Irish look forward to top-20 clash versus No. 8 North Carolina
Elizabeth Greason | Thursday, October 13, 2016
At 6-0 in the conference, the Irish are off to the best ACC start in program history.
Notre Dame (15-3, 6-0 ACC) is one of two remaining ACC teams with perfect in-conference records, the other being No. 8 North Carolina, and the Irish face off against the Tar Heels(14-2, 6-0 ACC) on Friday.
Notre Dame senior middle blocker Katie Higgins said she is pleased with the team’s start to the season and that the winning streak has created a different environment and atmosphere.
“It’s awesome,” Higgins said. “It’s just the culmination of all of our hard work and focus and discipline as a team. We’re just coming together and the results are really rewarding. … We definitely are more focused [than last season]. We have a lot of discipline, our technique it much better, we have a really good sense of drive and a nice vibe within the locker room that we push each other daily. So, it’s definitely different than the years in the past and it’s showing on the court.”
The Irish are coming off a successful road trip to the Northeast, during which Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin earned his 600th career coaching win in Notre Dame’s 3-0 win over Syracuse. While McLaughlin is not taking the time to focus on his record at the moment, as he is taking it one match at a time, he admitted that the milestone was an impressive accomplishment.
“It makes me feel a little old,” McLaughlin said. “They’re all good. The wins are good and it makes you think about all the stuff you went through. But, in this business, you don’t have time to ever look but someday down the road when I retire I’ll look back, but, right now I’m just thinking about getting one more win.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s match against the No. 8 Tar Heels, McLaughlin feels the high-powered matchup could provide an additional level of excitement, but maintained that getting the win is the focus.
“I think it’s fun for fans,” McLaughlin said. “I think there will be, maybe, a little more energy. But it’s another game and people slice it up a lot of ways. We just try to win every week, have good preparation and if you win the match, that’s all you’ve done is win the match. So focus is pretty narrow.”
The Tar Heels will be Notre Dame’s first match-up against a ranked team since falling to Purdue, 3-1 on Sept. 3. Higgins made it clear that North Carolina’s ranking does not affect the team’s approach to the match or add any additional pressure.
“We really try not to look at [rankings],” Higgins said. “We really just try to see the type of team that they are, the type of system that they run and how we’re gonna stop them. Nothing superficial like rankings or records or stuff like that. It’s just, they’re a good team and we’re ready to be a good team as well and battle it out.”
While the Irish have the two leading servers in the ACC on their roster in junior middle blocker Sam Fry and sophomore libero Ryann DeJarld, McLaughlin feels that on top of the Tar Heels’ strength all-around, their serving will be one of the hardest aspects of their game to combat.
“[They’re] iust a good, physical, big volleyball team,” McLaughlin said. “They’re pretty good serving; they’ve good a couple pretty good jump servers.”
Going into Friday’s match, the Irish will need all hands on deck. After not seeing playing time in either match last week, McLaughlin noted Fry will be back in action against UNC.
“Sammy’s better,” McLaughlin said. “She was sick and it was just the right thing not to play her. She probably wanted to play. She’s had a good week at practice and she goes full-speed [Thursday], 100%.”
While the Irish have to stay focused on the match against North Carolina on Friday, they have also had to look forward to the rest of the matches that will be taking place over fall break. In every match, McLaughlin is looking for each and every player to step up and make strides toward improvement.
“You know, you come up, and just more and more people are contributing,” McLaughlin said. “The stats are getting better collectively, so that’s what I’m looking for. Just more and more people contributing and playing better.”
Notre Dame will face off against UNC on Friday at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion before taking on North Carolina State on Sunday at 1 p.m., also at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish will then travel to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers on the Friday of fall break and will take on Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, the following Sunday.