ND opens season at Minnesota
Andrew Robinson | Thursday, August 28, 2014
Notre Dame is set begin its regular season this weekend with the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and ‘challenge’ is certainly an appropriate title for its two opening match-ups. On Friday, the Irish square off against No. 12 Minnesota, followed by a match against No. 6 Wisconsin on Saturday.
Louisville will join Notre Dame as the other ACC representative in the Challenge.
After ending with a 13-18 record overall and a 7-13 mark in the ACC last year, Notre Dame was recently voted 11th in the preseason ACC rankings. The Irish will face a major test heading into the first games of the season, Irish coach Debbie Brown said.
“It’s obviously a very challenging opening for us, [but] we like playing strong competition,” Brown said. “When it’s the first matches, we’re trying to prepare our team just to play for [the rest of] the season.”Minnesota, the host of this weekend’s event, finished second in the Big Ten last year with a 29-7 record overall and a 15-5 record in conference. Wisconsin finished just behind the Golden Gophers in third at 28-10 overall and 12-8 in the Big Ten. Each team has two players who were named to the preseason all-Big Ten team: Senior Adrianna Nora and sophomore Hannah Tap for the Gophers and senior Ellen Chapman and sophomore Lauren Carlini for the Badgers.
For Notre Dame, senior middle blocker and right side specialist Jeni Houser was recently named to the preseason all-ACC team for her third consecutive preseason all-conference recognition. The Irish return nine players from last season and have a large incoming class of six freshmen.
With such a young team, integrating new players and building team chemistry has been a major focus of the Irish preseason and Brown said she thinks that will continue to develop in these first few games.
“One of the fun things about the first weekend is that … you just go in and play volleyball,” she said. “Until you go out there and play, it’s just about us getting in a good rhythm, being confident with each other, and developing the team chemistry.”
Freshmen libero Natalie Johnson and middle blocker Sam Fry are slated to be part of the starting lineup and Brown also cited senior outside hitter Meg Vonderhaar as a player who has been impressive during preseason and could have a major impact in the upcoming games.
“It’s kind of fun when you have [them] coming in and stepping up,” she said. “We like what they’re doing.”
While Brown said the team is ready for the season to start, she also acknowledged that there are
plenty of improvements to be made along the way.
“We’re nowhere close to peaking, that’s for sure, and you don’t want to be [at the start of the
season],” she said. “This is a team that’s very eager to learn, very coachable, so they’re absorbing
a lot and each day we’re getting better … We know that we’re not even close to where we’re going
to be in a month or even two months and that’s exciting.”
The Irish open their season Friday at 8 p.m. against Minnesota and play again Saturday at 5 p.m.
against Wisconsin. Both games will be held at the Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis, Minn.