Mountaineers to visit Joyce Center
By MATT OLIVA
The 6-3 Notre Dame volleyball team begins its quest for a fifth straight Big East title tonight against West Virginia at 8 p.m. in the Joyce Center. Notre Dame then takes on Pittsburgh on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Mountaineers, one of two teams in the Big East to defeat the Irish last year, head into the match against the Irish with a 7-9 record. West Virginia is led by senior middle blocker Brooke Hudson and junior Nikki Hardy. Hudson leads the team in kills per game with a 3.22 average, while Hardy is averaging 2.45 kills and 2.98 digs per game.
"We struggled last year against West Virginia," Irish head coach Debbie Brown said. "They beat us with aggressive serving and took us out of our game. This week we have been working on our offense and on getting side-outs. We have also concentrated on our blocking."
Pittsburgh is off to a good start with a 6-4 overall record and opens up their Big East season against Syracuse on Friday before coming to face the Irish. The two teams faced each other twice last year with the Irish taking both matches, including a four-game victory in the first round of the Big East tournament.
The key members of the Panthers' squad are seniors Jenna Birkel and Melissa Alpers, who both are averaging over three kills a game. The Panthers will need quality performances from both Birkel and Alpers if they are going to end Notre Dame's 11-game winning streak against Pittsburgh. The last Panther win came back in 1990.
"Pittsburgh has a very athletic team and are well-rounded," Brown said. "They return four starters and have some really tough seniors. They played a close match against us last year and we are expecting them to come in hungry."
The Irish will count on senior middle blocker Mary Leffers, Kristy Kreher and Denise Boylan to continue playing strong. All three are among the leaders in Big East statistics, with Leffers leading the conference in two categories. She has the highest season hitting percentage at .332 and blocks per game average with 1.86.
The Irish are keeping to their team philosophy and concentrating on the game at hand. Right now their focus is entirely on Friday's match.
"Conference is very important to us, but we are looking at the games one at a time," Brown said. "We have won the past four years and are looking to continue doing that. We know we have to play well to do that this year, but we feel that we are more capable now."
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999