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ND Volleyball

Irish hit the road to face conference foes

| Friday, November 3, 2017

Notre Dame travels to North Carolina this weekend to take on Duke and Wake Forest in a couple of key mid-season ACC matches.

The Irish (16-7, 6-6 ACC) lead the Blue Devils (15-8, 7-5 ACC) 7-6 in the history of the series, with each team winning one match when they met last season. The Irish swept the series against Wake Forest (11-13, 3-9 ACC) last season.

Notre Dame has struggled on the road at points this year, with its first loss of the season coming Sept. 8 at Ohio State, while the team also dropped back-to-back matches against Louisville and North Carolina State at the end of September.

Senior libero Natalie Johnson said that Purcell Pavilion is a welcoming environment, and mental toughness and preparation are keys to finding success in away matches.

Emmet Farnan | The Observer

Irish senior libero Natalie Johnson prepares to hit a serve during Notre Dame’s 3-0 win over Clemson on Oct. 15 at Purcell Pavilion.

“Notre Dame has a great crowd and a great fan base,” Johnson said. “It makes it really fun and really easy to play in that environment. Going on the road in the ACC is tough. You’re in a different gym and a different environment, and that’s what makes your preparation all the more important. You have to do what you do every day in a different environment, which is a little tougher. I think it makes it exciting, and this weekend will be a good test for us.”

Notre Dame enters this weekend coming off a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh, the No. 1 team in the ACC. The Panthers dominated throughout the match although senior middle blocker Sam Fry led the team with seven kills and a .462 hitting percentage.

Johnson said the Irish were lacking the mental grit they needed against Pittsburgh and will look to change that against Duke and Wake Forest.

“I think it’s all about our mentality and our approach to our preparation for the game,” Johnson said. “We do a good job of studying the opponent, but maybe what we didn’t do such a god job of on Sunday was preparing mentally for that match. I think that mentality and having the right energy really makes or breaks it.”

The Irish have held their opponents to just a .153 hitting percentage this season, which is first in the ACC. Johnson said the team has focused on its defense in practice this week.

“We focus a lot on our defense, and I think that shows in our opponents’ hitting percentages,” Johnson said. “I have great people in front of me blocking, and that makes my job in the back row digging out balls easier. It’s really a group effort, and we’re all learning to play better together. It’s that focus of working together as a team.”

“We had a really good week of practice,” she said. “We have more people playing well across across the board for longer periods of time. I think that if we carry on what we did in practice into the game, then we will have a really good weekend.”

Junior libero Ryann DeJarld is fourth in the country in digs per set with an average of 5.97 and second in the ACC in aces per set with an average of 0.39, putting in key performances lately for the Irish.

Johnson comes in at first in the ACC with 0.44 aces per set. She credited her teammates and coaches with helping her improve her game this year.

“I think the people around me have been pushing me to be a better volleyball player,” Johnson said. “There’s more competition in our gym, and my teammates and coaches are pushing me harder. I think that competition and that fight and that urgency to work even harder has helped me and has helped my teammates grow to become the players we are. That’s showing this season.”

The Irish take on Duke on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina followed by Wake Forest on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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