Holt’s injury stalls Irish conference success
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, May 19, 2017
After winning just seven matches in 2015, the Irish were looking for a clean slate this season. And that is exactly what they got.
With the addition of junior setter Caroline Holt, a transfer from Loyola University Chicago, and outside hitter Jemma Yeadon, a freshman who quickly made her way into the starting lineup, Notre Dame (22-10, 13-7 ACC) set out to achieve its goal for the season of winning the ACC.
The Irish started the season on a strong note, going 9-3 in their first four events before beginning conference play. Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin was vocal about his team’s goal from the start: Win the ACC. Notre Dame jumped out to the best ACC start in program history, going 6-0 in its first six games, including a 3-1 win over Duke, one of the conference’s top teams, before falling to North Carolina.
The Irish rebounded, however, recording a 10-3 record in conference play before losing Holt, the ACC leader in assists at the time, to a broken leg. Sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Nunge and freshman setter Hanna Klein stepped up in her absence, but Holt’s absence proved to be too much for the Irish to combat in their pursuit of the ACC title.
“What I can define is there was gradual improvement of course until Holt went down,” McLaughlin said on the team’s progress this season. “ … The other thing I noticed is we won [three of the last four matches] without Holt. And those were the same kids that went through a real tough year the year before and they were able to beat some of those teams that had kind of clobbered us. So, I thought that said something about this group.
“And then, the biggest thing was they never gave up. Even when Caroline went down, they kept grinding, they kept working and it was just good to see them get the return from that and the gratification from the hard work.”
McLaughlin said his squad’s 180-degree turnaround between last season and this one was a result of hard work and an improved ability to learn as players.
“I think the individuals on our team grabbed onto the process a little bit better,” McLaughlin said. “And when I say that, I mean they learned how to learn better. Every athlete’s got to learn how to learn and learn how to change and how to use their mind. And I thought we just got a little bit better at learning. Some learned a little bit faster than others, but also, it was just we’re improving.
“ … We served better, we passed better, we attacked with a higher efficiency. Caroline set better. We blocked better, we dug better. But, having said that, we have to improve in all those areas and we did that this spring.”
Four Irish players nabbed All-ACC honors, as Yeadon was named to the All-Freshman team, Holt, sophomore libero Ryann DeJarld and junior middle blocker Sam Fry made Second Team All-ACC. McLaughlin was particularly impressed with Yeadon’s ability to be successful from the outset of her collegiate career, especially with her ability to handle the high expectations he placed on her.
“The sky’s the limit with her. I think the expectations are very, very high,” McLaughlin said of Yeadon. “But, Jemma and all the players on our team are starting to feel more comfortable with those expectations. We want to win the ACC. We should win the ACC. But, we’ve got to do the things that we need to do and meet the standards we need to meet with great regularity. But, those are the standards for Notre Dame. And, I think Jemma, over the course of the year, began to feel more comfortable with the expectations that I think she can meet, and she will.”
In addition to Yeadon, McLaughlin is looking for DeJarld, Holt, Fry, sophomore middle blocker Meg Morningstar, junior libero Natalie Johnson and junior outside hitter Sydney Kuhn to step up into leadership roles on the team after each had strong seasons in the spring. They will look to fill the voids left graduating senior middle blockers Katie Higgins and Simmone Collins, and graduate student outside hitter Haley Bonneval will also be leaving. McLaughlin said Higgins especially leave big shoes to fill in terms of being a role model, both on and off the court.
“Katie Higgs, in 28 years of coaching, she made some progress offensively that, maybe more progress than any kid I’ve ever coaching. I mean, it’s remarkable,” McLaughlin said. “She, to her credit, she just kept working. She was a good teammate and it was really neat to see her get the return. I think she should have been all-conference and she deserved that. But, we’re going to miss her.”
Going into next season, McLaughlin is, once again, hoping his team will be able to achieve its goal of winning the conference title as it also aims to improve with each day.
“Win the ACC. That’s the goal,” McLaughlin said. “And then, just to improve every day and to really grab onto that and to understand: Here’s where I’m at, here’s where I want to go, am I making progress forward every day? But they’ve got to come back with a recharged battery, a new battery and be ready to go because it will be tougher, but it will be better and greater if we make the progress we should make every day. That’s the deal.”