Nov. 16, 2005
By Corey Arvin
Over the past four years, the Notre Dame women’s volleyball team has finished in the top five in NCAA Division I in team blocking in each seasons. Before that, Notre Dame had never finished in the top 10. It’s not coincidence that this accomplishment corresponds with the addition of Robin Davis to the Notre Dame coaching staff. Davis joined the Irish in 2001 and immediately helped turn Notre Dame into one of the top blocking teams in the nation.
“There is no question Robin is an outstanding blocking coach,” says Irish head coach Debbie Brown. “He gets the credit for us being the best blocking team in the country and for Lauren Brewster doing the things she has done. He is really good at making the small adjustements that change an average blocker into a great blocker. I think blocking is the hardest thing to coach, because there are so many little things. But he does it very well.”
During 2003, Notre Dame led the nation in blocking and then-sophomore Lauren Brewster led all players in the nation in blocking with an average of 1.78 that ranks as the third-best in Irish history.
Brewster also praises ND’s blocking specialist: “Robin Davis is an amazing coach. He gives you really good feedback, and gets on you at the right times.”
Davis arrived at Notre Dame already boasting an accomplished coaching resume. He enjoyed 10 highly-successful years as head coach at Biola University in California, helping it to the NAIA national semifinals twice, including a loss in the title match in 1997. Davis left there with a .734 winning percentage and served as an assistant coach at Northern Arizona for two seasons prior to coming to Notre Dame. He helped his alma mater to its first NCAA tournament bid in 1999 and its first-ever Big Sky Conference championship a year later. Davis played for NAU’s club volleyball team and then spent eight years (1979-87) as a professional player.
In addition to being a blocking specialist, Davis also serves as the team’s recruiting coordinator. He helped bring in the current senior class, which was tabbed the fifth-best recruiting class in the country by Volleyball magazine. (Davis also was instrumental in landing the just-announced five-member class of 2010 that includes three players ranked by PrepVolleyball.com to be among the top 25 recruits in the nation.) That class included Lauren Kelbley, Carolyn Cooper, and Brewster, whom Davis has been instrumental in developing.
“I came in with Carolyn Cooper and Lauren Kelbley.,” continues Brewster. “We all came in as middles who hadn’t had extensive blocking coaching.”
Extensive blocking coaching may be an understatement of what these players have received at Notre Dame. Collectively, the three women have developed into one of the most intimidating front lines in the country. Brewster became the second All-American in program history in 2004, while Kelbley is the only current hitter in Division I to have been an AVCA all-region pick on three occasions, and Cooper has led the Irish to a 39-3 record when she starts.
“They are super-fun to coach,” says Davis about his three senior front-line players. “They take everything in. It’s not from a lack of effort if we don’t have the kind of matches we would like to have.”
“Their understanding of the concepts that Robin teaches and their ability to execute has been phenomenal. We always feel good about what we can do with the block,” adds Brown.
In addition to being coached by Robin Davis, Brewster, Kelbley, and Cooper have benefited from playing with and against each other in practice every day.
Brewster says, “Being able to block against them as hitters and have them block against me, I learn from their mistakes and they learn from my mistakes.”
The 2005 Notre Dame spikers are currently 24-2 and have been ranked among the top 10 nationally for most of the season, including an all-time high of #5 earlier this month. Blocking has been extremely important again for the Irish.
“Blocking is huge,” says Cooper. “It helps the team defense behind you.”
“A great block can take great hitters out of a match and take the other team out of its offense,” adds Brown.
During their four years, these three seniors have amassed blocking stats unprecedented in Irish history, and the coaching of Robin Davis has been key. Notre Dame had never seen four players on the same team register 100 blocks each in a season, but Brewster, Kelbley, 2004 graduate Katie Neff, and ’05 grad Emily Loomis accomplished that feat in both 2002 and ’03. Brewster led the BIG EAST in blocking in both overall and league matches in each of her first three seasons and has a chance to finish her career with every Notre Dame career blocking record. She already has the mark for career block assists (562 as of Nov. 14; previous record was 516 by Mary Leffers from 1996-99) and heads into this weekend’s BIG EAST Championship needing 29 blocks to reach Mary Kay Waller’s (1985-88) mark 699 total blocks. She ranks second to Waller in block average at 1.63 (Waller was 1.68).
As a team, the Irish have led the conference in blocking in both overall and league-only action in each of the last four seasons (after not doing so in 2000). Notre Dame was fifth nationally in 2001 (3.53 per game), second in ’02 (3.66), first in ’03 (3.72), and fourth in ’04 (3.37). Davis’ first team turned in the highest block average for the Irish since 1988, and the ’02 squad broke the 14-year-old record for season block average by a Notre Dame team. The ’03 team then improved upon that.
This season has been status quo for the Irish as they continue to post impressive stats. Notre Dame has been ranked among the top 10 nationally in blocking for most of the season, peaking at third. Heading into the weekend, the Irish are averaging 3.52 blocks per game. Brewster and Cooper are both among the top five in the BIG EAST in blocking, at second (1.52) and fourth (1.40), respectively. As the Irish move into the postseason, they will continue to look to use their block as a springboard to success, under the watchful eye of their blocking guru, Robin Davis.