Aug. 17, 2001
One of the more consistent programs in the nation, the Notre Dame volleyball team has captured nine conference regular season titles and made nine consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament in the last 10 years. As head coach Debbie Brown enters her 10th year under the Golden Dome with 254 Irish victories, one might think the loss of five seniors might signal a dip in expectations for the 2001 season.
The Irish lost a four-year starting setter four-year starting outside hitter to graduation, but return a retooled and deeper lineup for the 2001 season. With preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year Kristy Kreher and preseason all-BIG EAST pick Marcie Bomhack leading the offense, the Irish will tackle a tough schedule with a familiar goal in mind: capture the program’s fifth BIG EAST regular-season title and fifth conference tournament crown.
“The senior class is a very strong group with a lot of experience and they will be heavily relied upon this season,” Brown says.
“They will provide the leadership we need and are going to carry a heavy offensive and defensive load throughout the year.”
Kreher might be the most recognized name in the Class of 2002, but classmates Bomhack and Malinda Goralski combine with the Irish opposite to make up the most formidable front row in the BIG EAST Conference.
Kreher is currently ranked first on Notre Dame’s all-time hitting percentage list (.321) and also ranks in the career top-10 lists of kill average, double digit kill matches and 20-plus kill matches. Bomhack was a second team all-BIG EAST selection last season after posting career-highs with 324 kills and 258 digs. Goralski took advantage of an exponential increase in playing time last season to lead the Irish and the BIG EAST in hitting percentage (.380) and set a career mark with 231 blocks.
Here is a position-by-position break down of the 2001 Irish roster.
Goralski developed into a force in the middle for the Irish last season and will be backed up by sophomore Kim Fletcher and freshman Kelly Corbett.
“Malinda’s net play is huge for us,” Brown says.
“Her blocking is very good. She had a great year last year but she took it up to an even higher level in the spring. We expect great things out of her and our last few matches of the season last year is indicative of what we are going to see our of her this season.”
Among those late-season stellar efforts by Goralski in 2000 was her 16-kill, five-block outing at #3 USC and a 15-kill, six-block performance against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish senior might have enjoyed her most notable performance of the 2000 season against Wyoming, as she totaled 10 kills on 12 attempts for a spectacular .833 hitting percentage.
Fletcher has positioned herself for a spot in the starting lineup with a solid performance throughout the spring workout schedule and the Irish trip to Europe over the summer. A BIG EAST all-rookie team selection last season, Fletcher flashed an ability to score in clutch situations against big-time opponents. In Notre Dame’s five-game loss at #3 USC last year, the St. Louis, Mo., native scored a career-high 10 kills with three blocks, three digs and an ace to keep the Irish in the contest.
“Kim is going to be a key for us this season,” Brown says.
“Offensively she hits very well, possesses great quickness and has improved her blocking. She is going to be a lot more physical than she was last year.”
Freshman Kelly Corbett also will see time in the middle blocker rotation this season. No stranger to top-notch volleyball competition, Corbett’s high school team (St. Francis) was ranked in the top five nationally all four years of her high school career.
“Kelly reminds me of Kim Fletcher,” Brown says.
“She is very quick and moves laterally very well. She is a very good offensive middle blocker and she will be able to give us a little offensive punch in the middle. She is going to develop into a very good backcourt player as well.”
One of the deepest positions on the team, the Irish are without a proven veteran at outside hitter aside from Bomhack. Freshman Emily Loomis looks ready to compete for playing time along with sophomores Jessica Kinder and Katie Neff and freshman Leah Nedderman.
“Marcie is a senior co-captain and someone who has contributed significantly in her time here,” Brown says.
“She has worked hard to improve her hitting and you can just tell that she is becoming a smarter player. There is no question Marcie will take a lot of swings at the ball and will be asked to put the ball down in key situations.”
Jessica Kinder logged 46 games at outside hitter in 2000 and brings one of the team’s most effective weapons into each match with her jump serve. Kinder snapped off 12 aces with her jump serve last year, sometimes immediately after being inputted into the lineup when the Irish needed a crucial point. The potential of Kinder’s jump serve was displayed last season by her three aces against #15 BYU.
“The difference between last fall and this fall with Jessica is consistency,” Brown says.
“She was very strong coming in as a freshman, but she is even stronger this season. She hits a very hard ball and her jump serve is very good. She really improved her serve in the spring, especially her percentage of serves in.”
Loomis, who compiled one of the top high school careers in Indiana prep history at Bishop Luers in Fort Wayne, figures to play a role in the Irish offense on the outside.
“Emily can play any position on the floor,” Brown says.
“I think she is best suited for outside hitter or opposite. Her best skill is blocking. She is a phenomenal and has the highest jump on the team. She is a very intense volleyball player whose leadership skills really developed as a senior in high school last year. She has the potential to be in there and fighting for a starting position.”
Neff will be adjusting to the outside after playing 18 games at middle blocker for Notre Dame last season and might see most of her time backing up Kreher at opposite. Nedderman has the ability to provide an immediate defensive boost when inserted into the lineup.
“The back row is the strongest part of Leah’s game,” Brown says.
“She is a great passer with very quick feet and an explosive jump. She has a jump reach of 10 feet and can be very good offensively. She has worked hard on changing her offensive footwork and you really have to give her credit for the progress she has made.”
The anchor of the Irish roster and Notre Dame’s obvious go-to player is senior opposite Kristy Kreher. The preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year, Kreher hits with both power and accuracy, scoring double-digit kills in 21 matches last season and hitting better than .320 in 24 matches.
A clutch hitter, Kreher has posted some of her best matches against ranked opponents. Last season, she scored 20-plus kills against three ranked opponents (23 vs. #15 BYU, 21 vs. #16 Michigan State and 32 vs. #22 Loyola Marymount) while also adding 20-plus kill outings against BIG EAST opponents Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
“If I picked one person who was going to be our go-to player it would be Kristy,” Brown says.
“Offensively she has great shots, good vision and sees the block well. She is a very dynamic and fun player to watch.”
Behind Kreher on the depth chart is sophomore Neff. A middle blocker last season, Neff also played opposite in high school and seems to have a natural feel for the position. Her potential to dominate at the net gives the Irish coaching staff a strong desire to keep her in the rotation.
“Katie is a little more natural at opposite,” Brown says.
“She needs to develop her strength and when she does that she can be very effective. She strikes the ball at a high point and she hits angles that teams are not accustomed to seeing because of her height. The move is good for her because she is an outstanding blocker and she can have an immediate impact on the outside.”
One of the strongest positions on the team in terms of experience, Notre Dame boasts three returning veterans with significant playing time on their resume. Junior co-captain Keara Coughlin, classmate Janie Alderete and sophomore Christa Moen all played over 40 games in the back row for the Irish last season.
“Keara and Janie really balance out the seniors, who are strong in the front row, with great back row play,” Brown says.
“Both of them are excellent servers, great passers and great defensive players who have picked up their level of intensity on the court. They will have to carry the load for us in terms of their passing and defense. If we are going to run a good offense, which I think we are capable of, it is going to be because they are passing well.”
Moen will see some time at defensive specialist, but also will serve as the Irish back up setter.
A pivotal position for the team in 2001, the Irish offense will be breaking in a new setter for the first time since 1997. All-American Denise Boylan has graduated, but from all preseason accounts, sophomore Kristen Kinder is ready to assume control of the Irish attack.
“If I picked one player who is the most improved from last season it would definitely be Kristen,” Brown says.
“In the spring, she accepted the role as the starting setter and ran with it. She did a great job developing her leadership on the court. She is not at all hesitant to step up and take charge and that is so important in her position. She is incredibly quick – she seems to reach everything – and her decision making, in terms of who to set and when, was outstanding in the spring. Kristen is somebody we know will carry a heavy load with us this year and we feel good with the progress she has made.”
Backing up Kristen Kinder at setter will be fellow sophomore Moen.
“Christa is going to have a dual role this year,” Brown says.
“She is going to be a defensive specialist as well as our back up setter. Her attitude in taking on the new position has been phenomenal and she will do whatever she needs to do to help the team.”
The 2001 schedule begins in traditional style with the Shamrock Invitational, but the Irish mettle will be tested immediately the next weekend at the US Bank/Arby’s Tournament in Lincoln, Neb. (Sept. 7-9). Notre Dame will face defending National Champion and top-ranked Nebraska on its home court just hours before both university’s football teams go to battle on the gridiron. Number seven UCLA and #17 Pepperdine are in the tournament field as well.
Before the Irish enter the BIG EAST season, they will face Big Ten opponent Michigan and travel to West Lafayette, Ind., for the Mortar Board Purdue Premier tournament.
“Each year we have been in the BIG EAST the conference has improved,” Brown says.
“There are many teams that have improved their schedules and are playing at a very high level.”
Notre Dame’s regular season will wrap up at the University of Florida Volleyball Conference Challenge, which is set for Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex on Nov. 23 and 24. The Irish will face perennial volleyball powers Florida and LSU at the tournament.
Roster adjustments are not the only change the Irish volleyball team will have to deal with in the coming year. Women’s collegiate volleyball has shifted to a new scoring format for the 2001 season. The matches will still be a best-of-five format, but each game will feature rally scoring to 30. Each time the ball touches the court, one of the teams will score a point. The side-out system has been abandoned.
“I think rally scoring is going to be interesting throughout the year,” Brown says.
“It is going to create more parity and there are going to be more upsets because of the nature of the game now. It is going to be exciting.”