Irish sweep three ACC teams, bring conference win total to nine
Elizabeth Greason | Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Irish picked up their first in-conference loss of the season to No. 8 North Carolina in a heart-breaking five-set match. Notre Dame (18-4, 9-1 ACC) had a strong bounce-back performance however, sweeping all three of its matches over break, taking down North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech each in straight sets. The Irish have now won 10 of their last 11 matches.
Notre Dame came out strong against the Tar Heels (18-2, 10-0 ACC), winning the first set 25-18. However, it was as if a completely different team took the court to start the second set. The Irish came out flat-footed, allowing North Carolina to get out to an 8-0 lead, before the UNC scoring run was finally stifled by its own attack error. The Irish changed the momentum as they fought back and crawled within reach of the Tar Heels at 14-11. The large margin between the two teams from the start of the second set proved too much for the Irish to make up, as they ultimately dropped the set, 25-19. Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin felt that the second set was an example of his team’s grit, but also of its susceptibility to losing focus.
“I think, you know, when you go through little lapses in performance, it gives them an opportunity to get back in or seize the momentum or just win the game,” McLaughlin said. “I think we’ve gotta figure that stuff out a little bit and just play for longer periods of time and I think our girls understand that.”
The Irish dropped the third set to the Tar Heels with the same score as the second set to put UNC up 2-1. By this point, junior setter Caroline Holt had picked up a double-double, with 28 assists and 10 digs.
The fourth set started out as a nail-biter with the two teams trading points until a kill by freshman outside hitter Jemma Yeadon put the Irish up 12-9, giving them some room to breathe. Yeadon went on a tear, picking up four more kills in the fourth set. The Mercer Island, Washington, native finished the match with a double-double, her seventh of the season. McLaughlin discussed the fact that he has come to expect double-doubles from Yeadon, although he has still higher expectations for the freshman.
“I think she could have been a little more consistent, but she knows that,” McLaughlin said. “I mean, nobody wants to be better than Jemma [does] and she’s learning every day and she’s getting better every day and she’s a dependable kid.”
The Irish dominated the fourth set, winning by a nine-point margin, 25-16, to tie up the match and force a fifth set.
In the fifth set, the Irish struggled to start once again, allowing the Tar Heels to jump out to a 6-1 lead. Notre Dame was able to make up the gap and pull themselves even with UNC at nine points apiece. The two squads started trading points until North Carolina called a timeout with the teams tied at 13. The Tar Heels came out of the timeout with renewed energy, easily taking the next two points and the match. McLaughlin said that the fact that the match was a winnable one for the Irish does not make him feel any better.
“To me, a loss is a loss,” McLaughlin said. “You just, you keep fighting and we’re always gonna fight, so it just stinks when you lose. I don’t feel good about it. But we’ve just got to get back on the horse and go.”
McLaughlin considered the match a learning experience and said that he was proud of his team, despite the result.
“Win, lose or draw, you’re in this process of improving,” McLaughlin said. “We’re gonna learn a lot from this match. I think, you know, they were ready to play, they came out with good emotion and I’m proud of the effort, I’m proud of the energy, all that stuff.”
Sophomore libero Ryann DeJarld finished the match with 40 digs, a career high that put her in second place in the Notre Dame record books for digs in a match. DeJarld downplayed the accomplishment in the context of the loss.
“I was just trying to do my job and get some good ups for Caroline to set and make my team better,” DeJarld said. “I’m confident that we’re gonna learn a lot of things from this game and be ready to move forward and prepare well for every game.”
And the Irish were ready to go Oct. 16 as they rebounded against N.C. State (13-9, 6-4 ACC). Senior middle blocker Katie Higgins led the charge for the Irish registering 11 kills on just 16 attempts, giving her a hitting percentage of .625. The Nebraska native also registered six blocks in Notre Dame’s takedown of the Wolfpack in straight sets: 25-19, 25-17, 25-23.
On Friday, Notre Dame looked to restart a winning streak as it hit the road to play the Panthers (15-7, 6-4 ACC). The Irish took down the Panthers in straight sets: 25-19, 25-20, 25-21. The Irish service game was a highlight versus the Panthers. Junior middle blocker Sam Fry posted three aces during the match, followed by DeJarld’s two and one from junior libero Natalie Johnson. DeJarld currently leads the ACC in aces per set, while Fry sits in third place.
The Irish extended their winning streak to three Sunday as they took down Virginia Tech (8-13, 3-7 ACC) in Blacksburg, Virginia, for the first time in program history. Higgins once again led the Irish to victory with 11 kills, followed by 10 kills from Fry.
The win over the Hokies gives Notre Dame its most in-conference wins since joining the ACC with nine.
The Irish return home to play Miami at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion on Friday before taking on No. 11 Florida State at 1 p.m. on Sunday.