Irish blow 2-0 lead, fall to Cards in five sets
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, October 17, 2019
The Notre Dame volleyball team fell in unfortunate fashion to No. 23 Louisville on Wednesday night, losing a 3-2 decision after taking a 2-0 lead after the first two sets. The Irish (13-4, 6-1 ACC) were without sophomore right-side hitter Sydney Bent, who was second on the team in kills going into the game with 216, one behind sophomore outside hitter Charley Niego who had 217 before the contest.
The loss is especially hard to swallow considering the Irish were off to the best conference start in school history. Also, a victory could have catapulted the Irish into the top-25 national rankings, seeing as they were already on the cusp on being ranked, having received top-25 votes.
The Irish were never able to distance themselves from the Cardinals (14-3, 7-0), but managed to take an early lead. In the first set, the Irish gained an 8-5 lead that the Cardinals managed to erase. The Irish then grabbed a 19-14 lead but the Cardinals cut that to a two-point margin. The Cardinals once again would not go away once Notre Dame went up 21-17, cutting the score to 21-20. However, a three-kill burst by Niego helped the Irish pull away and take the first set 25-22.
The second set saw the Irish take more control of the contest, establishing a 13-8 lead. After the Cardinals cut that to 14-12, the Irish responded with their defense, blocking two Louisville attacks to go up 20-16 before finishing the stanza out with a 25-22 win, putting Notre Dame within one set of victory over a top-25 team.
However, the absence of Bent caught up with Notre Dame, as the Cardinals found a second win and stole the momentum right out from under the Irish. The Cardinals took a 7-3 lead to force a Notre Dame timeout, but kept on the pressure with a 4-0 run to go up 12-4 and force another Irish timeout. Notre Dame mustered a late-set 6-0 run, but it wasn’t enough as the Cardinals took the set 25-17.
With momentum on their side, Louisville started to surge and the Irish were not able to counter. Louisville again jumped out to a big lead in the fourth set, going up 12-5. The teams traded runs with the Cardinals establishing a 19-11 advantage. Notre Dame fought valiantly to come back and win the set, but the Cardinals held on to the lead and took the set 25-22, evening the score at two sets apiece.
In the decisive fifth set, one team only needed to reach 15 points to claim victory. Notre Dame was clearly worn out by that point as they gave up a .500 hitting percentage and recorded four errors in the period while Louisville gave up a .125 hitting percentage and recorded no errors. Niego did her best to keep her team afloat, recording four kills in the period, but it wasn’t enough to counter the Cardinals attack as the visitors came back from the brink of defeat to steal the 3-2 win from the Irish.
Louisville overwhelmed the Irish with their depth as the match went on. Six different Notre Dame players recorded a kill, while nine different Cardinals recorded a kill. Despite the loss, the Irish remained strong in Bent’s absence. They finished with seven service errors, two fewer than the Cardinals, and recorded 82 digs on the night to the Cardinals’ 72. That allowed them to hold Louisville to a .219 hitting percentage, down from their season average of .229, even while allowing the .500 hitting percentage outlier from the final period.
Niego did it all for the Irish, finishing the night second in kills and digs with 19 of each. Junior libero Madison Cruzado recorded a career-high 27 digs on the night while freshman outside hitter Caroline Meuth recorded 12 digs and a team-high 20 kills. Meuth, and junior middle blocker Hannah Thompson both recorded three blocks apiece. Sophomore setter Zoe Nunez posted a season-high 54 assists in the effort.
The Irish return to action Friday at 6 p.m. against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.