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ND Volleyball: McHugh steps up in sophomore campaign

Conor Kelly | Thursday, September 15, 2011

Just a little over a year ago, Irish coach Debbie Brown knew then-freshman outside hitter Andrea McHugh would make an impact in her inaugural campaign. What she might not have predicted was that McHugh would lead the Irish in kills and be selected Big East freshman of the year.

“We knew she came in with a good skill set, and we figured she would be a solid rotational player and a good contributor,” Brown said. “But she really stepped up and sort of exploded.”

McHugh’s exploits for the Irish earned her a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team this summer as the squad traveled to Peru to compete in the FIVB Women’s Junior World Championship. In an interesting twist, McHugh and the Irish competed against McHugh’s national coach Rob Browning, also the head coach at Saint Mary’s (CA), when they took on the Gaels on Sept. 3.

“Playing for the United States was an honor and an amazing experience,” McHugh, now a sophomore, said. “I learned a lot and became a much better player. Seeing other styles of volleyball, how fast the play was, was quite interesting.”

McHugh hopes that the experience will help her lead the Irish and step up into the leadership role she earned with her play last season.

“Between the Big East award and playing this summer, I got a lot more confidence to be a more vocal leader on the court,” McHugh said.

Brown said McHugh’s leadership qualities still need improvement to match her on-court talent.

“Last year, McHugh was a leader with her play,” Brown said. “She needs to be more consistent and vocal this year.”

If McHugh takes the next step this season, both player and coach should be happy. After a freshman year in which she led the Irish with 386 kills and a .216 hitting percentage, McHugh has been dominant early this season. Her 110 kills lead the team, yet Brown said she feels that McHugh’s defense has been the most improved part of her game, with more digs and blocks already than she had last season. She said McHugh is a more complete player than a year ago.

“Last year she struggled at times with blocking,” Brown said. “But she’s worked hard at it and improved a lot. Whether she’s getting kills or not, she’s always in the game. That consistency is something that was only starting to come out last year.

“I don’t just hit the ball all the time,” McHugh said. “I’ve developed other shots. I’m not just looking for kills. I have better court vision. I’m more aware of things.”