Irish prepare for first NCAA tournament trip since 2012
Connor Mulvena | Wednesday, November 29, 2017
For the first time since 2012, the Irish have earned a trip to the NCAA tournament. The team begins its road to the championship Friday, as it heads to Lexington, Kentucky, to face off against Western Kentucky.
The tournament selection comes in the third year of Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin’s career at Notre Dame (22-9, 12-8 ACC), which started in 2015. Having been selected after a bit of a dry spell, the opportunity to play in this year’s tournament is a culmination of a lot of hard work, and it presents a door to make a big statement, McLaughlin said.
“It validates all of the hard work. It’s gratification, a return for a lot of really hard work,” he said. “But then, on the other side, we know there is more out there. It’s a step in the right direction. You have to pass the test to get into the tournament, and now it’s a new test and we have to pass that. So, we feel good about it, and we are going to keep working.”
Friday’s matchup with be the first time the Irish and the Hilltoppers (30-3, 13-1 C-USA) have faced off in program history. However, for McLaughlin, that is not a concern. Despite facing a challenging and unfamiliar opponent on an even larger stage than usual, he said the team will continue to rely on the preparation process which has brought it continued success throughout the year.
“The prep and the process remain the same,” McLaughlin said. “Most of it comes down to how we play on our side, and then there’ll be some tendencies, some percentages, maybe a little cost-benefit analysis on Western Kentucky in terms of what they set and when they set it, and our girls are pretty good at that.”
The Irish head into the tournament with a significant amount of momentum. The team finished up its regular season by winning six of its last seven matches, and its resume includes four victories over top-25 opponents. McLaughlin said his team looks to head into the first round with confidence in order to maintain the high level of play it has displayed as of late.
“[We have to] do the things that we do — take care of the ball, serve and pass, get good swings and make the opponent earn points,” McLaughlin said. “In our last six out of seven, we were low errors, we were aggressive and we passed the ball well and served well. I think that’s the key for this team right now.”
Of course, maintaining that level of play can be difficult on a stage as large as the NCAA championships. Fortunately for the Irish, McLaughlin is no stranger to the tournament. Although this will be his first trip with a Notre Dame team, McLaughlin has taken his squad to the tournament a total of 19 times, including this season, throughout his career. Along the way, he has won two national championships and appeared in six semifinals.
“Don’t let the conditions change you,” McLaughlin said on how to adjust to the elevated stage of the tournament. “More distractions, more on the line, just do what you do. The worst thing you can do is not be who you are. This team has developed some confidence, we’re playing at a nice standard and we have to go out there and do it in the tournament. I like the way we’re training and I like the way they’re behaving, so we’ve got a chance.”
The team continues to focus on its central goal: winning a national title. McLaughlin is confident in his players’ abilities and he has set the standards high accordingly.
“[Our goal is] to win the national championship,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve said it from day one. We’re at Notre Dame, and that’s as good as you can get, and we should be able to attain those great things. In time we will, and this is the first step, but we want to win it all.”
The Irish will take on the Hilltoppers at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky, on Friday at 5 p.m.