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ND Volleyball: Notre Dame sweeps two road wins

Cory Bernard | Monday, October 10, 2011

The Irish evened their Big East conference record with a pair of straight-set road victories. Wins against Pittsburgh and West Virginia helped them reclaim in-conference confidence and live up to their second rank in the preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll.

Saturday, the Irish (10-6, 3-3 Big East) swept Pittsburgh 3-0 behind a 10-kill, 12-dig effort from sophomore outside hitter Andrea McHugh. Notre Dame also recorded 10.5 team blocks against the Panthers (12-7, 3-3).

The Irish then dominated West Virginia on Sunday behind 16 kills from senior outside hitter Kristen Dealy, who hit at a .533 clip for the day. The Mountaineers (4-12, 2-4) hit only .088 in the match, including .000 for the final set.

“[Pittsburgh and West Virginia] had a lot of unforced errors,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “I think we were also able to control the ball well on our side of the net, and against Pitt we came up with some good blocks.”

Brown said beating teams like the Mountaineers, who have struggled this season, requires an understanding and respect of the opponent.

“It’s always a challenge to keep the team from overlooking certain schools, and we addressed it,” Brown said. “We just told them this week that each team we play in the Big East has some really good players and motivation to beat us. West Virginia has five seniors who were really motivated to beat Notre Dame. We had to make sure not to underestimate their abilities. It’s a matter of respecting your opponent and always bringing your ‘A’ game.”

Among those bringing their “A” games this weekend were freshmen outside hitters Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser. Alugbue finished with nine kills at a .615 rate against Pittsburgh, and tied Houser for the team lead with five blocks.

Against West Virginia, the two freshmen each recorded nine kills. The rookies played with the confidence of veterans, Brown said.

“Both are doing a great job,” Brown said of Alugbue and Houser. “They are really good blockers, and they play with a lot of poise. They don’t play like freshmen, they don’t get rattled or flustered and they come back well after a missed shot. Our setters aren’t afraid to come back to them after a miss.”

The team has seen the freshmen as important assets for a long time, Brown said.

“At the beginning of the season, we knew they had a lot to bring, we just didn’t know how to use them,” she said. “They can play left, middle or right so they have really been versatile for us and have helped us out a lot this season.”

The Irish will travel to Chicago on Friday to face DePaul at 7 p.m. for another Big East match on the road.

Contact Cory Bernard at cbernard@nd.edu