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ND Volleyball: Irish end weekend on high note

Conor Kelly | Sunday, September 1, 2013

After a disappointing first two matches that saw the Irish fall to new conference foe North Carolina and tournament host Middle Tennessee State, Notre Dame rallied Saturday evening to dispatch San Francisco in the final match of the Blue Raider Bash in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Up two sets to none against the Dons (0-3), the Irish (1-2) watched their lead evaporate in the following two sets before taking command in the fifth and cruising to a 15-9 victory.

“We hung in there and fought really hard,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “It was a really positive thing. We got away from the errors that hurt us in our first two matches and really played much better. When you play three matches in twenty-four hours, it’s grueling. I was happy with our toughness in taking that fifth set.”

After struggling offensively against North Carolina (3-0) and Middle Tennessee (2-1), Notre Dame hit with greater precision in its first victory of the season. Led by senior setter Maggie Brindock and junior outside hitter Toni Alugbue, the Irish hit .260 against the Dons. Brindock continued in her role as the distributor of choice for the Irish, notching 47 assists and jumping into the offense with nine kills of her own. Alugbue led the Irish with 15 kills Saturday night and was named to the All-Tournament team for her efforts over a weekend in which she collected 35 kills.

“We expect Alugbue to be one of our top point scorers, as she was last season. That’s her role for us,” Brown said. “We changed the lineup around a little bit, and she did a great job adjusting to those changes. She played a number of positions and did everything we needed her to do.”

Despite Alugbue’s solid overall performance, Notre Dame struggled offensively in losses Friday and Saturday to North Carolina and to Middle Tennessee. The Irish managed to hit just .060 combined in the season’s first two matches.

“There’s no question we were disappointed with how we played offensively in our first two matches,” Brown said. “We were just making uncharacteristic, unforced errors and shooting ourselves in the foot. By the time we played [San Francisco], we were playing much better and making better hitting choices.”

While the Irish were disappointed in winning only one of three matches on the weekend, Brown said the experience against top teams was worthwhile and can only improve her team as it prepares for the conference season.

“Middle Tennessee and North Carolina are perennial NCAA tournament teams,” Brown said. “Obviously, we went down there to beat them, but I think that we overcame some obstacles and put ourselves in a better position going forward.”

Notre Dame will be back in action this weekend at home for the Golden Dome Invitational. The Irish will take on Bowling Green at 7 p.m. Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu