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Notre Dame returns to Class 3 volleyball final four
Bulldogs pull off sweeps in the Class 3 sectional and quarterfinal rounds
The Notre Dame student section stormed onto the court to celebrate with the players and Bulldogs senior Shannon Brennan ran and leapt into her father's arms with excitement.
The Bulldogs earned a trip to familiar territory.
Notre Dame defeated Lutheran South 25-21, 29-27 in Saturday's Class 3 state quarterfinal that was played at a level equal to the stakes being contested.
"It's so satisfying," Notre Dame junior Kate Edwards said. "I can't even describe it. It's great. It's what you work for all season. It's awesome."
Notre Dame qualified for the final four last year and finished fourth.
The Bulldogs found themselves behind on their home court midway through Game 1. The Lancers opened a 19-14 lead when the Bulldogs were whistled for a carry.
But all of a sudden Notre Dame kicked into gear. The Bulldogs captured 11 of the next 13 points to win the opening game.
"I just think we really got kind of settled," Notre Dame coach Tara Stroup said. "We weren't as nervous when we got going."
Brennan's serving helped spark the run. The Lancers struggled some with their passing and Notre Dame took advantage.
"It just starts with a good pass, a good set and a good kill or a good block or a really good defensive play," Brennan said. "It all just starts with a really good play. Then maybe you get two or three points after that. It just kind of builds from there. The better you do, the more points you get."
The Bulldogs carried that momentum into Game 2 and opened a 12-5 lead by picking up almost every shot Lutheran South tried to pound to the floor.
"I thought our setters did a good job tonight distributing the ball to different people so they didn't know we usually have one or two people who usually get all the kills," Stroup said. "A lot of people were getting chances to swing."
But the Bulldogs' lead started narrowing as the game wore on, and the Lancers grabbed their first lead at 20-19. The Bulldogs tried to avoid focusing on the mounting tension as the possibility of a third game grew greater.
"I think it's more pressure on our fans than on us," Brennan said. "I know what's on the line, but it's something you just have to block out of your mind and say, I'm going to get the next one."
Lutheran South earned its first game point on a lift by the Bulldogs and grabbed another game point on an ace by Katherine O'Toole. But the Bulldogs kept fighting off the Lancers' charges.
"We have to just keep bringing each other up even when we get down," Notre Dame junior Amy Wibbenmeyer said. "We wanted this really bad and we just got it done."
Lutheran South earned its final game point at 27-26 before the Bulldogs slammed the door. Notre Dame evened the score at 27-27 on a serve into the net then it caught a break when a Lutheran South shot appeared to hit a Bulldogs' shoe on its way out of bounds, but the officials ruled the ball hit out of bounds and awarded the point to Notre Dame.
The Bulldogs punched their ticket to the final four when a Lancers' tip fell out of bounds, which set off the celebration.
"I was freaking out," Edwards said about the end of Game 2. "There is no way to describe what was going through my head. It was crazy."
Edwards paced the Bulldogs with 10 kills, while Brennan added seven and Allyson Bradshaw six. Jamie Brugger blocked three shots in the win.
"We kept picking up balls to the very end," Brennan said. "We just kept with it because we'd come way too far to give up now."
The Bulldogs experienced little trouble earning a spot in the quarterfinals. They dispatched St. Elizabeth 25-15, 25-4 earlier Saturday.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 9-5 lead then extended it to 16-8 by taking advantage of a number of free balls. When St. Elizabeth did manage to get a good hit, Notre Dame's defense picked it up.
The Bulldogs never allowed St. Elizabeth to get into Game 2. Brennan served three aces to get Notre Dame started then Wibbenmeyer reeled off another three aces to help the Bulldogs grab a 22-2 lead.
Notre Dame's offense looked like it was taking target practice as it pounded kill after kill. The Bulldogs' offensive prowess combined with St. Elizabeth's struggles passing the ball resulted in a quick win for Notre Dame.
Edwards paced Notre Dame with eight kills, while Bradshaw added seven. Brennan finished with four kills and 13 assists.