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ND Volleyball

Irish travel to West Lafayette

| Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Irish are gearing up for the start of Atlantic Coast Conference play next weekend, but before that happens, they have one final test they must undergo.

Starting Friday, Notre Dame (4-5) begins its last nonconference tournament of the season when the team travels to West Lafayette, Indiana, for the Purdue Boiler Box Challenge.

The Irish will look to build off their successful home stand, which featured victories over Mississippi State and Eastern Kentucky and a respectable showing against top-ranked Penn State.

Now the Irish turn their attention to Ball State (6-5), South Dakota (4-6) and No. 22 Purdue (6-2).

aDasdaSDSarah Olson | The Observer

Notre Dame sophomore setter Maddie Dilfer, 8, prepares to set the ball to classmate and outside hitter Sam Fry, 3, while freshman libero Ryann DeJarld, 4, looks on during Notre Dame’s 3-1 victory over Mississippi State on Sept. 11 at Purcell Pavilion.

Coming off a strong performance at the Golden Dome Invitational, including hitting a career-high 16 kills in the win over Mississippi State, senior outside hitter Haley Bonneval put last weekend into perspective.

“We were able to learn a lot from all our matches,” Bonneval said. “Being in practice this week, we focused on some of the stuff that we didn’t do well last weekend and are hoping to avoid them this weekend.”

Co-captain and sophomore Maddie Dilfer echoed what Bonneval said about last weekend.

“I think every time we touch the floor, we’re getting more confidence and learning how to play together more, so our confidence increases every time,” Dilfer said. “We had some success last weekend. We probably could’ve taken Penn State a little further. We hope to use what we learned last week and apply it at Purdue.”

Though the Irish already have nearly as many wins (four) as they did throughout all of last season (six), there clearly is still room for improvement, and these early season tournaments are helping the team see that, Dilfer said.

The difference between last year and this year, according to Dilfer, is that the players have bought into the philosophy of the new coaching staff under first-year head coach Jim McLaughlin. “I think we’ve completely bought into the process and the system this year,” Dilfer said.

“We realize that results aren’t necessarily immediate. We aren’t going to change completely overnight. We’re completely invested, and that is translating into success on the floor,” Dilfer said. “The coaching staff is great and seem to be able to get the best out of us, and so far it seems to be working.”

Bonneval said she agreed.

“[We need to maintain] focus throughout the entire match and then also play our game the whole time as opposed to playing not as well because of the team that we’re playing at that time,” Bonneval said. “And then just need to hit our shots like we practiced all week. We don’t want to let the team we’re playing dictate what we do, and I think we’re ready for this weekend.”

Arguably the most important test this weekend will be the final match against Purdue, when the Irish will look to buck their recent trend against their cross-state rivals. The Boilermakers have claimed three of the last four matches and are 9-2 overall at home against Notre Dame. Moreover, the Irish were swept by the Boilermakers in straight sets almost exactly one year ago, Sept. 20 in West Lafayette.

Bonneval, the lone senior on the team this year, said she tries to use her age to her advantage both on and off the court.

“It’s definitely a little weird just cause there’s so many younger kids that are below me and that are ready to take my spot,” Bonneval said. “I think the biggest thing is motivation and having such talented underclassmen definitely gives me that.”

Before the start of the season, Notre Dame made one of its primary goals winning the ACC, according to Dilfer.

“The ACC is obviously a very good volleyball conference,” Dilfer said. “All of our preseason matches are important for us. This weekend, we have another opportunity to improve and prepare for the matches down the road. We’ve seen a huge improvement both in practice and in matches. Our goal is to win the ACC and to be the very best we can be this year. We’re trying to get better every single match. We’re just kind of concerned with getting better every week and every weekend and to move forward from there.”

The Irish will use this final nonconference slate of matches to prepare for the start of conference play next weekend, when they host both Louisville and Florida State.

Hoping to continue their early-season success, the Irish kick off the Purdue Boiler Box Challenge at noon Friday against Ball State before turning to South Dakota in the evening. They will wrap up the tournament with their match against Purdue at 8 p.m. Saturday at Mackey Arena.

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