Irish gain valuable experience against top teams
Henry Hilliard | Monday, September 1, 2014
After a rough 13-18 campaign in 2013 and falling to two top-10 teams in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on August 29-31 to open its 2014 season, Notre Dame and coach Debbie Brown could have easily been discouraged.Instead, the Irish (0-2) return to practice this week focused on fielding a competitive team capable of handling their brutal ACC schedule.
“Every chance we get to play next to each other is an asset and I was really pleased so many on the team got the opportunity with each other. It definitely helps us grow as a team and play better as a unit,” Brown said.
The Irish, fielding nine returning monogram winners and six freshmen, fell to No. 18 Minnesota, 3-0, on Friday, but pushed the Gophers to set point in the first two frames. The squad, however, was unable to capitalize and lost all three frames. The Irish hit .106 in the match but bested the Gophers with 15 more digs and one more assist in front of 3,000 fans at Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.
“We opened with two strong sets and felt really good about our ability to go point for point with such a strong team,” Brown said. “Our performance on Friday was definitely our bright spot on the weekend; considering we kept our composure in difficult environment on the road.”
Notre Dame’s match against No. 4 Wisconsin, last year’s national runner-up, proved to be not nearly as competitive, as the Irish fell to the Badgers, 3-0, on Sunday afternoon. The Badgers earned eight aces and held Notre Dame to a .100 attack percentage. Wisconsin also earned 41 kills and 31 digs, compared to 24 and 25, respectively for the Irish.
“In the Wisconsin game we really got into trouble with serves. As a team we did not handle the first contact and did not make good use of the middle take,” Brown said.
Despite the losses, the Irish were able to gain valuable experience against some of the best teams in the country, something Brown said would make a big difference when Notre Dame faces its daunting ACC schedule, which features four top-25 teams, including a Sept. 28 showdown with No. 8 Florida State on the road.To that end, 13 of Notre Dame’s 14 players appeared in matches over the weekend, getting game experience against high quality opponents, an asset Brown said would be invaluable as they seek to grow as a team in the early days of their season.
Brown said she believes her team is growing closer as a squad, a process that began at the start of summer practices, when she challenged them with The Program, a conditioning program designed to build teamwork and leadership through intense group workouts.
The Irish will have a chance to bounce back from their weekend and regroup in front of their home crowd in the Golden Dome Invitational this weekend, Sept. 5-7, at the Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame is slated to play Washington State on Friday, IUPUI on Saturday and Western Michigan on Sunday.
“The good crowd and atmosphere means we always love playing at home,” Brown said. “There is definitely some excitement about playing here this weekend.”
The first matchup against the Cougars is scheduled for Friday at 7:30 p.m., followed by 3:30 and 2 p.m. start times Saturday and Sunday, respectively.