2010 BIG EAST Volleyball Championship Preview

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The BIG EAST volleyball regular season is in the books and the top eight teams make the trip to Fitzgerald Field House in Pittsburgh, Pa., for the 2010 BIG EAST Volleyball Championship beginning on Friday. The event is a single elimination tournament with four quarterfinal matches scheduled for Friday, followed by the semifinals on Saturday and the championship on Sunday. All the quarterfinal and semifinal matches will be streamed live on the Big East. A live blog will also be available during all matches, and the BIG EAST Championship Central page will have all the latest information throughout the tournament. The championship match will be exclusively broadcast live on ESPNU at 3:30 p.m. ET. The first quarterfinal match is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Friday and features No. 4 seed Villanova (23-6, 11-3 BIG EAST) and No. 5 seed Notre Dame (17-11, 10-4 BIG EAST). Villanova's 11 conference wins are the most in program history, while the Wildcats' 23-6 overall mark is the best record for the squad heading into the BIG EAST Championship since the 1991 season. The team advanced to the BIG EAST Championship for the first time since 2007. The Irish have appeared in the BIG EAST Championship for 16-straight seasons. Notre Dame owned the nations sixth-longest regular-season conference winning streak earlier this season, winning 19 straight in the league before losing to Louisville on Oct. 9. The squad got off to its best start since the 2005 season when it started 7-2 through the first nine matches. Head coach Debbie Brown earned her 450th career win on Sept. 10 when the Irish defeated Gonzaga. In the regular-season meeting between the two teams, the Wildcats defeated Notre Dame 3-1 at Villanova on Nov. 5. The Wildcats recorded 105 digs in the win, led by junior Kim Maroon who had 30. For Notre Dame, freshman Andrea McHugh, junior Kristen Dealy and senior Kellie Sciacca each recorded 12 kills. The 12:30 p.m. match has No. 1 seed Cincinnati (26-4, 13-1 BIG EAST) battle No. 8 seed USF (10-16, 6-8 BIG EAST). The Bearcats won their second BIG EAST regular-season title after posting 13 conference wins. Cincinnati is ranked No. 18 in the latest AVCA Coaches' Poll, the highest ranking in school history and for any BIG EAST team since St. John's reached No. 18 in 2007. USF has qualified for the championship in each of the last five seasons, including making appearances in the semifinals in 2007 and 2009. The Bulls are 2-4 in the BIG EAST Championship all-time. The team opened the season with a pair of conference wins, including defeating No. 3 seed Marquette and previously undefeated Syracuse, who was 18-0 entering the match. The two teams met on Oct. 23 in Cincinnati, with the Bearcats defeating the Bulls in straight sets. Cincinnati senior Stephanie Niemer had a game-high 11 kills while senior setter Annie Fesl had 25 assists. At 3:30 p.m., No. 2 seed Louisville (18-7, 12-2 BIG EAST) matches-up with No. 7 seed Seton Hall (13-17, 7-7 BIG EAST). The Cardinals rank eighth in the country in blocks per set averaging 2.90 and are one of only two teams in the nation to have two players ranked in the top 50 of the category. Louisville has out-blocked 19 straight opponents and 22 of 25 this season. The Cardinals have made the championship match every year they have been members of the BIG EAST (six seasons), notching three title. Seton Hall tied its school record for BIG EAST victories in a season with seven, previously set in 1994. The Pirates are making their second straight trip to the BIG EAST Championship after 14-year drought. Senior Sarah Osmun has shattered the school's record book, setting a new standard for Seton Hall outside hitters with 1,553 career kills. The Pirates defeated the Cardinals at Louisville on Sept. 26 in five sets. It was the first win for Seton Hall over Louisville. Osmun led the Pirates with 21 kills, while three players recorded 10-plus digs to pace the team defensively. For the Cardinals, Anastasia Artemeva had 16 kills and sophomore Lola Arslanbekova had 15 kills. The final match on Friday begins at 6:00 p.m., and has No. 3 seed Marquette (21-8, 11-3 BIG EAST) take on host No. 6 seed Pittsburgh (13-17, 7-7). Marquette's 21-8 overall record is its second-best in school history, while the 11 conference wins are a program record. The Golden Eagles enter the championship having won 15 of their last 16 matches. Marquette leads the conference in hitting percentage at .289. Pittsburgh won its final two matches to advance to its seventh BIG EAST Championship in the last eight seasons. The Panthers host the BIG EAST Championship for the second time in three seasons and the 11th time overall. The squad went 5-2 in five-set matches this season, including recording 110 digs in a five-set win over Robert Morris. It was the third highest total for a BIG EAST team in a single match this season. Marquette swept the regular-season meeting between the two teams on Oct. 31. Junior Ashley Beyer had a match-high 15 kills for Marquette while senior Nikki Klingsporn had 29 assists. Senior Imani Harper led Pitt with seven kills on 15 swings, good for a .400 hitting percentage. The winner of the Championship earns an automatic berth to the 64-team NCAA Championship field. The 2010 volleyball selection show will be broadcast on ESPNEWS between 3 and 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 28.