Notre Dame holds its own at Golden Dome Invitational
Hunter McDaniel | Monday, September 14, 2015
The Golden Dome Invitational gave the Irish plenty to be excited about as the new season gets under way.
In its first home weekend under first year head coach Jim McLaughlin, Notre Dame (4-5) won two of its three matches, falling only to two-time defending national champion and top-ranked Penn State.
After a couple of road tournaments to kick off the season, the Irish were ready to play at Purcell Pavilion for the first time this year in the Golden Dome Invitational. McLaughlin said he was happy with the way his team played overall.
“A little bit more consistent. We made some progress,” McLaughlin said. “Now we move forward. Individuals were more consistent, and that was reflected in the team. I thought we were better. We certainly played better than we did last week.”
Starting with a Friday night matchup against Southeastern Conference opponent Mississippi State, the Irish and the Bulldogs (7-3) went back and forth throughout much of the match before the Irish pulled away late for a hard-fought 3-1 (28-26, 24-26, 25-14, 25-16) victory.
Both the first and second sets of their matchup with the Bulldogs required extra points, but the Irish dominated sets three and four on their way to victory.
Senior outside hitter Haley Bonneval led the Irish to victory with a career-high 16 kills, while sophomore setter Maddie Dilfer added 45 assists and three aces and freshman libero Kelly Byrne contributed with 12 digs and two aces of her own.
The Saturday afternoon match against Eastern Kentucky saw the Irish cruise to an easy victory, as they won in straight sets (25-20, 25-21, 25-14) over the Lady Colonels (1-10).
While the Lady Colonels were able to keep it close at times and actually led through much of the second set, the Irish were simply too much in the end.
Sophomore outside hitter Sam Fry paced the Irish in their win over the Lady Colonels with 17 kills, six blocks and a .433 hitting percentage.
By starting off the tournament with two wins, Notre Dame has almost as many wins already (four) as it did all of last season (six).
“[Winning two matches is] part of the return. You work hard, you want to get a return. And that’s important,” McLaughlin said. “And equally as important, I could see that the girls were enjoying playing with each other. This weekend was the first time I saw that, and it’s really good to see moving forward.”
On Saturday night, Notre Dame welcomed arguably the toughest opponent it will face all season, as the Nittany Lions (8-0) have won six of the last eight national championships under long-time head coach Russ Rose.
The Nittany Lions hadn’t even lost a set this season when they met the Irish on the court, and that didn’t change Saturday. Notre Dame hung with the top team in the country for a time but was ultimately no match for the high-powered Nittany Lion attack, losing quickly in three sets (25-17, 25-19, 25-16).
Despite losing in straight sets, the Irish saw this particular match as a learning experience and as a great opportunity to improve, McLaughlin said.
“Penn State, they do so many things well,” McLaughlin said. “The way they play exposes an opponents inability to do things I well. I think it was good for us. I don’t know if it tells us where we’re at. We know where we’re at, and we have to keep moving forward. But trying to be tested against a team that can play the game at the highest level allows us to see where we want to be.
“We’re gonna start studying the tape and see where we were lacking and how we can improve even more while we get ready for next weekend.”
After the conclusion of the tournament, both Bonneval and freshman outside hitter Rebecca Nunge were named to the all-tournament team, with Nunge registering an overall hitting percentage of .339 with 23 kills and nine blocks.
On both Friday and Saturday nights the crowds were electric McLaughlin said, something he hopes to see more of as the season continues and the Irish inch closer to ACC play.
“It was awesome. Our students were incredible. The fans were good. The atmosphere in there was great,” McLaughlin said. “But more than that, we feel a responsibility to represent Notre Dame in the best way possible. It’s Notre Dame, so it was just fun to be there and to be a part of something special.”
The Irish return to action next weekend when they travel to West Lafayette, Indiana, where they will meet Ball State, South Dakota and Purdue at the Purdue Boiler Box Challenge. Notre Dame next plays at home when it welcomes Louisville to the Purcell Pavilion and officially kicks off ACC play on September 25.