Entering her 29th season overall, and 23rd at Notre Dame, head coach Debbie Brown will be among the veteran mentors in the ACC when the Fighting Irish join the conference this fall.

Irish In The ACC: Volleyball

July 10, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the month of July, UND.com and Fighting Irish Digital Media are featuring a multimedia series entitled “Irish in the ACC,” giving Notre Dame fans a sneak peek at some of what they can expect in the coming days, weeks and years as a member of the ACC through the eyes of each of the various Fighting Irish sports that will compete in the conference. Today, we take a look at the Notre Dame volleyball program, which will be one of the first Fighting Irish teams to compete under the new ACC banner when it takes the court next month.

by Russell Dorn, Athletics Media Relations Assistant

In the 18th century, an Irish philosopher named Edmund Burke stated that “those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it.”

While it’s highly unlikely that Burke had any connection to the sport of volleyball when he offered those words, the other members of the Atlantic Coast Conference may want to heed Burke’s warning as Notre Dame joins the league in 2013.

In fact, the Irish won nine BIG EAST Conference championships and had five runner-up finishes in 18 years in the league, posting a remarkable 193-33 (.854) regular season record in BIG EAST play, including a 35-match winning streak to begin their conference membership. What’s more, Notre Dame entered the BIG EAST in grand style, winning the regular season and/or tournament title in each of their first 11 years in the conference.

Now, the challenge (and perhaps history) repeats itself this fall, as the Notre Dame volleyball program enters the ACC in 2013, ready to compete against some of the nation’s top teams.

“There are five or six schools that we used to compete against in the BIG EAST that are now in the ACC, so it will be nice to pick up those rivalries again,” said Notre Dame head coach Debbie Brown. “It will also give us a chance to compete against some of the other powerhouses in the ACC. I think it is a really good fit for us and I’m really excited for this new adventure.”

Last year, the ACC had four teams make the NCAA Championship field, with Florida State and North Carolina both advancing to the round of 32. In 2011, the Seminoles advanced all the way to the Final Four, where they lost to UCLA.

The league held a championship tournament from 1980-2004, with North Carolina bringing home nine titles, Duke claiming seven, Maryland taking four and Georgia Tech, Clemson, N.C. State and Florida State splitting up the rest. Since 2005, the regular season champion has received the automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

In NCAA Championship play, Duke leads the way with 17 berths, followed closely by Florida State with 15 and North Carolina with 14. FSU’s run to the 2011 Final Four proves to be the deepest an ACC team has advanced in the NCAA tournament, but several others have made Elite 8 and Sweet 16 appearances.

Brown will enter the league as one of the more seasoned coaches, as she begins her 23rd season at Notre Dame and 29th overall. North Carolina head coach Joe Sagula is the leader in the clubhouse as he has coached for 32 years, with 23 of them coming with the Tar Heels. Sagula boasts a record of 471-286 (.622) at UNC and a mark of 674-409 (.622) overall, while Brown has a record of 500-206 (.706) at Notre Dame and 617-289 (.681) overall.

The Irish have had remarkable success against present ACC members, going 78-19 (.804) all-time against the 14 league foes, with winning or .500 records against all but one of them (Notre Dame plays Maryland for the first time on Nov. 1 at Purcell Pavilion).

The most commonly played opponents are three foes that were in the BIG EAST with the Irish over the years. Pittsburgh (22-9), Syracuse (19-1) and Boston College (11-1) all lost to the Irish a combined 52 times with just 11 victories. Notre Dame also has winning records against Clemson (2-1), Duke (6-1), Miami (4-1), North Carolina (5-1), N.C. State (2-0), Virginia (1-0), Virginia Tech (2-1) and Wake Forest (1-0). The Irish also are on level terms all-time against Florida State (2-2) and Georgia Tech (1-1).

The first ACC match as well as the first ACC road contest will be at North Carolina Sept. 27, while the first league home match will be versus Duke Oct. 2. In all, Notre Dame will play host to 10 ACC foes in its first season, while traveling 10 times for a total of 20 conference contests.

Notre Dame’s honorable mention All-America duo of Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser and the rest of their Irish teammates will compete against one returning AVCA third-team All-American in Florida State’s Ashley Neff (Sr., MB) and five honorable mention All-America standouts: Maryland’s Ashleigh Crutcher (Jr., OH), Miami’s Alex Johnson (Sr., RS/Opp.) and Alexis Mourning (Jr., MB), Duke’s Ali McCurdy (Sr., L/DS) and North Carolina’s Paige Neuenfeldt (So., MB). On the AVCA All-East Region Team, the ACC made up 13 of the 14 first team spots and five of the six honorable mention slots. Between those two teams, 13 of the 20 elite players return for at least one more year of eligibility.

After almost two decades in the BIG EAST, the ACC should provide a step up in competition for a Notre Dame volleyball program that was consistently in the upper fourth of the BIG EAST, providing the foundation of excellence that has allowed the Irish to flourish on a national level.

“I think the BIG EAST has been a great experience for us,” said Brown. “We have been able to come in and compete well in the league. We have some great rivalries here. I’m really appreciative for the coaches and the programs in the BIG EAST that have helped us along the way. If we didn’t have that affiliation with the BIG EAST then we wouldn’t be where we are today as a program.”

So, to paraphrase Burke, will 2013 be just another case of history repeating, as Notre Dame looks for the same kind of early success it enjoyed in its last conference affiliation? The answers will start to come Aug. 30, when the Irish meet a fellow ACC member, North Carolina, in a non-league match at the Blue Raider Bash in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

— ND —

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our Irish in the ACC series continues Friday with a look at the Notre Dame tennis programs.