Notre Dame falls short against Miami, Florida State
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, October 31, 2016
Notre Dame entered the weekend in second place in the ACC with its hope of winning the conference intact, but that hope took a hit, as the Irish dropped their both matches this weekend to Miami and No. 11 Florida State.
The Irish (18-6, 9-3 ACC) had fresh faces running the offense with its starting setter and ACC assist leader, junior Caroline Holt, out after having surgery on her fractured leg earlier this week and its backup setter, junior Taylor Zwickl, also out with an arm injury. Notre Dame moved from the 5-1 offense it had been running all season, with Holt on the court at all times, to a 6-2 offense with freshman setter Hanna Klein making her first collegiate appearance and sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Nunge stepping up to set in Holt’s absence. Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin said that, despite running a different offense, this week was business as usual for the Irish.
“As much as I love [Holt], you can’t think about it,” McLaughlin said. “We go with what we have, and we invest in them like we always do. They’ll get better. … These kids will do anything to help the team, and you’ve got to do that. It’s about a team, and everybody’s got to do their job, have a role. You never know when your number’s called so you’ve gotta be ready, and I think we’re learning those lessons.”
The Irish got off to a slow start against the Hurricanes (11-13, 5-7) with Klein and Nunge at the helm, but they were able to keep pace with Miami throughout the match.
The Irish serving game highlighted the first set, as the team picked up five aces. Notre Dame’s back line, however, struggled to defend against thee ACC leader in kills, Hurricanes junior outside hitter Olga Strantzali, who notched nine kills in the first set alone. The Hurricanes took the first set, 25-22.
In the second set, senior middle blocker Katie Higgins helped keep the Irish focused and energetic with constant encouragement and well-timed blocks, as she had five blocks by the end of the second set. The set ended on a controversial call that had McLaughlin out of his chair when the line judge called an Irish ball out, handing Miami the set. Junior outside hitter Sydney Kuhn noted that, although close calls are less than ideal, the team was confident it would be able to climb back into the match after being down 2-0 at the break.
“That’s just kind of part of the game, and you just have to forget about it and move right on to the next play,” Kuhn said. “We just have to keep working. There’s ebbs and flows, but as long as we continue to play volleyball the Notre Dame way, it’ll come back our way.”
The Irish came out of the locker room an entirely different team for the third set, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. For the first time in the match, the Irish were consistently in-system, with both Nunge and Klein putting up more hittable balls. Kuhn, who finished the match with 19 kills, said having a different setter in shouldn’t change a hitter’s approach to the match.
“Like [McLaughlin] says, ‘The move is the move,’” Kuhn said. “Your mechanics shouldn’t change no matter who’s setting the ball. And our setters are all capable of getting the ball in the right spot.”
The Irish took the third and fourth sets 25-21 and 25-22, respectively, forcing a fifth. However, Miami jumped out to a 5-0 and never looked back. Service errors plagued the Irish in the final set, and the Hurricanes took the match with a 15-11 win in the fifth set.
Despite the loss, McLaughlin said he was proud of his team’s ability to handle the adversity Holt’s absence brought and its ability to keep pace with Miami despite the slow start.
“You know, the character is there,” McLaughlin said. “We fought and we kicked and we scratched and we did what we’ve got to do. I’m proud of what Nunge did, and I’m proud of Hanna Klein. Klein did a good job. The foundation of our program is improving, we’ve got to just attack it and keep getting better, but we fought. So the effort was good, the energy was good. We just have to get better.”
On Sunday, Notre Dame faced off against the Seminoles (18-3, 11-1) and put them away easily in the first set, winning 25-17. Irish freshman outside hitter Jemma Yeadon led the squad with six kills, while Kuhn, Nunge and junior middle blocker Sam Fry each picked up three.
In the second, Notre Dame took control of the set early with a 17-13 lead, but Florida State clawed back and was eventually able to capture the lead and steal the set from the Irish, 26-24. McLaughlin noted that giving up leads has been a theme for the Irish as of late.
“You’ve got to be good enough to prevent them from doing what they want to do, and we didn’t do that tonight,” McLaughlin said. “But mostly, I think it’s controlling what we can control, and we weren’t in control long enough tonight.”
Some of Notre Dame’s typical strongholds in the lineup struggled against the Seminoles, which caused McLaughlin to mix up the lineup throughout the match, giving junior Maddie Plumlee, graduate student Haley Bonneval and freshman Lauren Woodard — all outside hitters — opportunities to prove themselves. With Woodard in the lineup, the Irish had up to three freshmen on the court at one point, although McLaughlin was not worried by the team’s inexperience.
“I think they’re gaining experience,” McLaughlin said. “We’re over halfway through the season, so they’ve had plenty of opportunities. I’m excited to play young people, and they did a good job. We just have to get better.”
After dropping the third set decisively, 25-14, the Irish were able to keep pace with the Seminoles for much of the fourth set, but their targeting of the struggling Irish back-line proved too much to handle. FSU took the match win, 3-1, with a fourth-set victory, 25-20, with the Irish dropping consecutive matches for the first time this season.
Klein finished the match with 25 assists, and Nunge picked up 19, while Yeadon, Kuhn and Nunge each reached double digits in the kills column.
For Nunge, the transition to setter has been a difficult one, as it causes her to have two completely different roles in the course of a single match, but it was a transition she was more than willing to make in order to better her team, she said.
“We’re handling a lot of adversity as a team right now, but our sole focus is just getting better every single point, every play,” Nunge said. “You know, I’m just doing the best I can. I just want to put up a hittable ball. I’m not really changing my thought, I’m just working on getting better every single time I touch the ball. When I’m about to serve, I’m just trying to hit it on the deep mat, you know, in between the players. … I think as long as we keep the same mindset we’ve had all season and all spring and summer, I think we’ll be okay.”
The Irish will next take the court when they hit the road to face off against Wake Forest on Friday at 7:30 p.m.