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ND Volleyball: Irish seek first ACC conference win

By Conor Kelly | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

After falling in their first two ACC matches to No. 11 North Carolina and North Carolina State last weekend, the Irish will look to secure their first conference victory when they take on Duke tonight at Purcell Pavilion.

Since their straight-sets victory over North Dakota State on Sept. 21, the Irish (6-7, 0-2 ACC) have dropped four straight, and their road does not get any easier. Duke (11-2, 2-0 ACC) sits tied with North Carolina atop the ACC standings, and the Blue Devils did not drop a set in dispatching Virginia and Virginia Tech at home last weekend. The matches against the Cavaliers and Hokies were the conclusion of a seven-game home stand in which the Blue Devils went undefeated and earned five straight-set victories. 

Meanwhile, the Irish sit in the conference basement. Just two games into the conference season, however, there is plenty of ground to be made up, and a victory over Duke would prove a satisfying first conference victory in Notre Dame’s inaugural season in the ACC. The Irish have played well at home in 2013, sporting a 4-2 record within the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion.

“They are a very good team, but they’ve shown that they can be beaten this year,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said of the Blue Devils. We’re hoping to build off what we’ve seen in those two losses and come in knowing that they aren’t invincible.”

The Blue Devils are led offensively by sophomore outside hitter Emily Sklar with 143 kills and junior outside hitter Jeme Obeime with 137. In all likelihood, the pair would have racked up a greater number of kills had their team not been so dominant in the early part of the season. Duke has only gone more than three sets twice on the season – against South Carolina and Illinois. Both of the team’s losses, which came to No. 8 Minnesota and No. 3 Florida, were in straight sets. When adjusting for the small volume of play, the Blue Devils lead the ACC in kills per set with 15.22 and assists per set with 13.88.

“Obviously, being undefeated in the ACC, we’re expecting a tough team coming in,” Brown said. “They have two very good outside hitters who we’re going to have to stop, and we’re hoping to get them late into matches.”

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has struggled at times offensively and committed too many unforced errors in the season’s early going. The team has hit at just a .206 clip on the year for 12.2 kills per set. On the other side of the net, Notre Dame’s opponents have hit .238 against the Irish.

The Irish are led offensively by junior outside hitters Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser, who have notched 147 and 141 kills, respectively. The offense behind them has seen some upheaval following the transfer of last year’s libero, Taylor Morey. Senior captain Andrea McHugh has stepped back from the frontline to take over the defensive specialist position.

With all the early season discord, Brown said she hopes returning to the team’s home floor will help the Irish settle in and pull off the upset.

“We’re expecting a boost from the crowd in our first home match in the ACC,” she said. “We’ve been on the road for the past five games, [so] we’re excited to come back to the JACC.”

Notre Dame will take on Duke tonight at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu