Jamel Nicholas had one of Notre Dame's 10 aces Saturday against No. 4 California.

Fighting Irish Take No. 4 California To Wire, Fall In Five Sets

Sept. 13, 2008

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – A balanced offensive attack highlighted by four players with double-digit kills helped the Notre Dame volleyball team keep fourth-ranked California on the ropes Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion, but in the end the Golden Bears prevailed with a 3-2 (25-17, 21-25 20-25, 25-23, 16-14) win. Notre Dame (3-5) now looks ahead to a Sunday (Sept. 13) matchup with No. 11 Minnesota in the third and final day of the host Golden Gophers’ Diet Coke Classic. The win improves Cal’s overall record to 6-1.

The match was strikingly similar to the 2007 meeting between the two programs when Notre Dame fell to the then-11th ranked Golden Bears in five sets at Santa Clara’s Bronco Invitational. With each of the two matches tilting in favor of both squads from start to finish, this year’s edition of the showdown saw 28 ties and 15 lead changes.

Both sophomore Kellie Sciacca and senior Justine Stremick had four blocks with Stremick adding seven kills on a .462 clip. Sciacca led the Irish with 14 kills. The block party started early for the Irish as Phillips and Stremick teamed for a stuff to make it a 2-2 match and a four-hit violation gave Notre Dame a 3-2 lead that was short lived as freshman Kristen Dealy’s serve found nothing but net. After Sciacca’s kill on the slide, freshman Beht Wildermuth stepped in and aced the Golden Bears (6-6). To keep the trend alive, Silva aced the Cal backline to turn it into a 15-14 set for the Irish. Cal proceeded to take the next five points until Notre Dame hit pay dirt. But the Golden Bears staged another late rally to claim six of the final seven scores. Cal continued to feed Hana Cutura who finished with eight kills on 11 swings in the set. Hanta led all players with 25 kills on 42 attempts and also added 13 digs on the evening.

In the opening stages of the second set, Sciacca had a kill and a solo block that got the Irish out of a 2-4 hole to tie the set. Wildermuth’s second ace of the match gave Notre Dame 5-4 lead and Sciacca kept the Irish within striking distance with another kill to knot the count at 6-6. Junior Megan Fesl helped her team regain the lead with one of her two kills of the match (7-6). Notre Dame boosted its lead to 18-14 but Cal came back and made it a 19-18 affair before the Irish wrapped things up.

Sciacca had five kills in the frame with junior Christina Kaelin totaling four as the Irish improved on their .067 hitting percentage to start the match with a .370 clip in the second set.

Notre Dame took a commanding 5-0 lead to start play after intermission by dominating all facets of the game and never looked back. They kept the five-point cushion with a Dealy kill (10-5) through the Cal triple block and Kaelin let loose with a kill to make it a 15-9 set. Sciacca skied to reject the shot of the 6-4 Cutura (18-10) but Cal soon countered with five straight points and closed the gap to three (24-21) before a Golden Bear service error put the Irish ahead by one set.

With the fourth set tied at 3-3, Sciacca slammed her 10th kill of the match to bump Notre Dame ahead by a point. The set featured 10 knotted counts and six lead changes, and the score read 9-9 when Dealy aced the Bears to give the Irish an 11-10 lead. Dealy’s next kill gave Notre Dame a 13-12 lead but Cal came back again and seemingly had the set wrapped up. Trailing by a pair, Sciacca and junior Serinity Phillips teamed for a block to cut into the Golden Bears’ lead, 24-23, until Cal secured set point.

Cal spurted out to a 7-1 lead in the final set though the Irish put together a 5-2 run capped off by Stremick’s kill. Stremick added a block one play later and junior Jamel Nicholas’ ace gave the Irish new life. Cal’s four-hit violation tied things at 9-9 and, Phillips’ kill made it 10-10, Kaelin won a joust to bring it to 12-12, and Wildermuth’s ace made it 14-14. California scored on the next two rallies to lock the win.

Notre Dame finished with a season-high 10 aces but faulted on 13 serves. Wildermuth totaled a career-high four aces. Kaelin had 11 kills while Phillips and Dealy each added 10. Nicholas had 27 assists and 11 digs for the Irish.