July 21, 1999
Head volleyball coach Debbie Brown is in her ninth season at Notre Dame and her 15th year overall. In 1998, the Irish finished with a record of 18-13, claiming its fourth straight BIG EAST Championship and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Irish open their 1999 campaign at home versus Valparaiso at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1.
Q: What are your general thoughts about last season?
A: I think, looking back on it, I was really pleased with the way the team held together and finished strong. We obviously had some difficulties to overcome with injuries, especially to Denise (Boylan) and with Mary (Leffers) not being 100 percent. They are obviously two key players for us. I was very pleased with how we performed in the BIG EAST Tournament and in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I thought we played really well, so from that stand point, it was a very good season. Certainly, going into it we had hoped to do a little bit better, but when you have setbacks or injuries, you have to reevaluate. With what we had, we finished very well.
Q: What are you expecting for this season?
A: Every year going in, I have pretty high expectations of the team and it’s no different this year. Our young players got a lot of experience last year with only one senior. We have good experience returning, so that should make us stronger. I think we have pretty good balance at the positions, but it hurts us losing Mandi Powell this year, because we don’t have as much depth at the outside hitter position with passing and things. All of Mandi’s skills were very good, so that hurts a little bit, but we can overcome that and again have a very successful year.
Q: How do you feel about this year’s schedule?
A: I think every year we try to put together a very strong schedule and I think we’ve done that again. We open with Pacific, Louisville and Northwestern at home (Shamrock Classic, Sept. 3-5). Pacific and Louisville, in particular, were both NCAA Tournament teams last year, and Northwestern is a program that has gotten better and better every year, so it’s a very strong tournament to open with, particularly with Pacific. Pacific is very similar to where we are at with only two seniors last year, so they pretty much have their whole team returning and they were very strong last year. We open at home with Pacific and then close during Thanksgiving out at Pacific in a tournament with Washington State and Sacramento State.
We’re starting and ending with strong competition and then in the middle we have to opportunity to play teams that are clearly NCAA teams. BYU is traditionally a top 10 program at least, and that’s going to be a great experience for us in October.
Our BIG EAST schedule is going to give us a lot again this year. It’s pretty similar to what we’ve done before. We have some tough matches in September, some tough matches in October and obviously there’s strong matches all the way through it. It’s kind of exciting when you know you’re going to play one of those programs that is a perennial top 10 or top 20 program.
Q: How do you feel about the competition in the BIG EAST for this season?
A: The conference as a whole has continued to improve each year. The programs that are well supported and well funded are very competitive. Unfortunately, there’s somewhat of an unfair advantage, because some of the programs aren’t supported really well and it’s hard for them to compete if they don’t have the same number of scholarships or full time coaches. I do think that the top half of the conference is very competitive and any of those teams are capable of beating each other on any given night.
Q: Did you see the need to schedule home matches against high-level teams during mid-season?
A: It fluctuates year to year. With most of the teams you schedule, you do it where one year you play here and the next year you play there, so sometimes it works out that we have a couple more home matches. I have always thought it’s good to play at home. The team can sleep in their own beds and don’t have to get out of their routine. We also generally play really well at home.
Q: How do you feel about the leadership of the senior class?
A: I think we have a good balance. Mary (Leffers) is going to be one of our co-captains and she’s been a great example since day one. We have Mary, Lauren Stettin, Emily Schiebout and Mandi (Powell), who we’ve lost due to injury, but I think it’s a very good group, because we have different perspectives from all of them.
Lauren has really never played a lot and that’s mainly due to injury. She has been relatively injury free since the spring, so we hope she will come in and contribute this year. I think she has a very good perspective, because sometimes when you can’t play and have to sit out and watch, you learn a lot. I know that she will be very eager to take advantage of an opportunity to play.
Emily had a very good year for us last year. She matured a lot and all of her skills improved, in particular her backrow skills. She provides a great block, good offensive power and she’s been in the position of being a starter, being a substitute and being hurt.
I think when you’ve had seniors who have been in all those positions, they can help the younger players in whatever they’re going through, whether it be that they’re not playing or that they’re hurt.