew that our experience was on the outside and that they were going to get more of the sets,” said Brown. “But this year our goal is to have as balanced an offense as possible. That just makes it that much harder to defend against.”

Here is a look at the Irish, by position:

Outside Hitters

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Leffers’ return and the search for a consistent rightside hitter, Notre Dame’s biggest question actually may be on the left side, where the Irish must replace Harris and Lee. That duo combined for over 19 attack attempts per game during the 1997 season while the rest of the team averaged only 20 swings per game. And Harris or Lee led the team in kills during all but two of the 34 matches a year ago.

Harris departed with 1,577 career kills, 1,023 digs and seven Irish service ace records-including 239 over her four years. Lee, meanwhile, is the only player in the Irish career top 10 for kills, hitting percentage, digs, aces, assists and blocks. Together, they combined for 3,023 career kills-compared to just 1,705 combined career kills for Notre Dame’s 10 returning players for ’98.

The Harris-Lee void extends beyond just offense, as that tandem handled roughly 90 percent of the team’s passing in 1997.

Brown does not downplay the level of talent that has been lost on the left side. But she is just as quick to express confidence in the group of young players who are ready to take their shots at earning a starting role.

“We certainly have players who are capable of stepping in and doing the job on the left side. They are up to the challenge,” she said.

Christi Girton
Christi Girton ranked third in conference hitting percentage last season.

Girton’s planned switch from right to leftside hitter could temper the loss of Harris and Lee by providing a player with starting experience (93 games in ’97, with starts in the final 24 matches) who has the makings for success on the left side.

“Christi remains a very versatile player and could end up anywhere on the front row-which she did for much of her freshman year,” said Brown. “But our plans are to try her initially on the left, where her 6-3 frame and agility could make Christi a real dominating player.”

The Muncie, Ind., native ranked third in the BIG EAST with a .401 conference hitting percentage in 1997 and could play a key role in the team’s passing scheme, due to her strong lower body and backrow mobility. In the front row, Girton’s ability to hit the ball hard and at a high point-combined with excellent all-around blocking skills-could make her one of the team’s most valuable players.

Powell (Monrovia, Ind.), the most veteran of the outside hitters, heads into her third season looking for improved consistency in the front row. As a solid all-around player and arguably the team’s best passer, Powell’s potential value to the team is unquestioned.

Mandi Powell
Mandi Powell looks for a healthy junior season after an injury-plagued 1997.

“Mandi is a very good all-around player-there isn’t an area of her game we don’t feel comfortable with,” said Brown. “She did a great job offensively in the spring and is a very good passer who can go from pass to attack and hit well. Mandi also is an excellent blocker and a good server, so there are many ways she can help-at a position where we are looking for people to step up.”

Health could be a key factor to Powell’s season, as discomfort in her lower back hampered her sophomore campaign. The 5-11 veteran actually opened ’97 as a leftside starter, while Lee was at the World University Games, but she struggled offensively and played primarily a backrow role for the remainder of the season.

“Mandi is a strong player who moves and jumps well and is probably our bet passer because of her technique and ability to cover a wide area,” said Brown. “Most importantly, Mandi had very good offensive numbers in the spring. If she can do that in the fall, she is going to find herself on the court.”

Jameyson and fellow sophomore Adrienne Shimmel (Mission Viejo, Calif.) combine with newcomers Bomhack (Waukesha, Wis.) and Tarpoff (East Lansing, Mich.) to give the Irish plenty of other options on the left side.

The 6-1 Jameyson will enter 1998 as a preliminary candidate at middle blocker and, like Girton, has the talent to play anywhere on the front row. Shimmel, at 5-10, could develop into more of a frontrow player, after serving as a regular backrow specialist in ’97 (90 games played, 98 digs).

Adrienne Shimmel
Adrienne Shimmel looks to build on a solid freshman campaign.

“Adrienne is such an important part of our team because of the emotion she brings to the court,” said Brown. “She has great enthusiasm and just goes out there expecting to get to every ball. She played an important part as a freshman and we expect her to play an even greater role this season.”

Bomhack is the most heralded of the newcomers, earning Fab 50 and honorable mention All-America status from Volleyball magazine. The 6-0 freshman provides another player with experience playing throughout the front row and should make her presence felt due to strong net play and an infectious competitiveness.

Tarpoff is a recent addition, after transferring from the U.S. Air Force Academy. The 6-0 newcomer, who played for the Falcons in 1995, has two years of eligibility remaining and will grow into a yet-to-be-determined role with the Irish. Known for solid all-around skills, Tarpoff actually was recruited by Brown and the Irish while in high school and could provide a needed lift to the young squad.

Middle Blockers

The Irish return two talented starters at middle blocker in Leffers and Treadwell but the uncertainty over Leffers’ return could place extra reliance on Treadwell while opening up chances for several younger players.

Mary Leffers
Mary Leffers was an AVCA All-District first team selection in 1997.

Leffers (Tampa, Fla.) earned first team AVCA All-District honors in 1997 after posting a .311 season hitting percentage that ranks fifth in Irish history and using her 6-4 frame to average 1.26 blocks per game. Offensively, she averaged 2.87 kills per game and was primed for a breakthrough 1998 season prior to the ACL injury in an April 4 scrimmage at Purdue.

“Mary is gaining her strength back, taking each day as it comes, and we’ll see what her situation is and when she can go 100 percent,” said Brown. “We certainly would like her to come back strong-she has been a key ingredient for us, both blocking and hitting, the past two years.”

Should Leffers return to her all-star form, the Irish may look to set the imposing middle more often than in past years. During her first two seasons, Leffers-whose .293 career hitting percentage ranks behind only Treadwell in Irish history-averaged just 6.1 attack attempts per game while eclipsing 20 kills in just two career matches.

“It’s pretty safe to say that we won’t be setting our outside hitters as much as last season and that could result in some bigger kill numbers for players like Mary,” said Brown. “She has the ability to dominate a match and hopefully she will get that chance this season.”

Treadwell (Austin, Texas)-the team’s only fourth-year player-fittingly will captain the 1998 squad, after serving as a spirited and effective player her first three seasons.

Lindsay Treadwell
Lindsay Treadwell will serve as captain for the Irish in 1998.

“Lindsay did a great job leading the team in the spring,” said Brown. “She sets a great example, works hard, is committed to being the best she can be and is not afraid to confront somebody if it seems like they are not working hard enough or if they have a little bit of an attitude. And she can do that because she is so consistent in how she comes in every day and works hard.”

Treadwell, a candidate for BIG EAST player of the year and Academic All-America, owns the best career hitting percentage in Notre Dame history (.298) and has played in 101 of 102 matches the past three seasons. And as the team’s top all-around player, the 5-11 senior has the chance to join current Irish assistant coach Jessica Fiebelkorn-Kerr and former teammate Jenny Birkner as the only Notre Dame players ever to surpass 900 kills, 900 digs, 300 blocks, 100 aces and 100 assists.

“Throughout her career, Lindsay has been very reliable because she does so many things well,” said Brown.

“She always seems to come up with big kills in tough matches, is a great blocker, serves very tough and has developed into a primary passer for us. She also gets the job done when she has to set the ball and now is becoming a great leader for us. What else could you ask for?”

Treadwell’s 1997 season included her trademark blue-collar numbers: 34 of 34 matches played, a .300 hitting percentage, 2.25 kills, 2.41 digs and 1.13 blocks per game, and 15 service aces. Not surprisingly, she continually rose to the occasion in the bigger matches, hitting 93 points higher in non-conference action than in the BIG EAST regular season (.314-.221), including a team-best .290 in 10 matches versus ranked teams. For her career, Treadwell has hit .305 while averaging 3.28 kills per game in seven NCAA tournament matches (both higher than her overall averages of .301 and 1.90).

“Lindsay has answered the call for us so many times in her career but this season she will be looking to play just as well in the easier matches. It just requires a little bit of a mental adjustment to the point where she views every match as a big one,” said Brown.

“Overall, Lindsay will be a huge ingredient to our success because she is such a fighter and brings a higher level of intensity to the court. Other middle blockers in the country may be taller than Lindsay, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many that work harder than she does. She’s due for a great season.”

Jameyson (Alvin, Texas) is a leading candidate to start opposite Treadwell, if Leffers is unavailable when the season opens in late August. Although she has the versatility to play several positions, Jameyson is possibly best suited for the middle due to her 6-1 frame, long arms, jumping ability and quick lateral movement.

Jo Jameyson
Jo Jameyson has the versatility to play several positions for the Irish.

“We’ve been very pleased with Jo’s development, particularly at the end of the spring. She has come on real strong and is well-suited to the middle blocker position,” said Brown. “Jo gets up quick and hits behind the setter very well and she has made pretty good strides on her passing and defense, so she could have a big season.”

Goralski (Missouri City, Texas) brings her strong blocking ability to the Irish program after joining Bomhack as national Fab-50 selections. Known for her jumping ability and large hands, the 6-1 Goralski moves well laterally and excels at penetrating through the net on her blocking attempts. “Malinda just loves to block, which is a big reason that she is so good at it,” said Brown.


Stability and consistency on the right side will be a major concern for the Irish in 1998. Birkner was a mainstay at opposite from 1993-96 but the position yielded mixed results in ’97, when Schiebout (Blaine, Minn.) had a strong opening to the season before fading due to inconsistency and nagging injuries. Girton stepped in and developed into one of the BIG EAST’s top freshmen, but her season also had its ups and downs.

As the Irish enter 1998, Schiebout and Kreher-the team’s only lefthanders-head the rightside candidates, with Girton and Jameyson capable of playing on the right but slated to open ’98 at other frontrow positions.

The 6-1 Schiebout provides another dimension to an offense that will be looking to develop new weapons.

Emily Schiebout
Emily Schiebout is one of two lefthanders on the Irish roster.

“Emily’s strength is in blocking and attacking, and she has made good strides in gaining strength and working on her conditioning,” said Brown. “The biggest thing Emily needs to work on is consistency. She hits the ball very hard and is a terminating hitter–meaning that she either gets a hard kill or hits the ball out. She needs to find a little bit more middle ground and we’ve worked on developing some different shots for her. If Emily can stay healthy and consistent, she’ll be tough to beat out on the right side.”

While Girton and Jameyson can play opposite the setter if needed, Kreher (Birmingham, Mich.) could become a major contributor on the right side. Noted for strong backrow play due to her technique and consistency, Kreher could help fill the major passing void. And like many of her teammates, the 6-1 newcomer has experience playing on the both the right and the left.

Stettin (Burr Ridge, Ill.) rounds out the opposite candidates, but her status remains uncertain after undergoing back surgery in early May of ’98. The 6-0 Stettin is one of the squad’s most versatile players, also serving as a backup setter, and combines strong back row play with solid ability at the net.

Setters and Defensive Specialists

Boylan (Lisle, Ill.) returns for her second year looking to show the benefits of a full Division I season and a summer of training with the USA national team program. Considered one of the top young setters in the nation, the 6-1 Boylan could have a banner sophomore campaign as she looks to improve on last season’s Irish-record .274 team hitting percentage.

Denise Boylan
Setter Denise Boylan is primed for a banner sophomore season.

“I don’t think there’s more or less pressure for Denise. There’s always a certain amount of pressure when you’re a starter, no matter what year you are,” said Brown. “It’s good that Denise has a year of college experience, a year in our system and has had the opportunity to gain strength. And the fact that she played all summer–at a very high level–is certainly a bonus for us.”

Boylan’s freshman year understandably was filled with high and low points but she nonetheless played in nearly 92 percent of the games while directing the most efficient Irish offense in the program’s history. She also displayed her value as an all-around player, using her 6-1 frame to enhance the Irish blocking scheme while ranking second on the team with 27 service aces.

“Denise had a good freshman year and we have very high expectations of her this season, based on what she’s capable of doing,” said Brown. “Physically, Denise has become stronger and has continued to work on varying the offense. Her leadership will be very critical this season and she should feel in an easier situation to assert herself in a leadership role.”

Boylan’s first full year with the Irish also included a redefined outlook during the offseason.

“In the spring, Denise became a more focused and driven player. She is working hard to improve personally and has played an active role to help her teammates to do the things that will help the team to reach its potential. That’s the type of attitude you look for in great setters,” said Brown.

Graham (Austin, Texas), a 5-8 transfer from the University of Oregon, will serve as Boylan’s backup, while Stettin also can run the offense once she returns from her back surgery rehabilitation.

Graham provides a key component for a Notre Dame program that gambled and lost in 1996, when the Irish roster included just one setter (then-junior Carey May). Knowing that Boylan already had verbally committed to the program, the Irish had only the inexperienced Stettin as a backup at setter in ’96. And when May went down with a preseason injury, the Irish decided to shift Lee to setter-despite her lack of experience at the position-and Lee ran the Irish offense for the first half of the campaign, resulting in the loss of two starters as Notre Dame went without the offensive firepower of Lee on the left side.

Audra Duda
Senior Audra Duda will add stability to the backrow for the Irish.

Further injuries to Harris and middle blocker Jennifer Rouse compounded the lack of continuity in what was one of the most challenging seasons of the Brown era.

“We learned our lesson in ’96, as far as setters go, and the presence of Michelle will be very important,” said Brown of the 5-8 Graham, who will be reunited at Notre Dame with her former prep teammate Treadwell. “She played in 21 matches last season and has the benefit of playing volleyball at a high level, in the Pac-10, so we see Michelle as a crucial piece to the puzzle this season.”

While players such as Powell and Shimmel will be available as either starters or backrow specialists, one of the team’s most veteran backrow players is senior Audra Duda (Woodland Hills, Calif.).

“As in the past, Audra will be a key for us in the back row,” said Brown of the player who joined the program as a walk-on in 1996.

“Audra is an excellent server who not only serves tough but can put it in any area of the court. She also has provided good leadership and has very good insight that helps the team be more cohesive and have better communication.”