Nov. 9, 2005
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame head volleyball coach Debbie Brown announced today that five standout players have signed national letters of intent to join her program, beginning in the 2006 season. The group – which will replace a quintet of current Irish seniors that is in the midst of leading ND in one of its best seasons in program history – is comprised of OH/MB Megan Fesl (Arlington Heights, Ill./John Hersey H.S./Sports Performance VBC), OH Christina Kaelin (Louisville, Ky./Assumption H.S./KIVA), MB Kim Kristoff (Carmel, Ind./Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School/Team Indiana VBC), S Jamel Nicholas (Pittsburgh, Pa./Pine-Richland H.S./Renaissance VBC), and OH/MB/OPP Serinity Phillips (Valley Center, Calif./Valley Center H.S./Vintage VBC). The Irish have three signees rated by PrepVolleyball.com as among the top 25 high school seniors in the nation, making ND one of only two schools able to boast that.
“Awesome,” said Brown. “That is the best word to describe this class. It is a group of quality people, quality athletes, and quality students. We are so excited about the class.”
All five Notre Dame signees are among PrepVolleyball.com’s Top 150 Senior Aces. Kaelin came in at #9 (first among Kentucky natives; ND’s highest-ranked player since the list began in 2002), while Fesl is 14th (first among players from Illinois), Phillips is 21st, Kristoff is 86th, and Nicholas was in the group of honorable mention outside of the top 100. Only three other schools – Nebraska, Penn State, and Texas – could match the Irish in having a pair of the top 15 on that list, while only the Nittany Lions join ND in having three in the top 25. Two top-10 recruits remain uncommitted. The Senior Aces list began with the current collegiate juniors, and Notre Dame’s highest-ranked recruit prior to this class had been current freshman OH Mallorie Croal (Villa Park, Calif./Mater Dei H.S.), who was 32nd.
Kim Kristoff (front row, far right) celebrated Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School’s Indiana state championship last week.
“As competitors, they are really good,” said Brown. “They are a really competitive group, and they have all played at a really high level either on their clubs or in high school. This year, we have already had two state champions [Kaelin and Kristoff], one national champion [Kaelin], two that are still in the running for their high school state titles [Nicholas and Phillips], and another that finished just short of that [Fesl]. For the most part, their high school teams are not traditional powerhouses either, but the recruits that we have coming in have been leading them and doing a great job.”
The class will join a program currently in the midst of one of its best seasons ever. The Irish currently stand 22-2 this season – which matches the best 24-match record in program history – and ranked eighth in the nation after peaking at an all-time high of #5 last week. Notre Dame, in seek of its 10th regular-season title in 11 years of league membership, is currently tied for first place in the BIG EAST Conference with an 11-1 mark.
“We are right in the middle of a really good season right now, so we are enjoying that,” said Brown. “I haven’t really taken the luxury of really looking ahead to next year. But I do know that as soon as the season ends, I will be doing that, and it will be really fun to plan out the different things we can do with this group.”
Brown went to some familiar places to assemble this class, picking up one player from each of the three states – California (24 players including Phillips), Illinois (19), and Indiana (19) – that have produced the most Notre Dame volleyball players. In fact, two of the signees played on the same club teams that produced current Irish sophomores Adrianna Stasiuk (Sports Performance) and Ellen Heintzman (KIVA). Heintzman and Kaelin will make it a pair of players from the Bluegrass State on next year’s roster after only two Kentucky natives had ever played volleyball for the Irish prior to them. Nicholas will be just the second Pennsylvania product ever to play volleyball at Notre Dame, following outside hitter Robin Israel (North Huntington, Norwin H.S.), who played in 1981 and ’82.
Serinity Phillips will be the 24th California native to play volleyball for the Irish, the most of any state. (photo courtesy of PrepVolleyball.com)
The class will give the Irish a boost at exactly the right time. Notre Dame’s five current seniors – setter Kelly Burrell (Phoenix, Ariz./Xavier College Prep School), MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.), MB/OPP Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy), L/OH Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.), and OH/MB Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) – are in the final months of their collegiate careers, and their presence will leave a large void in the Irish program. That quintet has been a huge part of Irish fortunes during their careers, combining to play in an average of 340 games apiece (out of 405 over the past four seasons), including appearing in an average of 104 matches (out of 116). They include a pair of four-year starters, a three-year starter, a two-year starter, and another who played a regular role throughout most of her career. The class of 2006 has combined for four All-America citations, five all-region awards, and 14 BIG EAST weekly honors.
“It doesn’t match up position for position with the people we are losing,” said Brown. “But just in terms of the quality of athletes and everything, it is going to be great. It is always incredibly difficult to replace five seniors, but I couldn’t be happier with this class.”
Megan Fesl (FEH-sul), 6-2, OH/MB, Arlington Heights, IL, John Hersey High School, Sports Performance Volleyball Club
Megan Fesl pounded 34 kills on Sept. 20, 2005, vs. Rolling Meadows, the fourth-highest total ever by an Illinois high school player. (photo courtesy of arcticferret.com)
FESL BIO NOTES: Proven winner who was named the 14th-best volleyball player among current high school seniors across the country by PrepVolleyball.com (first in the traditionally talent-laden state of Illinois) … helped perennial power Sports Performance Volleyball Club to AAU national championships in 2004 and ’05, earning All-America honors on the former occasion … was tabbed to all-tournament team in 2004 Junior Olympics as the only junior on the Sports Performance 18 Elite squad that won that national championship in the 18 open division last summer … four-year varsity starter for John Hersey High School finished with its record for career kills (1,141), while ranking 16th in Illinois state history … also had 763 digs and 281 blocks during her career … in final prep season, posted 489 kills on .482 attack percentage to go with 67 blocks and team-best 300 digs, while being Hersey’s top serve receiver and registering 26 aces of her own … set Hersey record for kills in a match, with 34 against Rolling Meadows on Sept. 20, 2005, the fourth-best output ever by any high school player in Illinois … also holds school record for digs in a match (25) … earned all-state accolades in ’04 from the Chicago Tribune and Champaign News-Gazette, as well as all-area honors from the Chicago Sun Times in ’05 … helped Hersey to the quarterfinals of the Illinois state tournament in 2004, as well as four consecutive regional championships … Mid Suburban League Co-Player of the Year in both 2004 and ’05 after being all-conference as a sophomore … helped Hersey to MSL championship in ’05 … named Chicago Tribune/WGN Prep Athlete of the Month in September 2005 … also played first base on Hersey’s junior varsity softball team as a freshman … carries 5.29 cumulative grade-point average on a 5.00 scale and is ranked 33rd in her class of 501 … member of National Honor Society and a leader in the Hersey chapter’s Service-Over-Self program … plans to major in marketing at Notre Dame … will join current Irish sophomore Adrianna Stasiuk as the latest in a long line of Chicago-area standouts to play volleyball for Notre Dame … also continues tradition of Sports Performance products to play for the Irish, which also has included Jenny Birkner (1993-96), Denise Boylan (1997-2000), and Stasiuk … current football star Tom Zbikowski, standout golfers Steve Ratay (’01, a Hersey grad) and Shannon Byrne (’04), baseball Academic All-American Jeff Perconte (’00), and Joe Jarosz, a fullback on the 1988 football national championship team, are among other Arlington Heights graduates to be athletes at Notre Dame … mother, Joanie Fesl, played volleyball at the University of Iowa … her mother also led Maine South High School to a third-place finish in the Illinois state tournament, which was the best for the Hawks until Stasiuk led Maine South to a third-place finish in 2003 … her coaches have included Nancy Lill at John Hersey High School and Rick Butler with Sports Performance … daughter of Joanie and Rich Fesl … born Nov. 21, 1987.
Megan Fesl was 14th in the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces. (photo courtesy of arcticferret.com)
Debbie Brown ON FESL: “When we first started recruiting her, Megan was playing middle for her club team, and then last year she moved to the outside. She really can play wherever we need her. I think her best position might be on the right side, but she is also a really good left-side hitter, and she can obviously play middle, too, as she hits well off of one foot. She is a really fun person to play with. She loves playing the game and loves to work hard. She has really good back-row skills, too. It was good that they took her out of the middle, because then she really developed her back-row abilities, as well. That got her playing all the way around and passing and hitting out of the back row.”
FESL ON HER DECISION: “The moment I stepped on Notre Dame’s campus I knew I would end up there. I felt so welcomed by the volleyball personnel and also by the people around campus. The school and volleyball program were both a great fit for me.”
LINK TO ARTICLE ABOUT FESL:
Christina Kaelin (KAY-lynn), 6-0, OH, Louisville, KY, Assumption High School, Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy (KIVA)
Christina Kaelin came in #9 in the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces, making her the highest-ranked player to sign with the Irish since that listing began in 2002. (photo courtesy of arcticferret.com)
KAELIN BIO NOTES: Prolific outside hitter was ranked as the ninth-best player among current high school seniors by PrepVolleyball.com (first among Kentucky natives) … the highest-ranked player on that list (which debuted in 2002 with the current collegiate juniors) ever to commit to play for the Irish … AAU All-American every year from 2001-05 and three-time national-championships MVP in club action for Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy … captained traditional power Assumption High School to one of its finest seasons in 2005, as the Rockets finished 43-0, winning 98 of 101 games (only losses came against out-of-state foes) en route to the Kentucky state championship, the third of her career … also crowned national champions by PrepVolleyball.com … named to all-tournament team in state championship … was MVP of Durango Classic and on all-tournament team in Nike Challenge … helped Assumption to state titles in 2002 and ’04, as well, including being named state tournament MVP, first-team all-state, and Gatorade Player of the Year for Kentucky as a junior … tabbed PrepVolleyball.com All-American and one of Volleyball magazine’s “25 Underclassmen to Watch Out For” in ’04 … was first-team all-state selection in ’03 and third-team pick as a freshman … named AAU All-American and tournament MVP in helping KIVA to the 2005 AAU Nationals 17 Gold division championship … also was MVP in leading club to the USA Junior Olympics 17 Open Gold title in ’05 … was part of USA Youth National Training Team that competed in the 2005 FIVB U18 World Championships in Macau, China … member of that team in ’04, as well, but could not compete in World Championships qualifier due to injury … also helped KIVA to AAU title in 2001 and ’03, second place in ’04, and third in ’02, as well as Junior Olympics championship in ’01, second place in ’02, third in ’03, and fifth in ’04 … AAU MVP in ’01 in 13s division … took part in USA Volleyball High Performance Camp and its A2 camp in ’03 … featured in “Faces in the Crowd” in Sept. 19, 2005, issue of Sports Illustrated … current Irish sophomore Ellen Heintzman – whose Sacred Heart Academy team gave Assumption its lone tournament loss of Kaelin’s career – is another Louisville native who played for KIVA … 1956 Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung, defensive back and eventual NFL player Tony Driver (’01), tennis All-American Max Brown (’58), and volleyball player Andrea Armento (’93) are among the other Louisville natives to be athletes for Notre Dame … will be the second Assumption grad to do so, joining former golfer Lauren Fuchs (’00) … was a class officer as a sophomore, junior, and senior … placed third in the Kentucky Congressional Art Competition, and her artwork now hangs in the Louisville office of Congresswoman Anne Northup … plans to major in art at Notre Dame … her coaches have included Ron Kordes at Assumption High School and Dan Palmer with KIVA … daughter of Donna and Mark Kaelin … born March 26, 1988, in South Bend, Ind.
Christina Kaelin helped Assumption High School to a 43-0 record this season and has been an AAU All-American for KIVA for five straight years. (photo courtesy of arcticferret.com)
Debbie Brown ON KAELIN: “She has just been so fun to watch develop. Each year we have watched her and have been so amazed at how she just keeps getting better and better. She is a true left-side attacker and has all the shots. She is explosive and jumps high and is competitive. She will do whatever it takes to win, and she has played on winning teams all along. But she is a real outside hitter. She jumps well and is strong and is really, really fun to watch. She has good command of all her shots.”
KAELIN ON HER DECISION: “I was born in South Bend and it was a childhood dream of mine to attend Notre Dame. From the first time I stepped onto the volleyball court in the second grade my dream was to play for the Irish. This is a dream come true.”
LINK TO ARTICLE ABOUT KAELIN:
Kim Kristoff (CHRIS-toff), 6-1, MB, Carmel, IN, Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School, Team Indiana Volleyball Club
Kim Kristoff helped Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School to be ranked #1 in Indiana and fifth nationally this season.
KRISTOFF BIO NOTES: First-team all-Indiana selection in 2005 helped Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School to state championships in 2003 and ’05 … ranked 86th in PrepVolleyball.com’s Senior Aces, the listing of the top high school seniors in the country … helped Team Indiana to second-place finish at 2005 USA Junior Olympic National Championships, earning all-tournament-team accolades … had Brebeuf ranked #1 in the state and fifth nationally (by PrepVolleyball.com) in 2005 … second-team all-state selection in 2004 was also a first-team pick by Star North and the Indianapolis Star … tabbed first-team all-Marion County as a junior and senior after being honorable mention in 2003 … named Brebeuf’s MVP in 2004 after being its Most Improved Player as a sophomore … MVP of ’04 Brebeuf Jesuit Invitational Tournament … member of National Honor Society and a High Honor Roll student … plans to major in marketing … from same high school as former Irish standout tennis player Holyn Lord (’96) … father Dave graduated from Notre Dame in 1979 … her coaches have included Brian Murry at Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School and Rich Coleman with Team Indiana … full name is Kimberly Marie Kristoff … daughter of Linda and Dave Kristoff … born Oct. 6, 1987.
Debbie Brown ON KRISTOFF: “Kim Kristoff from Indianapolis just won the state championship at Brebeuf Jesuit Prep School in Indiana. She is a very quick, dynamic middle blocker who hits very well off one foot. Her quickness gives her the ability to close the block from antenna to antenna. She will be used mainly as a middle blocker and a front row player for us.”
KRISTOFF ON HER DECISION: “I was drawn to Notre Dame because of the rigorous academics and the thriving athletic tradition. I wanted a smaller school that had a very family-like atmosphere. I really liked the coaches and felt really comfortable with the girls on the team. I grew up as a Notre Dame fan, and going to school there has always been my dream.”
LINKS TO ARTICLES ABOUT KRISTOFF:
Jamel (juh-MEL) Nicholas, 5-7, S, Pittsburgh, PA, Pine-Richland High School, Renaissance Volleyball Club
Jamel Nicholas has Pine-Richland High School headed to the Pennsylvania state tournament, which will be played this weekend.
NICHOLAS BIO NOTES: Two-time all-Pennsylvania selection has led Pine-Richland High School into this year’s state tournament, to be played this weekend … listed among PrepVolleyball.com’s Top 150 Senior Aces … four-year co-captain of that squad was tabbed all-state by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) as a freshman and sophomore … missed junior season with a stress fracture … also named all-Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League in first two seasons … is on pace to earn all-WPIAL and all-state accolades again this fall … led Pine-Richland to the WPIAL championship in ’05 … named to Volleyball magazine’s list of the top 80 prep sophomores in 2003-04 … will be just the second Pennsylvania native ever to play volleyball for the Irish, following OH Robin Israel (North Huntington, Norwin, 1981-82) … among the other Pittsburgh products to have been athletes at Notre Dame are basketball player Dwight Clay, whose jumper ended UCLA’s NCAA-record 88-game winning streak in 1974, football All-American and Academic All-American Don Schaefer (’55), swimming All-American Teri Schindler (’82), and Derek Seiling (’97), an All-America distance runner … mother, Sue, was a four-year starting setter for Illinois State … member of National Honor Society and St. Alphonsus Bell Choir … plans to major in education … her coaches have included Emily Gerega at Pine-Richland High School and Brian Begor with Renaissance Volleyball Club … daughter of Sue and Joe Nicholas … born Nov. 12, 1987.
Jamel Nicholas missed her junior prep season due to injury.
Debbie Brown ON NICHOLAS: “She has a great court presence and is a really good leader. She has really good communication with her players and helps make everyone around her better. As a setter, she has great set location and a lot of the intangibles you look for in a setter, which is very exciting. She is a good defensive player and good server. We got to see one of her high school matches this year, and she actually got to hit some. Her team ran a 6-2, so she got to hit and set. That is something that we had never seen her do and we will never use her that way at Notre Dame, but it was fun to see her in that role, doing whatever she needs to do to help her team. She will definitely come in and be a great addition as a setter, whether we choose to go to a 6-2 or a 5-1. She will be a great option for us, and there will definitely be a lot of competition at that setting spot.”
NICHOLAS ON HER DECISION: “After visiting Notre Dame and meeting the team and coaches, I fell in love with the program. The school offers so much opportunity and to be a part of such a rich tradition is a dream come true. I am looking forward to becoming a member of the Fighting Irish. “
LINKS TO ARTICLES ABOUT NICHOLAS:
Serinity Phillips, 6-0, OH/MB/OPP, Valley Center, CA, Valley Center High School, Vintage Volleyball Club
Serinity Phillips helped Vintage Volleyball Club to a first-place finish in the ’05 USA Junior Olympics Festival. (photo courtesy of John Raifsnider, North County Times)
PHILLIPS BIO NOTES: Versatile offensive player was ranked 21st among the top high school seniors in the country by PrepVolleyball.com … helped Vintage Volleyball Club take first place in 2005 USA Junior Olympics Festival … three-year member of the USA Volleyball High Performance Program … played in youth nationals … tabbed all-California Interscholastic Federation (C.I.F.) and named to the state all-tournament team … first-team all-Valley League selection has led Valley Center High School to three consecutive conference championships (2003-05) … will be the first Valley Center native and first graduate of Valley Center High School ever to be a student-athlete at Notre Dame in any sport … will be the 24th California product – including current sophomore Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Los Alamitos H.S., Golden West VBC) and freshman Mallorie Croal (Villa Park, Mater Dei H.S., Golden West VBC) – to play for the Irish volleyball team, the most of any state … plans to major in journalism and minor in Spanish … her coaches have included Pam Sheppard at Valley Center High School and Dennis Papallotoc and John Moshe with Vintage Volleyball Club … full name is Serinity Alexandra Phillips … nickname is Spider … daughter of Maureen and Greg Phillips … born Feb. 1, 1988.
Debbie Brown ON PHILLIPS: “Serinity Phillips could literally play any position. She is just a really talented student-athlete, who jumps really well and has a great arm. Offensively, she will bring a lot to us, but she is a really great blocker, as well. She does jump well and she gets her hands over the net and penetrates as well as anyone in her class. I think she can play any position that we need her to, left, middle, or right. It does give us some versatility and flexibility in our lineup.”
PHILLIPS ON HER DECISION: “I have dreamed of playing at and attending Notre Dame since middle school. A Notre Dame student had given a speech in one of my classes and informed us of the great opportunities at Notre Dame and the life experience it offers. Ever since then I was set on attending ND.”
LINKS TO ARTICLES ABOUT PHILLIPS: