Notre Dame beats Duke and Wake Forest to get off to strong ACC start
Elizabeth Greason | Monday, October 3, 2016
The Irish (13-3, 4-0 ACC) extended their winning streak to five games and maintained their perfect ACC record this weekend, toppling Duke in an emotionally charged match on Friday night before scraping by Wake Forest on Sunday, giving the team its best ACC start yet.
Notre Dame’s laser focus was evident Friday against the Blue Devils (9-5, 3-1). From the very start of the match, the Blue Devils did their best to avoid serving Irish sophomore libero Ryann DeJarld. Her teammates stepped up on receiving the ball, however, as sophomore outside hitter Jemma Yeadon registered 29 digs and junior outside hitter Sydney Kuhn tallied up 27 digs of her own in the match. DeJarld ended the match with a career-high 31 digs. Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin said he was pleased with his team’s versatility in the match.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t serve Ryann,” McLaughlin said. “But, you know our other girls can pass too, but Ryann carries a big load and she still handled the ball quite a bit, so we’re moving around a little bit. But, yeah, the other girls can pass too.”
The Irish took the first set 25-23 and went on to overcome the Blue Devils in a marathon second set, 31-29. McLaughlin was impressed with his team’s ability to stay focused and overcome adversity in the second set.
“[We had to] just keep at it,” McLaughlin said. “And we’re finding that out. You know, you have to create an identity by experiences and we’re starting to become a little tougher team, which is good.”
Despite it being a close match, Notre Dame’s ability to build momentum proved too much for Duke to handle. McLaughlin feels that when his team goes on a roll, it is difficult to stop.
“I think when we’re on our assignments and we’re looking at the right things and staying focused on the right things, on the things that tell us what to do, we can get in good spots,” McLaughlin said. “And we’re allowing ourselves to do that now. Early in the season, the emotion and the energy would get the best of us. But now we’re clear in our mind and seeing the game better.”
Duke came out strong in the third game, but the Irish were able to keep pace for most of the game. Duke ultimately took the set, 26-24, making the third game the first set the Irish had dropped to an ACC opponent this season.
Junior setter Caroline Holt, who recorded 55 assists in the match, noted that her team knew what it needed to do in order to pick up the win in the fourth game and they were able to bounce back from the dropped set and execute well.
“We knew what we had to do,” Holt said. “I mean, every game was close and Duke is a very good team. We knew we were gonna have to come out even harder, but I think we knew what we had to do and we just executed a little bit better.”
In the final set, the Irish and Blue Devils were neck-and-neck and went back-and-forth until the two teams sat tied at 12-12. Notre Dame went on a 4-0 run, eventually putting the Blue Devils away 25-17 in the final set, handing Notre Dame the match.
McLaughlin noted that the packed arena definitely played a role in Notre Dame’s success, especially since he felt that Duke was using the game to make a statement.
“We talked a little bit about statement games and I don’t believe in them,” McLaughlin said. “I believe in preparation and every game is important. But we’re finding out, being at Notre Dame, maybe a lot of other schools use us or have us as their statement game and, but, what you find out after a win, as we just won, every win is a good one. This was a good win for us. … The crowd was awesome. And they give us a lot of energy, but it’s also, just, we have a responsibility when we have a good crowd to make sure we play well, and I think the girls feel that.”
After putting Duke away, the Irish took the court again Sunday versus the Demon Deacons (6-9, 2-2).
The Irish appeared flat-footed to start the match and continued to struggle to find a rhythm throughout the contest. McLaughlin was fully aware of the fact that his team struggled throughout the match and attributes it, in part, to the win over Duke.
“You learn from winning, you learn from losing,” McLaughlin said. “I actually think you learn more from winning. And we can learn a lot from this. Bob Knight once said, ‘You’ve got to protect the win.’ And we had a good, emotional win against Duke, and you can be susceptible to being flat. You know, we’re humans. And we were flat. And then, if you’re not fully prepared emotionally, mentally, physically, you risk a chance of someone sending you home very sad and we came close. But Wake Forest beat us in every category, except the main one: winning. So that says a lot about us and we can learn an awful lot from this match.”
The match was tight throughout. The Irish were able to edge out the Demon Deacons in the first set, 26-24. Yeadon had difficulty finding her rhythm against Wake Forest’s blocking, and was one of four players with negative hitting percentages after the first set, despite the Irish win. Even though Yeadon ended up picking up a double-double by the end of the match, McLaughlin felt that the freshman starter struggled.
“No, [Wake Forest] didn’t figure out Jemma,” McLaughlin said. “Jemma didn’t figure out Jemma. Jemma came out and was a different girl and hit some bad shots. I hold Jemma to a very high standard and she will learn from this and come out and understand, I think. The meaning will come. But, she was in a bad rhythm because of Jemma, not them.”
The Irish dropped the second set, 25-18, and were slow around the court throughout the set. However, when the Irish returned to the court for the third set, they appeared to be a completely different team. While this allowed the Irish to build momentum and regain control in the second half of the match, McLaughlin considered it problematic.
“Yeah, that’s the deal; we were a different team,” McLaughlin said. “And you know, you’ve got to be who you are. And I think the worst thing you can do is not be who you are. We came out flat and we weren’t the Notre Dame team that we’re supposed to be. And then, at the end of the day, when it’s over, whether you win or lose, if you lose, it’s not ever what they did, it’s what we didn’t do. So I want to approach it that way because we’re Notre Dame, but, you know, we found a way to win and we were not in a rhythm, and that says some good things. But we need to get back in the gym and practice.”
Despite the tough match, the Irish came out on top and remain undefeated in the ACC. Sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Nunge mentioned how important this is as Notre Dame strives toward its ultimate goal of winning the ACC title.
“[Being undefeated in the ACC] feels pretty good, I have to say,” Nunge said. “But, obviously we’re just looking to the next game. The record doesn’t really matter. I think that every single thing we do, we do with the mindset of winning the ACC, so that’s what’s given us success so far.”
The Irish will take the court again in another ACC matchup at Syracuse on Friday at 7 p.m.