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ND Volleyball: Hot start, cold finish leave squad feeling dissatisfied

Alex Wilcox | Wednesday, May 15, 2013

 

Going into the season, Notre Dame wanted to win the Big East championship and make a run deep into the NCAA tournament. After early wins over top-ranked opponents and an 11-match win streak toward the end of the season, the Irish looked primed to do just that. 

Notre Dame’s season ended in disappointment, however, with four straight losses, including a three-game sweep at the hands of Ohio State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. 

Irish coach Debbie Brown said the early exit from postseason play left her team with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

“We were all really disappointed because we had higher expectations,” Brown said. “We had a real strong performance through the middle of the season, so it kind of left a bad taste in our mouth to end that way. [We] just really wanted to advance deeper and felt like we had the talent to do that and we just hit a slump at the wrong time.”

Despite its late struggles, Notre Dame (20-10, 13-2 Big East) finished the season with 20 wins for the first time since 2009. 

Brown said the team’s early season triumphs over Big 12 power Kansas and then-No. 10 Louisville stuck out in her mind.

“[Kansas] was a significant win over a top-ranked team early, but then we followed that up with Louisville, which is our biggest conference rival, and at the time I think they were top-10, so both of those were key to keep the momentum and let our team know we’re moving in the right direction,” Brown said.

The win over Kansas provided a spark for the Irish, as they went on to win 14 of their next 15 matches. In consecutive matches against Louisville and Cincinnati, the Irish battled back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. 

Brown said those two matches were crucial for building the team’s confidence.

“Early on, we had some come-from-behind wins that were just really instrumental in the development of the team and [helped us] know that we could play at a really high level when our backs are against the wall and come out on top,” Brown said. “I think those types of experiences just go a long way in terms of confidence.”

Brown said the Irish were successful largely because of their passing and hitting efficiency.

“I’d say probably one of the things that kept us in matches was our passing. Our serve-receive was really consistent,” Brown said. “When you get the pass right where you want it, it just makes the offense that much better. We actually ended up being 27th in the country in terms of hitting efficiency, and that’s probably the stat that most closely correlates with winning.”

The 11-match winning streak culminated in a 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Senior Day at Purcell Pavilion, which Brown pointed to as the highlight of the season.

“The crowd was phenomenal, and we just played inspired,” Brown said. “There’s a play that sticks out in my head of [sophomore outside hitter] Toni [Alugbue] going over the scorer’s table to get a ball. There was just a lot in that match, and I think when you have a match like that for your seniors at the end, it’s pretty cool to be able to do that.”

The team will lose senior right side hitter Marie Roof and senior middle blocker Hilary Eppink. Brown said the two girls made a major impact over their four years on the squad.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Brown said of the seniors’ contributions. “[Roof] was somebody who did anything we asked her. She set her freshmen year, she played right side, she played middle, she played back row, she just was so versatile and always willing to do whatever she could for the team. With [Eppink], she’s just super steady and a strong middle hitter for us. In terms of what she could do on the court, she could hit outside, she could hit in the middle, so she again was versatile for us.” 

While the disappointing finish still stings, Brown said the season was ultimately successful for the program.

“I felt like we made progress for sure,” Brown said. “We didn’t reach our goals and in the world of athletics, that happens so you just have to reset and regroup. I like the progress that we made as a team, [and] we’re excited about entering the ACC and starting fresh. Overall, I know we improved and I know we got better. I know the program is moving in the right direction.”

Contact Alex Wilcox at awilcox1@nd.edu