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ND Volleyball

Irish travel to Florida to open ACC play

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

Continuing to recover from some early-season struggles, the Irish prepare for a difficult inaugural weekend of their 18-game ACC schedule when they travel to take on Miami and No. 6 Florida State this weekend.

Notre Dame will open Friday against the Hurricanes (7-4), who have had bright spots as well as rough patches to start the season. They began by hosting the Hurricane invitational and sweeping Seton Hall, Florida A&M and Florida Gulf Coast in nine consecutive winning sets. After going 1-2 in both the TCU Nike Invitaional and the HotelRED Invitational, the Hurricanes returned home last weekend and beat UNCG and Missouri to maintain a spotless 5-0 record on their own court.

Irish freshman Maddie Dilfer goes up for the set during Notre Dame's 3-1 win over Northeastern on Sept. 13.Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish freshman Maddie Dilfer goes up for the set during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Northeastern on Sept. 13.

Hurricanes freshman setter Haley Templeton is second in the ACC with 373 assists, in part due to her combinations with senior outside hitter Savanah Leaf, who is also second in the conference with 163 kills.

After their Friday game against Miami, the Irish will travel from Coral Gables to Tallahassee to face off against a daunting sixth-ranked Florida State (11-0) squad Sunday. In the preseason coaches poll, Florida State was named the favorite to win the ACC. The Seminoles have lived up to the hype so far, with a powerful offense and a .272 attack percentage.

The undefeated Seminoles are led by three preseason all-ACC honorees, including junior Nicole Walch, who leads the team with 181 kills. They finished their non-conference schedule this past weekend with 3-0 and 3-1 wins, both against No. 22 Texas A&M.

Notre Dame (3-8) wrapped up its non-conference schedule this past weekend in the Purdue Active Ankle Challenge, picking up its second and third wins of the season against Morehead State and St. Louis to finish second in the tournament.

Notre Dame’s success came on the heels of a frustrating 1-7 start to the season, marked by the loss of senior outside hitter Toni Alugbue to an ACL tear in the preseason. When compounded with the graduation of last season’s starting setter and libero, there were many holes to fill on the relatively inexperienced squad.

Three freshmen have assumed regular starting roles to fill the vacancies – middle blocker Sam Fry, outside hitter Sydney Kuhn and libero Natalie Johnson. Fry leads the team in blocks with seven and block assists with 44. Senior Jeni Houser and graduate student Nicole Smith have provided a veteran presence as well, with a team-high 117 kills for Houser and 81 for Smith.

As the Notre Dame squad continues to come together, it will face some of its toughest tests in its first ACC games this weekend against two talented teams.

The Irish will face Miami at 7 p.m. Friday at the James L. Knight Complex in Coral Gables, Florida, followed by Florida State at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Tully Gym in Tallahassee, Florida.

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