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ND Volleyball

Edmonds: For program to grow, Irish must ramp up schedule

| Tuesday, August 28, 2018

For the rest of this season Notre Dame will have to prepare itself to answer an important question that every aspiring cinderella story is faced with — is this a flash in the pan or is it the mark of a cultural and tangible shift in the program?

Only four years after posting a dismal 6-25 record, including a 3-15 conference record, the Irish have swept their first three non-conference opponents to start the 2018 campaign. The turnaround has taken time, and started when then-recently hired head coach Jim McLaughlin stepped in and brought the program back from the grave, leading the Irish to two consecutive 22-win seasons and the first NCAA Tournament bid for the program since 2012. Three years later, and McLaughlin has handed over the reins to former associate head coach Mike Johnson with the task of maintaining the momentum.

This year represents a fork in the road for the great Irish comeback. This senior class experienced the disappointment of a 7-25 season their freshman year. They should be hungry to leave a legacy, behind the leadership of senior libero Ryann DeJarld and junior outside hitter Jemma Yeadon. With Yeadon and sophomore libero Madison Cruzado as the only non-seniors to have played more than 50 sets last season, this team will lean on veteran experience as it aims for a smooth transition amidst an unexpected coaching change.

Sarah Olsen | The Observer

Irish junior outside hitter Jemma Yeadon spikes the ball during Notre Dame’s 3-2 win over North Carolina State on Nov. 19 at Purcell Pavilion.

However, their program-defining season could fall short due to one thing: strength of schedule, or lack thereof.

The Irish will never be able to move into the conversation of being an elite program as long as they continue to create season schedules where they only play three ranked opponents, none of which crack the top 10, as they are this season. Back to that 3-0 start this season; none of those teams won more than 12 matches last year. Some of the scheduling is out of their control. As the more revenue-generating sports will continue to dictate Notre Dame’s conference affiliation, Johnson’s team is in the unfortunate position of not belonging to the Pac-12 or Big Ten, the two conferences that dominate volleyball. However, they could improve their non-conference schedule.

Notre Dame has all the makings to be a title contending team, especially in terms of recruitment. Of the top 25 teams, six of them reside in Indiana or in states that border Indiana, and 13 of them are Catholic. For sports that have fewer opportunities professionally, Notre Dame offers an elite education. The only thing that’s missing in the equation is the top-tier competition. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. You can’t beat the best if you never play them until you’re forced to in the postseason.

The 2018 schedule is set in stone. All the Irish can hope to do is compete for the ACC title and trust that it’ll show up in the postseason. However, I hope to see more ambitious scheduling going forward, allowing the program to flourish and moving it into the ranks of other elite teams at Notre Dame.

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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