Notre Dame 3, Valparaiso 1



MADISON, Wis. -- Junior captain Meg Henican (New Orleans, La./Isidore Newman H.S.) set an NCAA tournament record with 27 digs, while senior OH Emily Loomis (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers H.S.) and junior MB Lauren Brewster (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood H.S.) both hit double digits in blocks in leading a strong defensive effort that keyed Notre Dame's 30-21, 20-30, 30-28, 30-20 victory over Valparaiso (29-5) Friday in UW Field House in the opening round of the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. The Irish (21-8), who are in the round of 32 in the NCAAs for the 10th time in the last 13 years, will take on 14th-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday at 7 p.m. (CST) in second-round play.

The match showcased the defense of both teams, as the Irish finished with 16 blocks (4.00 per game) and 72 digs (18.00) en route to holding Valpo to a .132 hitting mark. Henican had eight digs in the opening game, then five in the second, before notching 11 and three in the final two games, respectively. It was the seventh time in the last eight matches that she had been over the 20-dig mark, as well as her second-highest total of the season (behind only her school-record 37 digs against Seton Hall on Oct. 10). Her total broke the previous Irish NCAA-tournament record of 26 by Nicole Coates in 1993 against Minnesota in the round of 16. In four career NCAA Championship contests, Henican has 72 digs, for an average of 5.14 per game. The Irish captain, who broke the school record for digs in a season in the final regular-season match, now has 540 digs in 2004.

Notre Dame had four players notch double-doubles, including rookie S Ashley Tarutis (Long Beach, Calif./Los Alamitos H.S.), who finished with 16 digs to go with 45 assists. Freshman OPP Adrianna Stasiuk (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South H.S.) ended with 10 digs to go with 14 kills, while sophomore DS Danielle Herndon (Plant City, Fla./Durant H.S.) notched eight.

Brewster led all players with 11 total blocks (one solo, 10 assists) to match her season high, hitting double digits in the category for the 14th time in her career. Loomis had one solo and nine assists to end up with 10 total blocks - including two on game points - her second time hitting the 10-block plateau as a collegian. Junior MB Carolyn Cooper (Houston, Texas/Lutheran South Academy) also aided in the blocking game, taking part in four.

The victory was Notre Dame's first in six all-time matches in the UW Field House, and the 19th in 22 meetings with Valpo, making the Crusaders the most-defeated team in Irish varsity history. Valparaiso snapped an 18-match winning streak for Notre Dame on Sept. 7, claiming a 26-30, 30-24, 30-26, 24-30, 15-12 triumph in the Joyce Center.

Loomis, Brewster, and Stasiuk finished with 14 kills apiece to share team honors. Brewster registered the team's top hitting mark, at .306, while Stasiuk hit .300. Junior OH Lauren Kelbley (Bascom, Ohio/Hopewell-Loudon H.S.) finished with 11 kills, while Cooper added nine. Brewster brought her career kill total to 996, putting her in position to become the 16th player in school history - and second in three matches, after Kelbley accomplished it in the regular-season finale at Long Beach State - to register 1,000 career kills. She will be just the fifth middle blocker to do so. Brewster also moved into third place on Notre Dame's list of leaders in career blocks, passing Maureen Shea (1985-88) to bring her total to 530. Loomis, meanwhile, became the fifth Notre Dame player to register 1,300 career kills, upping her total to 1,313.

Notre Dame's offense had difficulty recording kills most of the night, as Valpo's scrappy floor defense dug up 89 balls (after registering 102 digs against the Irish during the regular-season contest). The Crusaders had five players with 13 or more digs, led by sophomore libero Sara Silcox' 21. Junior setter Katie Bova notched 18 digs as part of her triple-double, which also featured 10 kills and 44 assists.

"I think they are a great defensive team, and I give them a lot of credit for that," said Irish head coach Debbie Brown of Valpo.

Notre Dame finished with a .249 hitting mark, bolstered by a .362 performance in the fourth game, in which the Irish had 18 kills and a single error. Notre Dame was blocked just five times (1.25 per game) by the Crusaders, who came into the match ranked 26th in Division I in team blocking at 2.97 per game.

Notre Dame's defense dominated in the first game, using eight blocks - with Brewster taking part in seven - and 19 digs to hold the Crusaders to .022 hitting (13 kills, 12 errors). Valpo got started quickly, winning three of the first four points (with the lone Irish tally on a service error), but Notre Dame then got kills from Brewster and Loomis and then three consecutive blocks - all including Brewster - to take a lead it would not relinquish. The Irish stretched the advantage to as many as 11 (24-13, 25-14, and 26-15), but the Crusaders would make one final run, pulling to within seven at 26-19. Notre Dame would eventually convert its third game point, with a block from Loomis that gave the Irish their 19th consecutive game-one victory against Valparaiso. In addition to Brewster's blocking prowess, Loomis registered four block assists in the game. Henican led the floor game with eight digs, while Tarutis added six in helping the Irish outdig Valpo by seven. Stasiuk notched a team-high five kills in the opening game, while Kelbley had four on .571 hitting and Brewster added a quartet of her own.

Valparaiso opened strong again in game two, but its momentum would last longer this time. The Crusaders steadily built a lead throughout the frame, eventually going up by 10 on six different occasions late (last at 26-16). The Irish would make a late push to get back into the game, getting to within seven at 27-20 before the Crusaders used three straight kills to win the game. Valpo had 16 kills, while the Irish block disappeared, failing to register any in the game. The Crusaders also held a 21-15 advantage in digs, and Notre Dame also gave away six points on service errors. The Irish finished with just 14 kills on .133 hitting, with Brewster accounting for five. Following its game victory, Valpo would not lead the rest of the match.

The Irish led the entire way in the third game, and the score was tied just once, but the frame was not without its tense moments. Immediately after the break, it was Notre Dame that started fast, going up 7-3 to force a quick Valpo timeout. The Crusaders then used three kills and a block to tie the score at 7-7, but the Irish immediately responded with four consecutive points, and they would never allow Valparaiso to catch up. The Notre Dame lead was cut to one on four occasions, but the Irish always answered that challenge. Valpo saved two game points to pull within 29-28, but a solo block by Loomis on Liz Mikos put Notre Dame up 2-1. The Irish had four blocks, and the Crusaders hit just .138 in the game. Henican scrambled for a game-high 11 digs, while Stasiuk led the hitters with four kills.

In game four, Notre Dame won the first two points and held on to that lead the entire way. Following the game's only tie (2-2), the Irish stayed up by multiple points the rest of the way, but they could not get up my more than four until finally a Loomis kill made it 18-13. Notre Dame then extended its lead en route to a 10-point victory and its first NCAA tournament triumph away from home since sweeping Cincinnati in the first round in 2000 in Columbus, Ohio. In all, the Irish had won just once in their previous six NCAA contests outside the Joyce Center heading into Friday.

It was just the second time (in three tries) in school history that Notre Dame had successfully avenged a regular-season defeat in the NCAAs. The other occasion came in 1988 against Penn State, while sub-regional host Wisconsin still stands as the only school to have beaten the Irish in both the regular season and NCAA tournament in the same season (1997). The Irish are now 12-13 all-time in postseason NCAA action.

Notre Dame has won 16 of its last 19 matches and 20 of 24 since it last played Valpo. The Irish have won 10 in a row and are 15-1 when playing with their complete lineup in its current incarnation. Two of Notre Dame's late-season defeats came without Kelbley, who missed time due to a foot injury.

-- Courtesy Notre Dame