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ND Volleyball: Irish win two of three in exhibition

Conor Kelly | Monday, September 9, 2013

 

This past summer, the Irish went on an 11-day tour of Europe, playing club and professional teams in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Italy. The tables were turned on Sunday when Notre Dame got the chance to play host to a European opponent as the Polish club Dabrowa came to Purcell Pavilion for the Golden Dome Invitational.

After splitting the first two matches of the weekend against Bowling Green and Purdue, Irish coach Debbie Brown rested a number of starters and viewed her squad’s 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-18) loss to the Polish side as a learning experience. Team leaders like senior setter Maggie Brindock, junior outside hitter Toni Alugbue and junior middle blocker Jeni Houser did not see the court.

“We felt like this was an opportunity in a match situation to play some of our younger players, some of our more inexperienced players,” Brown said. “Because this is an exhibition and it doesn’t count on the record, we felt it was an important thing to do.”

Junior outside hitter Meg Vonderhaar paced the Irish with nine kills on a .286 hitting percentage, and senior outside hitter Nicole Smith chipped in with five.

With consecutive tournament weekends in which the Irish (2-3, 0-0 ACC) played three matches each, the preseason takes a toll on the team. Brown said that getting a variety of players into the match would help keep the team fresh down the road.

“I think that we really needed to rest some of the starters. It gets a little grueling in the preseason when you’re playing three matches each weekend.” Brown said. “I thought the rest of our team rose to the occasion and competed hard.”

Dabrowa, whose players’ average age is in the late twenties, plays in Europe’s top women’s volleyball league and is touring the United States playing against top NCAA competition. The polish squad fell to No. 1 Penn State last week and will move on to Chicago to take on Northwestern on Tuesday. 

The Irish opened the weekend against Bowling Green on Friday and cruised to a four-set victory. After a close first two sets that the teams split, Notre Dame took the next two in decisive fashion, winning 25-19 and 25-13. Led by 14 kills apiece from Alugbue and Houser, the Irish hit .286 in front of 1,043 fans in Notre Dame’s home opener. 

“I really liked the way we finished against Bowling Green,” Brown said. “I thought we had fantastic team chemistry and in the fourth game were playing with a really high level of confidence.”

On Saturday, the Irish faced a top-25 opponent in No. 22 Purdue and fell in a five-set squeaker. Though the team held a 2-1 lead after three sets, the Boilermakers rallied and seized control of the match with a dominating fourth set, winning 25-13. From there, Purdue cruised in the decisive fifth set, 15-10. The Irish were held to a disappointing .097 hitting percentage as the Boilermakers proved dominant at the net, registering 17.5 blocks in the victory. Houser led the offensive effort for the Irish, notching 11 kills as well as three services aces as the Irish fell.

“We had a top-25 team in the building and had opportunities in the fifth set,” Brown said. “We got stuck in a rotation and gave up a number of points in a row, and that part of it is really frustrating. It’s probably something that will haunt all of us for the rest of this season.”

Despite the 1-2 record, Brown views the weekend as a learning tool that will only help the Irish as they enter ACC play.

“We played three very good teams this weekend and definitely raised our level of play,” Brown said. “We played much better this weekend than we did last weekend. I think that’s what we want to see – progress. And we want to win. We’re going to figure out how to win these games.”

The Irish stay at home next weekend for the Shamrock Invitational. The team opens the tournament playing Loyola-Chicago at 7 p.m. on Friday at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu