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ND Volleyball: Squad splits pair of matches

Cory Bernard | Monday, September 26, 2011

The Irish returned to the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion over the weekend, opening Big East play with mixed results. Notre Dame swept Georgetown for an easy win Saturday, but lost to Villanova 3-1 Sunday.

The Irish (8-4, 1-1 Big East) played one of their best matches against the Hoyas, hitting .290 on the day and acing Georgetown (8-7, 0-2) 10 times. Junior middle blocker Hilary Eppink led the Irish with 10 kills on 18 error-free swings.

Sunday’s contest against the Wildcats (10-5, 2-0), however, was a different story. The Irish hit at a .094 clip and committed 11 service errors in front of over 1,300 fans, who were on hand to watch the nationally televised match.

Irish coach Debbie Brown said her team will continue practicing serves to eliminate the momentum-killing service errors.

“We have still been trying to work on [serving],” Brown said. “I feel like that happened several times where we would get on a mini-run and then we would end it with a missed serve. That’s hard, because I think if you can keep the pressure on [the opponent] when they’re in a tough spot, then those mini-runs are really what wins the games.”

ESPNU color commentator and former Louisville All-American Jennifer Hoffman said that when coaching, she told her team to serve long rather than short.

“I always tell my girls when I’m coaching that the only obstacle you have is the net, so it is more efficient for a serve to go long than it is for it to not even go over the net,” Hoffman said. “I know Villanova tried to serve aggressively — which they did. Most of their balls were long, whereas Notre Dame came in and tried to serve aggressively, but most of their balls were in the net.”

Brown said the Wildcats performed at a high level during the match and took the Irish out of their game.

“I give Villanova a lot of credit,” Brown said. “We knew coming in they are a very aggressive serving team and they’re going to miss a fair amount of serves, but they’re going to serve really tough and try to get us out of system. They were able to do that. I give a lot of credit to them for a good game plan and executing well.”

Brown also said the Irish failed to capitalize on some of Villanova’s flaws.

“We didn’t respond to [the aggressive serving] really well,” she said. “We weren’t able to get kills and we weren’t able to take advantage of the big weaknesses we thought they had in blocking because our ball control wasn’t there — our first contact wasn’t good.”

Without good ball control, the Irish could not do much damage to the stingy Wildcat defense. A matchup of Big East schools often showcases the defense, Hoffman said.

“The Big East isn’t a conference like the Pac-12 or the Big-10, where they have those juggernauts that come in and just bang the balls,” Hoffman said. “The Big East is a conference that really has to rely on their defense. I know Louisville is big on their blocking and so is Notre Dame. They just didn’t do it as consistently well throughout the match.”

The Irish continue Big East play Saturday when they host Cincinnati at 2 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu