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ND Volleyball

Freshmen usher in new era for Irish

| Wednesday, September 16, 2015

In the first nine matches of 2014, the Irish posted a record of just 2-7, a sign of times to come — the team would finish the season with just a 6-23 record and only four ACC wins. However, 2015 is a new season for Notre Dame, as the team have started the year with a record of 4-5 under the direction of new head coach Jim McLaughlin, doubling its win total from last year through the same number of games.

McLaughlin is not the only new face to the Irish program. On Notre Dame’s roster of 15, six of the spots are filled with freshmen: middle blockers Meg Morningstar and Kristin Baer, liberos Kelly Byrne and Ryann DeJarld and outside hitters Rebecca Nunge and Katie Houser. Those six have already taken steps to solidify themselves as mainstays in the program.

Irish freshman middle blocker Meg Morningstar attempts a block during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 11.Sarah Olson | The Observer

Irish freshman middle blocker Meg Morningstar attempts a block during Notre Dame’s 3-1 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 11.

Irish associate head coach Mike Johnson is a new member of the coaching staff as well, brought in under the leadership of McLaughlin. He said 2015 is a transition year for everyone.

“To a degree, we’re changing the whole system, so everyone’s a freshman in the new system,” Johnson said. “Many years, freshmen are farther behind, but in this case freshmen are not far behind the scale because it’s new to everyone and we’re all growing together.”

Johnson said he has been impressed with the freshmen so far. Four of the first-years on the roster — Morningstar, Byrne, DeJarld and Nunge — have already seen significant playing time through the first nine matches of the season.

“The impact [of the freshmen] has been massive. They’ve continued to grow, and the whole team gets better as a result,” Johnson said.

This year’s freshman class brought a long list of high school accolades with it to Notre Dame. DeJarld and Houser were honored as second-team Under Armour All-Americans, and Nunge earned third-team accolades. DeJarld and Morningstar were also honored as Prep Volleyball Academic All-Americans.

Morningstar already leads the Irish in blocks on the year, accumulating 36 through the first three tournaments, including three solo blocks. Nunge sits behind sophomore outside hitter Sam Fry at third on the team in total blocks with 25.

DeJarld has been reliable at libero and collected 30 digs against Hofstra at the Seton Hall Classic, the fifth-most digs by an Irish player in a single match in 15 years. Her play earned her all-tournament honors.

The younger players are held to the same high standard as the more veteran members of the team, Johnson said.

“We’ve had some freshmen in very big roles already,” Johnson said. “Our expectations are that they are committed to growing as volleyball players and as people.”

Notre Dame and its newcomers will take the court next Friday when the Irish begin the Purdue Boiler Box Challenge with a noon match against Ball State.

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