Nov. 16, 2008
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Facing a four-point deficit in the fifth set of Sunday’s match against Connecticut, the Notre Dame volleyball team rattled off eight unanswered points to deal the Huskies a 3-2 (26-28, 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 15-11) defeat at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame trailed, 11-7, but was aided by five UConn errors over the final stretch to earn the BIG EAST Conference win and the league tournament’s fifth overall seed.
Notre Dame improved to 14-13 on the season and 9-5 in BIG EAST play after its second five-set match in as many outings and the fifth in the past seven contests. The loss for the Huskies (21-8 overall, 10-4 BIG EAST) was just the second for the conference championship’s fourth-seeded squad since Oct. 18.
The two teams will meet again in the first round of the 2008 BIG EAST Championship on Friday (Nov. 21) at 10 a.m. (ET). The tournament will be held at Fitzgerald Field House in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Senior Justine Stremick played a pivotal role in snapping the Huskies’ seven-match win streak. Stremick totaled a season-best 17 kills on a .364 clip and five blocks. Seven of her kills came in the fourth set to swing momentum into Notre Dame’s favor and four more kills were racked in the final frame. Sophomore Kellie Sciacca had seven kills and six blocks, but more importantly, remained a steady pillar at the net to help the Irish limit the Huskies to respective hitting averages of .000, .073 and .059 in the last three sets of the match.
Distributing a match-high 52 assists was junior Jamel Nicholas, who also had three kills and a pair of blocks. Freshman Kristen Dealy secured her 10th double-double of the season with 16 kills and 17 digs. Sophomore Megan Dunne led the Irish with 18 scoops and junior Serinity Phillips added 13.
UConn bolted ahead by a 4-0 count before the Irish finally cracked the scoring column in the first set. Junior Christina Kaelin, who finished with 12 kills, had five in the opening stanza including a pair during a decisive Irish run midway through the set and helped the Irish force 10 tied scores and six lead changes. Dealy had a kill (23-22) to put Notre Dame in the driver’s seat but UConn came back with two unanswered points. But it was no sweat off Dealy’s back as she registered two more of her set-high eight kills to give Notre Dame a 25-24 lead. Despite showing its frustration in handling the smooth serves off the hand of sophomore Stephanie Slatt, UConn scored four of the next five points for the win.
The Huskies once again got out to a brief 4-1 lead in the second set before Notre Dame battled to an 8-8 stalemate after a Husky error. The first of two 4-0 Irish runs ended with Sciacca unloading on an overpass (10-8), and the next was capped by one of the nine Husky errors in the frame that gave the home team a 20-14 lead. UConn frisked its way to cut into the Notre Dame lead, 21-19, but Dealy found safe ground on two more attacks to help the Irish tie the mach at one set apiece.
Notre Dame was plagued by 12 errors and posted a -.026 average in the third set. Though it killed five more shots than UConn (6), Notre Dame (11) could not find a steady offensive groove and used several combinations consisting of 12 different players. Kaelin and Dealy knocked five kills apiece in the set.
Stremick had a pair of slide shots to help Notre Dame insulate its lead in the fourth. UConn came back to tie it at 5-5 and took a one-point lead until junior Kim Kristoff slammed a Nicholas dime (6-6). Phillips and Kristoff took part in a combo block (8-8) that marked one of the set’s 14 tied scores. With the board reading 21-21, Stremick put the team on her shoulders and accounted for each of the final four Irish points with two kills and two blocks.
With Notre Dame trailing in the final set, Stremick mopped up Nicholas’ diving save with a momentum-shifting kill to bring the Irish within one (10-11). Nicholas kept the charge alive by squeezing a shot through the Husky block on the second touch (13-11) and UConn faulted on its next to swings.
Chauntay Mickens paced UConn with 16 kills and setter Annie Luhrsen had 49 assists with a match-high nine blocks. Jessica Isaac led all players with 26 digs.