Irish seek bounce back over weekend
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, November 4, 2016
Entering their second string of matches with junior setter Caroline Holt out due to injury, the Irish are looking to settle into a new groove as they face off against Wake Forest and Duke this weekend, both of whom they have already toppled this season.
After dropping matches to Miami and Florida State last week, Notre Dame (18-6, 9-3 ACC) dropped from second to fifth in the ACC standings. However, Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin believes that with continued improvement and more strong showings this weekend, the ACC title and an NCAA tournament berth are still within reach.
“You know, the thing is, we’ve just got to keep getting better and the girls know that,” McLaughlin said. “Regardless of where you’re at, what you control is the improvement and the progress you make, so that’s the deal. But we’re Notre Dame and every year it’s gonna be the ACC Championship and then the NCAA Championship. So, at some point, we should be doing that all the time. … Everything that we want is in front of us, we’ve got to just be persistent and we’ve got to care deeply. … People that care deeply about what they’re doing make a greater commitment, so I’m starting to see that behavior, that these kids really care about this. There isn’t any magic there. We’ve just got to keep grinding.”
Notre Dame’s slip-up in the ACC can be attributed, in part, to the loss of Holt. The Irish were forced to change up their rhythm slightly with freshman setter Hanna Klein and sophomore outside hitter Rebecca Nunge taking over Holt’s integral role as the Irish made the switch from the 5-1 offense they had been running all season to a 6-2. McLaughlin feels that Klein and Nunge have made marked improvements this week in practice and that his hitters have begun to adjust to the new setters, although the ultimate goal will be for there to be complete consistency between setters.
“Every day they’re a little bit better,” McLaughlin said. “They’re not at the level of Holt, but there’s not many setters that are at the level of Holt. They can’t compare [themselves to her]. They’ve just gotta approach it very internally. Know their strengths and weaknesses, which we help them with, and address it and keep going. But we’ve got a good task list for each setter and they’re a little different, but they’re addressing their own task lists and making progress.
“Our philosophy is ‘setters let the hitters do the work,’ and we want to institutionalize our sets and let the hitters be at the right place at the right time and go chase the ball so, you know the hitters are learning how to do that. There’s obviously a little bit more variability when these two are setting versus Holt, but Holt was there and had to make progress. So, as you get better, you reduce that variability.”
The Irish struggled to keep momentum alive for extended periods last weekend as the team’s focus wavered slightly with Holt out. Throughout the season, McLaughlin has referred to Holt as the ‘quarterback’ of the Irish squad. Without her on the court, he will be looking to some veterans to step up and push the team forward emotionally and allow the setters to focus on one thing: their jobs.
“There’s a couple people on every team that carry the emotional load,” McLaughlin said. “Holt was one of them, for sure. But I think [junior middle blocker] Sam [Fry] can do it, I think [sophomore libero] Ryann [DeJarld] can do it. And it allows the setters just to do their own job, not worry about anything else. Holt had an ability where she could do her job and worry about the other people, but right now, [the setters’] focus is very internal. And Ryann and Sam will be a little bit more external.”
The Irish will face off against Wake Forest (9-14, 5-7 ACC) and Duke (16-6, 10-2 ACC) this weekend, after already having taken down the Demon Deacons and Blue Devils by scores of 3-1 in consecutive matches in October. While Notre Dame has made significant changes since then, it has also been improving non-stop, according to McLaughlin. He believes that his team’s mindset throughout the season will allow the Irish to come out on top once again and that they will be entering this weekend’s matches with the same mindset they have had all season.
“We had two really good days of practice and these girls aren’t looking back,” McLaughlin said. “They’re going right through the challenge instead of trying to tiptoe around it and I appreciate that. And eventually, you get through it. … [We need to] play the best volleyball we can, correct what we can, keep doing what we’re doing well and keep getting better at everything.