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ND Volleyball: Irish get first win against top-20 team

Conor Kelly | Monday, September 24, 2012

After failing to secure victories in their first four matches against top-20 opponents this season, the Irish succeeded on their fifth try, knocking off No. 10 Louisville on Sunday in five sets at Louisville. The win snapped the Cardinals’ ten-match winning streak and marked the first time Notre Dame has defeated a top-ten team since the Irish beat Stanford in 2009. On Friday, the team claimed a victory as well, taking its Big East opener at Cincinnati 3-2 (19-25, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 16-14).

“I’m so proud of the team in both of these situations,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said of her team’s two five-set victories. “Playing on the road, to come up with both of these wins was huge.”

Against Louisville (12-2, 1-1 Big East), the Irish (9-5, 2-0) dropped the opening two sets before storming back to take the final three. Notre Dame was outplayed early, but held on to take the third set 25-20. Facing match point at 24-21 in the fourth set, the Irish rallied for five straight points to force a fifth set. Having seized the momentum, the team played a near-perfect fifth and decisive set, winning 15-3 to secure the victory.

“It was an amazing performance from the team,” Brown said. “We took the momentum that we had from the comeback in the fourth set and took it into the fifth game. We totally took the crowd out of the game. It was pretty cool to hear such a silent arena.”

Against Cincinnati (2-11, 0-1) on Friday, the Irish were pushed to five sets as well, but rallied on the strength of sophomore outside hitter Toni Alugbue’s career-high 26 kills. Together with fellow sophomore outside hitter Jeni Houser, Alugbue shouldered the lion’s share of the offensive load for the Irish, combining for 71 kills in the two matches.

“It’s critical to us that the two of them perform well offensively,” Brown said. “We have other players making great digs and sets, but we rely on Toni and Jeni to put the ball away.”

That ability was on display in the fourth set comeback against Louisville, as Houser’s two kills in a critical situation forced the fifth set that eventually secured Notre Dame’s victory.

“Jeni had a monster fourth set to keep us in it,” Brown said. “In the two of them, we have two hitters that have great, strong arms and really intelligent placement of the ball. I’ve been really pleased with their play.”

Brown said she hopes the weekend’s matches will prove to be a turning point for her team as they transition from the out-of-conference preseason into their Big East schedule.