Notre Dame’s unbeaten conference record was never a source of concern as the Irish rolled over Seton Hall and Rutgers en route to a weekend sweep in the newly renovated Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame (16-4, 10-0 Big East) is the last team in the Big East without a loss, and is off to its best start since 2005 when the Irish went 19-1 through the first 20 matches of the season. Head coach Debbie Brown attributes the source of the team’s success to a number of factors outside the lines.
“We’ve been able to use a lot of different lineups, get a lot of experience,” Brown said. “We know that we have a really good start, and are pretty motivated in terms of winning the conference and putting ourselves in a good position for the NCAA Tournament.”
The Irish came into the matchup with Seton Hall (10-16, 4-6) undefeated in 14 tries against the Pirates, and Saturday’s outcome proved to be no different. Led by a sensational effort from sophomore outside hitter Kristen Dealy, who tallied 16 kills and 18 digs, the Irish cruised to a 25-18, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18 victory.
“When we’ve needed different people to step up they have,” Brown said. “The interesting thing is that I don’t know if we’ve had a match where everyone just played at the top of their game. I think when that happens it’s going to be a really good thing for us.”
As the Irish prepare for postseason action, the offense seems to have found its stride at just the right time. Coming into play on Saturday, the Irish ranked 21st nationally with a .263 team hitting percentage and 20th overall with a 14.11 kills/set average. Those numbers improved to .268 and 14.2 respectively following the sweep.
“I think our group of outside hitters has been really good,” Brown said. “I think [senior setter] Jamel [Nicholas] has a lot of confidence in them in terms of their offensive production, and I think we’re getting better and better with the middle which is just making the offense so balanced, and it’s really hard to stop us.”
The Irish offense continued its dominance on Sunday as Notre Dame defeated Rutgers in straight sets (25-16, 25-20, 25-23) to improve to 17-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights (9-16, 2-8). Senior outside hitter Christina Kaelin contributed 10 kills, while freshman middle blocker Hilary Eppink added 4 kills and 4 blocks in limited action.
Despite the pressure and recognition that come with an undefeated conference record, the Irish have silenced any opponents hoping to catch the Irish off guard.
“We’ve had good practices, the preparation has been good, and I think with that experience they just understand that you can’t look all the way down the road, you have to take it a match at a time,” Brown said. “We realize being the only team in the conference that’s undefeated that teams are going to be really fired up to play us and play their best volleyball against us, and that’s okay, it just makes us that much better.”