Notre Dame aims for progress in ACC play
Hayden Adams | Friday, September 28, 2018
That was the word head coach Mike Johnson used to describe what Notre Dame has concentrated on this past week of practice.
“Consistency is a function of being focused,” Johnson said.“Extending our focus and being disciplined.”
Consistency has been an issue for the Irish (7-5, 1-1 ACC) this season. They’ve played really well at times, as all of their wins this season have been sweeps of their opponents. Of the five losses suffered, Notre Dame has a combined five set wins. As a result, there has been emphasis on fundamentals in practice, according to Johnson.
“In terms of being in the right place at the right time, moving the right way … we’ve put a lot of energy into that,” he said. “Where to stand and where to be or where to go or how to respond to situations.”
As for the correlation between sweeps and wins, Coach Johnson doesn’t read much into it.
“I think you’re gonna win matches a lot of ways. So, certainly [it’s] much nicer winning in three [sets] than in four or in five, but a win is a win.”
Notre Dame comes off a North Carolina trip this past weekend, defeating North Carolina and losing in four sets to North Carolina State. Both games were winnable for the Irish, as the Tar Heels (5-7, 1-2 ACC) rebounded from their loss and defeated the Wolfpack (7-6, 1-2 ACC) 3-1 Wednesday night.
“I thought we played fairly well Friday night against a good Carolina team,” Johnson said. “We didn’t play quite as well on Sunday, against a good NC State team.”
However, coach Johnson has faith in his team’s ability to progress, thanks in large part to the seniors on the roster. Senior libero Ryann DeJarld recorded her 200th dig of the season against UNC, and is currently the school’s all-time leader in that statistic.
“A lot of attention goes to Ryann DeJarld and [senior middle blocker] Meg Morningstar because they’ve been on the floor a lot more.”
Despite the focus on his star seniors, Johnson also has high praise for the unsung leadership on the team.
“I’m really fired up for all of our seniors, not just the ones that are playing,” Johnson said. “The young guys are talented, but they have much to learn. And a lot of lessons to learn that the older players have already learned.”
“…Even [lessons] about life, like how to handle getting a tutor and all those sorts of things. Those lessons are coming from all the upperclassmen, and not just the ones that are playing. So I’m thankful for each of them, both the ones that are contributing on the court as well as … in the practice gym and contributing in the locker room.”
This weekend, the team travels to face Clemson Friday night, followed by Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Tigers (9-6, 0-2 ACC) boasts strong hitters, three of whom all total more individual kills than Notre Dame’s leader, Jemma Yeadon. Georgia Tech (11-4, 0-2) similarly has a strong offense this season. Despite the strength of their opponents, coach Johnson is focused more on his own team’s development.
“The focus is really on us, how we perform,” Johnson said. “And we can do some things to kinda try and slow those guys down, but they’re good players … [the] greater part of the preparation is just on expanding our own abilities and what we do.”
The Yellow Jackets may be Notre Dame’s toughest test yet, as they are undefeated at home this season over 10 games. However, the environment could be of great benefit to the team’s development, according to Johnson.
“It’s a very loud gym. The fans are exceptionally loud,” Johnson said. “And so that can challenge you to maintain your focus. And we say, ‘we need the ability and toughness … to play well in all conditions.’ And so that’s been an emphasis for the week.”
It is an especially good opportunity for Notre Dame’s youth to get experience in the conference setting. That youth has been important for Notre Dame’s success so far this season, most notably freshman setter Zoe Nunez, who posted a career high with 48 assists versus NC State. Freshmen right side hitter Sydney Bent and outside hitter Charley Niego have also played major roles recently. Johnson commented on the role of recruiting.
“If nothing else … we’ve identified some kids who really care, and they want to be great, and there’s maybe nothing more important than that … We’re recruiting to the University of Notre Dame and it’s just a special university and a special place … recruiting kids who are talented, who do well academically, and who represent the University well, it’s really just what we should do, it’s our job.”
Strong academics, selflessness, a work ethic and desire to achieve their best. Not only do these qualities exemplify what is great about Notre Dame, Johnson said, but the first-year coach believes they’ll always give his team a chance. The Irish will face the Tigers at 7 p.m. on Friday and the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“If we play well, I like our chances.”