Freshmen lift Notre Dame in weekend sweep
Hayden Adams | Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Notre Dame went undefeated over the weekend as they faced off against Boston College and Syracuse at the Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (14-8, 8-4 ACC) swept the Orange (13-7, 9-3 ACC) Friday night thanks to big play from freshmen outside hitter Charley Niego and right-side hitter Sydney Bent. Niego led the way with 15 kills and Bent followed closely with 13 kills while chipping in three service aces and five blocks. Following up that performance, the duo again played a pivotal role against Boston College (13-11, 3-9 ACC), as Bent had eight blocks and led the team with 16 kills, while Niego contributed 10 kills, 13 digs and a season-high four blocks.
The Irish fell behind to Syracuse early in the first set but rallied thanks to key plays from Bent and Junior outside hitter Jemma Yeadon. The Irish held the lead for the majority of the second set, and in a neck-and-neck third set Niego delivered for the Irish with timely kills.
Notre Dame opened with an early lead against Boston College, but the Eagles gained control of the set and won comfortably. The Irish responded with an impressive performance in the second set, beating the competition 25-8. From then on, Notre Dame would gain control of the sets early and maintain the momentum, behind six kills from Bent in the final set, winning 3-1.
Not to be outdone, freshman setter Zoe Nunez was a model of consistency with 41 and 38 assists versus the Orange and the Eagles, respectively. Of the contributions from his star freshmen, head coach Mike Johnson said that this is nothing new.
“The freshmen have been stepping up all year. We’ve relied on those three… for a majority of the season. So, them stepping up is not new, nor is it unexpected,” he said. “Each of them, they want to win, they want to be great, and they want to help this team become great.”
Johnson was not only confident in his underclassmen, but in the whole team, thanks to their preparation for the weekend.
“What I liked more than anything else, I really liked our week of practice,” he said. “I thought we prepared for the things we were gonna see in the match … in our ability to improve as volleyball players. And so, this weekend was a product of our preparation.”
One key aspect of their practice has been their mental approach to the games, Johnson said.
“I think the thing that’s really starting to take hold has been our mentality,” he said. “And, we have an aggressive mentality … in the Syracuse match, we called our first timeout down 9-4. They were handling us, and then we responded. And then Boston College, they beat us in that first set, and then we responded.”
The other large part of Notre Dame’s practices has been their defense, which has been attributable to much of their success, not just this weekend, but throughout the entire season.
“I think it’s one of the things we pride ourselves on, is our ability to defend,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he believes their defensive prowess is a trademark of the program, so much so that it is a quasi-recruiting pitch.
“If you come to Notre Dame, be prepared to defend,” he said.
The Irish currently lead the ACC in opponent hitting percentage at .156. Syracuse was held to .150 hitting, including exactly .000 hitting in the second set, down from their season average of .271. Boston College experienced similar woes as the Eagles posted sub-zero hitting percentages in two of the final three sets for a cumulative .033 effort.
“Defense really is a package, and it’s a system in which everybody has to work together to make it go,” Johnson said. “Offense can be a little different and can operate off of individual parts, but for the defense to work … everyone [must be] working in unison.”
Johnson does however recognize his players’ success and progress throughout the season.
“Certainly within that [system, senior libero Ryann Dejarld] has been tremendous for us. I actually thought she maybe had the best week of practice of anyone,” he said.
Alongside Dejarld in anchoring the defense is senior middle blocker Meg Morningstar. Morningstar posted five blocks against the Orange and nine against the Eagles, while Dejarld had 15 and 26 digs, respectively. Morningstar was in the top ten in the ACC last season in blocks, and Dejarld was first in digs last year and is the all-time leader in that category at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame will lean on their defense as they finish out the remaining six games on their schedule, and trust that their continued preparation leads to further success, whatever challenges they face.