Sept. 26, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The 17th-ranked University of Notre Dame volleyball team (9-2, 1-0) began its quest for an eighth BIG EAST Conference title in nine years in the league with a four-game victory (33-35, 30-16, 30-26, 30-15) over Villanova (3-10) Friday night in the Joyce Center. The Irish will next welcome perennial power Georgetown on Sunday for a 2 p.m. (EST) match.
After utilizing a 6-2 rotation in its first 10 matches of the season, Notre Dame returned to its traditional 5-1 offense on Friday and was rewarded by strong performances from a few players who were given more extensive roles. Junior OPP/OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) had a match-high 17 kills on match-high .412 hitting for a match-high 23.5 points, but she also was effective playing in the back row regularly for the first time this season. She had 11 digs, besting her previous ’03 high mark by four. In addition, she matched her career high with three aces, while not making a service error, after serving only sparingly in the 6-2 rotation.
Senior OPP/OH Kim Fletcher (St. Louis, Mo./Nerinx Hall H.S.) also capitalized on her opportunity, slamming 11 kills in her second start of the season. It was her highest kill total in one day short of a year; she also had 11 vs. Connecticut on Sept. 27, 2002. In addition, she had season highs with three blocks and 13 points.
Senior S Kristen Kinder (Fresno, Calif./Bullard H.S.) turned in a strong performance in her first match handling all of the setting duties in ’03. After Notre Dame’s offense struggled in the opening game, Kinder helped it to a .292 hitting percentage over the final three frames. She finished with 51 assists, bettering her previous season best by 16.
Once again, Notre Dame’s blocking was a key to its success. The Irish, who came into the match as the top blocking team in the BIG EAST Conference at 3.11 per game, finished with 20 blocks, with seven different players getting in on the action. The strong net play was a major reason that Villanova turned in negative hitting percentages in both games two and four.
Notre Dame was especially effective early, rolling up eight blocks in the opening game. Leading the way was sophomore MB Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.), who was in on nine, the best performance of the season for her. Loomis had seven block assists, while sophomore MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.), the individual conference leader in the category, was in on six. Sophomore MB/OPP Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) had two solos and a pair of block assists in limited action.
Kelbley turned in another good offensive performance, ending up with 14 kills on .345 hitting. She has hit over .300 in nine of 11 contests this season. Brewster had 11 kills, while senior OH Jessica Kinder (Fresno, Calif./Bullard H.S.) had a season-high nine.
Leading Notre Dame’s floor game was sophomore OH Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.), who had 14 digs. She has had nine or more digs in every match this season. Jessica Kinder added 13.
All 13 healthy Irish players saw action on Friday, with sophomore Lindsay Peterson (Mt. Carroll, Ill./Mt. Carroll H.S.) playing for the first time this season.
Notre Dame struggled offensively in the opening game, hitting just .163, while Villanova delivered 25 kills on its way to the victory. The Wildcats, who had just 29 combined kills over the next three games, finally connected on back-to-back kills with the score knotted 33-33, converting on their fourth game point.
The Irish jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in the second game, hitting .375 on the way to their most lopsided game win since a 30-13 fourth-game victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 26, 2002. The Irish led by 17 on two occasions late before Villanova staged a mini-comeback. In the game, Loomis had seven kills on 12 attempts (.500) and Fletcher had four on five swings (.600).
The third game was closer, but after trailing 3-1, Notre Dame took the lead at 5-4 and never relinquished it, holding as much as a seven-point advantage before winning by four. Kelbley and Brewster each had six kills in the game, while Kristen Kinder registered 17 assists.
Notre Dame won the first five points of the fourth game and continued on to double up the Wildcats in taking the decisive frame.
With the win, the Irish improved to 50-0 in BIG EAST matches in the Joyce Center since joining the league in 1995.