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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

ND Volleyball: Squad earns first ranking since '06

Notre Dame had a lot to brag about in 2006.

That year, the Irish upset two higher-seeded schools in the Big East tournament to reach the finals. They reached the NCAA tournament for the 15th straight year, falling in the first round to No. 10 Wisconsin. They were ranked as high as No. 21 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

Since then, Notre Dame has not made the national tournament nor has it been ranked.
That is, until Monday. The Irish (16-3, 12-0 Big East) cracked the AVCA poll at No. 24 this week after its 11th and 12th straight Big East victories.

"There's still a lot to be done," Irish coach Debbie Brown said "The most important part of the season is still in front of us. If we continue to play the way we have we're definitely on the right track."

The Irish came into the season with the goal of bringing Notre Dame volleyball back among the elite, and the captains said they are on their way to their target.

"Being ranked proves that," senior captain and outside hitter Christian Kaelin said, "but even just the whole season, being undefeated in the Big East, that was a big goal. We have two more games in the conference and we plan to go 2-0 this weekend."

Notre Dame had been hanging around the top 25 for weeks, getting votes but landing just outside the rankings. However, their spotless conference record has continued to get harder to ignore.

"Honestly I think we deserved to be ranked a lot earlier than what we were," Brown said. "It's nice for the program but the rankings don't really matter for anything other than bragging rights. I guess I'm happy for the team because we've played really well and I think they deserve it."

With two games left on the schedule before the league tournament, Notre Dame has already clinched at least a share of the conference regular-season title — just one win this weekend will give the team sole ownership. They are also a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament.

"Going the regular season being Big East champs, if something were to happen in the tournament it wouldn't matter [for the NCAAs]," senior captain and setter Jamel Nicholas said. "But we're going to win it anyway so that won't be an issue."

Brown said the team can now look for a high seed in the national tournament.

"I feel better about our RPI at 14, which shows that we've not only played really well but we've played good competition," she said. "I'm really excited about that because it maybe gives us the chance to host the first and second rounds of the NCAAs."

But there's a lot to go before then, including two more Big East games, the Big East tournament and a non-conference match against No. 10 Florida.

"It's good to have that experience and we're really looking forward to that," Brown said. Everything is set up perfectly for where we want to be right now and it's just about finishing it."

In the next month, the Irish will have the chance to make 2009 a season to brag about.