Irish take two out of three matches in East Lansing to finish conference play
R.J. Stempak | Monday, September 19, 2016
Notre Dame finished its non-conference schedule over the weekend in East Lansing, Michigan, at the Spartan Classic. The Irish won two of their three games in the tournament, bringing their record to 9-3 on the season.
The tournament began on Friday against Maryland Eastern Shore with Notre Dame coming out with a victory in a sweep. With their 8-2 record, the Irish were off to their best start in eleven seasons. Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin felt his team was ready to play coming into the tournament.
“We had a good week of practice,” McLaughlin said. “There wasn’t anything I felt that we weren’t prepared and ready for in all three matches. So I felt good about the team and they felt good about themselves going in. The weekend was good for us. We responded to some different situations.”
Notre Dame dominated the match with its high-percentage attacking play, posting a kill percentage of .305 as a team, compared to Maryland Eastern Shore (7-8) who only hit with a .098 percentage.
Junior Sam Fry led the Irish with 14 kills, and sophomore libero Ryann DeJarld led the team in digs with 14. Freshman Jemma Yeadon, senior Katie Higgins and junior Sydney Kuhn each contributed five or more kills in the sweep.
As a team, Notre Dame controlled the first set, winning with a score of 25-12. The Hawks kept the game closer in the second, keeping with the Irish until the score was tied at 11. The Irish found their form from the first set again and closed out the set, 25-20. Ultimately, Notre Dame outplayed Maryland Eastern Shore throughout the day, winning the third set convincingly, 25-13.
Later that night, Notre Dame squared off against host No. 22 Michigan State. The Spartans (11-1) ended the Irish’s season-long win streak of four matches. Unable to find the same rhythm and success as in its first match of the tournament, Notre Dame dropped three straight sets of 25-17, 25-13 and 25-19.
Junior setter Caroline Holt stood out for the Irish in the loss, contributing 23 of the team’s 24 total assists in the match.
Notre Dame faced DePaul in the final game of the tournament on Saturday. The Blue Demons (6-6) took control of the game from start, winning the first two sets, both with a score of 25-19.
Confronted with a major deficit, the Irish, for a second time this year, came back from an 0-2 deficit to take home a victory. The team made a complete turnaround starting with the third set, posting 14 service aces in route to the win.
“We just kept rowing the boat: we just kept going and that was the most valuable lesson,” McLaughlin said. “We stayed in it and we kept battling, and we battled long enough to where things started happening. We settled down and we were thinking good thoughts and cleared our minds.”
Notre Dame came out with urgency in the third set, leading DePaul 16-8 on its way to a 25-16 win. The boost of confidence from the third set continued in the fourth, with the Irish securing a 22-25 victory.
Going into the fifth set in the match, Notre Dame had all of the momentum on its side. The tie-breaking set was close until the teams were knotted up at 11. Three kills and a block by senior Katie Higgins in the closing moments of the match secured a 15-12 victory for the Irish and McLaughlin was proud of his team’s character in the comeback.
“It is too easy in life to give up, and it shows that they have the character and the heart to keep battling and sticking with it,” McLaughlin said about the team coming from behind. “The girls care about each other enough to not throw in the towel for each other, and that’s a big deal. You got to be connected with your hearts and we are learning those lessons.”
Freshman Jemma Yeadon led the team with 14 kills and four service aces in the match. Junior Caroline Holt had another outstanding performance with 52 assists and sophomore Ryann DeJarld again led the team in digs with 20.
Notre Dame returns home to open ACC play on Friday against Louisville at the Joyce Center at 7 p.m.