Nov. 23, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The 17th-ranked University of Notre Dame volleyball team (23-5) fell 3-0 (30-20, 30-26, 31-29) to Pittsburgh (24-4) in the title match of the BIG EAST Championship Sunday afternoon in the Joyce Center. The Irish lost for the first time in 62 home matches against BIG EAST foes since joining the league in 1995.
Pittsburgh used outstanding hitting to win its 11th BIG EAST title and first since 1994. The Panthers hit .329 for the match and had at least 20 kills in every game. Pittsburgh registered 64 digs (21.33 per game) in holding Notre Dame to a .214 attack percentage. The Irish did not win more than four points in a row.
Notre Dame sophomore L Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) led the Irish defensive effort with 21 digs. It matched the third-highest total ever for an Irish player in a three-game match. Three of the top six digging performances in straight-game matches in Irish history have come this year, with senior co-captain Jessica Kinder (Fresno, Calif./Bullard H.S.) providing the other two.
Henican had seven more digs than Pittsburgh’s Megan McGrane, the BIG EAST Libero of the Year. In the two meetings between the teams this season, Henican had 46 digs (5.75 per game), while McGrane had 30 (3.75).
The Irish had 54 digs overall (18.00 per game), with freshman DS/L Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) chipping in nine.
Senior OPP Katie Neff (St. Louis, Mo./Cor Jesu Academy) was Notre Dame’s most efficient weapon, converting seven kills without an error on a .368 percentage. Junior OPP/OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) had a team-high 14 kills, while sophomore MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) had nine. Senior co-captain S Kristen Kinder (Fresno, Calif./Bullard H.S.) had five on .364 hitting, while registering 38 assists and eight digs.
Notre Dame, the nation’s leader in the category, had 12 blocks, nudging its season average to 3.76 per game. Neff and Kelbley each were in on five.
The Irish held a 4-2 lead in the opening game before Pittsburgh took control. The Irish cut the advantage to four points at 19-15, but the Panthers responded with an 11-5 run to end the game. Pittsburgh hit .383 in the frame, led by Megan Miller’s six kills and no errors on nine swings (.667). Miller was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player with 30 kills on .379 hitting and 38 points over the weekend. The Panthers had 27 digs in game one, while Notre Dame had just 13 kills — six from Loomis — and one block.
Game two was tight early, with 12 ties, before Pittsburgh edged ahead for good at 18-17. After the score was tied 12-12, Notre Dame won back-to-back points just once in the remainder of the game. Miller had eight kills on 14 errorless attempts in the second game.
Notre Dame took an 11-7 lead in the third game, its largest advantage of the day, before Pittsburgh came back to tie the score at 12-12. From that point on, the Panthers never trailed despite four more ties. After a 23-23 deadlock, Pittsburgh won three straight, which set up three match points at 29-26. The Irish got kills from Brewster and Kelbley and a block from Kelbley and Loomis to even the game, but Miller and BIG EAST Player of the Year Wendy Hatlestad converted kills after a Pittsburgh timeout to clinch the victory.
Notre Dame came into the match with a 61-0 record in the Joyce Center against conference teams since joining the BIG EAST in 1995. The Irish were 56-0 in regular-season play and 5-0 in the league tournament.
The defeat was just the second ever for Notre Dame in the BIG EAST Championship, dropping its record to 17-2. Notre Dame’s other loss came to Georgetown in the 1999 final.
Sunday marked Notre Dame’s first three-game loss since the final match of last season, an NCAA second-round contest vs. Michigan State on Dec. 8.
Pittsburgh, which downed the Irish 3-2 one week earlier at home, has won back-to-back matches against Notre Dame after dropping 15 in a row, dating back to 1990.
A crowd of 1,051 watched the action Sunday, marking the fifth consecutive match in the Joyce Center with more than 1,000 fans.
The Irish have one more regular-season match remaining, a tilt with #7 Stanford on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Palo Alto, Calif.