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ND Volleyball

Robinson: Upcoming weekend crucial for Irish

| Wednesday, September 3, 2014

This weekend is huge for Notre Dame. The Irish are playing at home, with their reputation on the line. The result could greatly impact the direction of their season.

And no, I’m not talking about the historic matchup against Michigan on the gridiron this Saturday night — I’m talking about the importance for the Irish volleyball team to have a strong performance as it hosts the Golden Dome Invitational at Purcell Pavilion, Friday through Sunday.

After dropping its first two matches 3-0 against No. 18 Minnesota and No. 4 Wisconsin, we are left to wonder when the time comes, will this Irish team be ready to match up with its high-level ACC opponents?

Senior outside hitter Meg Vonderhaar leaps for the spike during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.Caroline Genco

Senior outside hitter Meg Vonderhaar leaps for the spike during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 20 at Purcell Pavilion.

In its transition from the Big East to the ACC, Notre Dame encountered its share of difficulties. The Irish compiled a 20-10 overall record and a 13-2 Big East record two seasons ago, but their overall record slipped to 13-18 last year, and the team went just 7-13 in the ACC.

The Irish were inconsistent and often out of sync, losing seven consecutive matches at one point, including five consecutive conference losses.

This year’s preseason poll lists the Irish as 11th out of 15 ACC teams, which is where they finished last season.

The team is relatively young and lacks experience — the six incoming freshmen make up the largest class on the team. There is no official captain. Notre Dame does not have as much star power as some of the top ACC teams.

Yet, there are signs of promise. The 3-0 loss to Minnesota was deceptive — the Irish played well and actually pushed the Golden Gophers to set point in each of the first two sets, though they were unable to close out a set.

The freshmen have already shown they can contribute. Middle Blocker Sam Fry had a team-high nine block assists against Minnesota, and she has tallied nine kills and 15.5 points to go along with it. Against Wisconsin, freshman libero Natalie Johnson led the team with eight digs, while outside hitter Sydney Kuhn added four kills, four digs and a block assist.

Graduate student outside hitter Nicole Smith, who has team-highs with 19 points and 16 kills, and senior middle blocker Jeni Houser, who is a preseason all-conference selection for the third consecutive year, provide some power at the net, and give the Irish some veteran presence to keep them on track.

In the upcoming Invitational, the Irish will take on Washington State (2-1), IUPUI (1-2) and Western Michigan (2-1).

Are these the most formidable teams Notre Dame will face this year? Not at all. The Irish won’t get into the meat of their schedule for another three weeks when they take on their conference opponents, No. 8 Florida State, No. 19 Duke, No. 20 North Carolina and No. 24 Louisville.

This weekend, however, is much more important than it may seem — for Notre Dame, it’s about setting a tone.

The three games offer a chance for the Irish to come together as a cohesive unit and to work out the kinks of inexperience before they face ACC opponents. It is a chance for individuals to step up and showcase what they can contribute to the team this year. It is a chance for the team to prove to themselves and others that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

The Irish were thrown into the flames last weekend. This weekend will be a second test, a gauge of where their season might be headed. So if you’re still wondering if this Irish team has what it takes to compete in the ACC — ask me on Monday.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Andrew Robinson

I'm a freshman from St. Louis, MO and I'm an accounting and sociology major at Notre Dame, living in Keenan Hall.

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