Irish set for tough conference games
Hayden Adams | Friday, November 2, 2018
Following a successful outing last weekend, Notre Dame prepares for two more matches during its five-game homestand. The Irish are set to face Florida State on Friday at 7 p.m. followed by Miami (Fla.) on Sunday at noon.
The Seminoles (14-8, 10-2 ACC) and Hurricanes (13-6, 9-3 ACC) are currently third and fourth in the conference, respectively, and this weekend could prove pivotal for the Irish (14-8, 8-4 ACC), who are attempting to qualify for the postseason. Both Florida State and Miami have difficult remaining schedules filled with multiple road games against tough opponents. Notre Dame is in a similar scenario, but with a strong performance this weekend, the pieces could fall into place for the currently sixth-place Irish to move up the conference standings.
When asked about the difficult remaining schedule and the temptation to look forward to the postseason, Irish head coach Mike Johnson said he welcomes the challenge.
“Sounds to me like a great opportunity,” he said. “I think we have a chance over the next six games to earn the postseason.”
Johnson has confidence that his team is ready for the tough test remaining, and credits their preparedness to hard work in weekly practices.
“I think our team is beginning to understand the correlation between how we prepare during the week and how we play on game day,” he said of their preparation.
Combine Notre Dame’s short-term adaptability with the dividends that are paying off from earlier-season work, and the Irish might be primed for a strong finish to the season. The Irish have won four of their last six games, with the two losses coming to No. 10 Pittsburgh and No. 24 Louisville, the latter of which went to five sets.
“We’re not the same team we were a month ago, we’ve improved rapidly,” Johnson said. “So have our opponents. If we play well, we’ll get there.”
Florida State junior outside hitter Payton Caffrey leads the Seminoles in kills and service aces. She heads up a balanced Seminole offense that features four players totaling over 100 blocks on the year and three players having over 100 assists. Miami also boasts four players with triple-digits in kills, led by redshirt sophomore Elizaveta Lukianova.
Both opponents have strong offenses, but Notre Dame’s strength all season has been its defense. The Irish lead the ACC in opponent hitting percentage and digs, and are second in total blocks. The Seminoles and Hurricanes have strong hitters, but the Irish defense will be tough to beat with senior middle blocker Meg Morningstar on the net and senior libero Ryann DeJarld in the back. Johnson said defense is something he “absolutely” stresses.
“It’s something that we work on regularly in practice,” he said. “It starts with a mentality and a belief in our abilities to defend.”
That mindset is certainly not lacking for the Irish, who used it to their advantage in their most recent games against Boston College and Syracuse. Johnson said the team’s attitude could best be summarized in one word: persistence.
“We have an aggressive mentality, and we’re gonna go for it,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t [always] work in your favor, [but] our response is that we’re gonna keep going for it. The thing I appreciated was even when we had a big lead … we kept going for it. [We need to keep] developing the consistency to make plays. We’ve got some great opportunities ahead, and we’re excited for them. Bring ‘em on.”