Irish prepare for neutral site games
Hayden Adams | Friday, September 13, 2019
Notre Dame volleyball is set to take on three opponents in two days with matchups against Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Ball State all taking place in Highland Heights, Kentucky. The Irish (4-1) are coming in off a 3-2 victory over No. 23 Purdue, avenging their loss to the Boilermakers last season. While it was certainly a big win for the Irish, head coach Mike Johnson is wary of his team becoming complacent.
“I think this team, we can respond to adversity and continue to work and continue to push ourselves to be better. We’re gonna have to do that now responding to success,” Johnson said. “And, you know, it’s just human nature sometimes after a big win — some people let up, and we always say after a big win that we have to protect that win with how we play in this next match. So, the upcoming week of training is crucial. We have a lot of work to do. There’s still many things we need to iron out and must improve at, and if we approach it right we will.”
The Irish will especially have to be prepared for Cincinnati. The Bearcats (4-2) are ranked No. 24 according to the NCAA women’s volleyball RPI and received top-25 votes in the AVCA coaches poll. The Irish, by comparison, are ranked No. 59 by the RPI. Johnson had high praise for the Bearcats.
“I have tremendous respect for [Cincinnati],” he said. “They have a player on their team who started for the U.S. national team for the Olympic qualifier this summer. So, she was one of the 12 best players in the U.S. this summer, and she plays for Cincinnati. So, certainly those guys have some ability, and we’ll have to play well to beat them.”
That Olympian is redshirt senior right-side hitter Jordan Thompson. Standing at 6-foot-4, Thompson is an imposing player with stats to back it up. Thompson has 100 kills through 20 sets this season, followed by sophomore outside hitter Maria Mallon with 78 in 18 sets. For the Irish, sophomore right-side hitter Sydney Bent leads the team with 68 kills followed by sophomore outside hitter Charley Niego with 60, both in 21 sets played. Fortunately though, the Irish have been solid defensively this season, holding their opponents to a stellar .156 hit percentage.
The Bearcats will pose a challenge for the Irish — Johnson knows that his team can’t look past their other opponents.
“I like a lot of Cincinnati players, and in fact I like a lot of the Ball State players. I think they’re young and hungry,” Johnson said. “And I think Northern Kentucky’s got a veteran team and they’re very good.”
While the Irish will have a lot on their plate preparing for the Bearcats, the Norse (4-2) and the Cardinals (3-3), Johnson said his main focus is on his players and making sure they’re achieving the best they are capable of.
“You know more than anything, I concern myself more with how we prepare and how we play,” he said. “And so I don’t wanna say we’re not worried about them yet, but we’re really worried about ourselves getting better, ’cause there’s a lot for us to improve.”
All in all, Johnson is taking it one game at a time, and he wants them to come away from this three-game trip with valuable experience they can use for the rest of the season.
“One, it’s just gonna help with [the fact that] we have a lot of areas we have to improve in,” Johnson said of what this road trip will provide for his team. “… The second [thing] is, this is the first time we’ll be on the road this season, and it’s different on the road and it’s harder on the road. So, it’ll take a level of focus and preparation to be able to win. So, more than anything, I’m looking for us to play the game better than we played this past weekend.”
The Irish will tip off at 3 p.m. Friday against Cincinnati. They will then play a double header Saturday with games against Northern Kentucky and Ball State at noon and 5:30 p.m., respectively.