Notre Dame splits weekend slate, sits 2nd in ACC
Observer Sports Staff | Tuesday, October 29, 2019
The Notre Dame volleyball team came out of the weekend 1-1 after dropping a game 3-0 to No. 2 Pittsburgh on Friday night and bouncing back with a 3-0 win over Virginia on Sunday. The Irish (15-5, 8-2 ACC) are heading into November in good position to make the postseason with several challenging but résumé-building road games left on tap.
On Friday, the Irish took on the highly-touted Panthers (21-1, 10-0) whose lone loss on the season came against No. 7 Penn State in five sets. Heading into the matchup with Notre Dame, Pittsburgh had dropped just one set in their past eight matches. That streak continued Friday, although the Irish battled hard throughout the contest.
Notre Dame’s young squad looked far from intimidated in the premier matchup as they rode an early surge to a 13-7 advantage. Freshman outside hitter Caroline Meuth and sophomore right side hitter Sydney Bent each racked up a trio of kills in the early spurt. Pitt would burn two timeouts trying to recover, but eventually, down 16-9, ripped off an 8-1 run to even the score at 17-17. From there, the Panthers played like the No. 2 team in the country with a series of impressive digs and powerful kills wearing the Irish down. Overall, Pitt ended on a 16-3 run to claim the first set 25-19.
The second set was a tight battle, with both teams producing small spurts of dominance, but never enough to pull away. After Pitt jumped to a 9-5 advantage, Meuth blasted three more kills to help rally the Irish all the way back to a 14-13 lead. The tussle continued as the two squads traded points, eventually arriving at an 18-18 deadlock. Unfortunately for the Irish, another close game seemed to energize the Panthers, who broke off a deadly 5-0 run that put the hosts on the brink. Notre Dame would rally to 23-21 before dropping two straight points and falling into an 0-2 hole.
The Irish again kept the third set close, but ultimately one last Pitt burst served as the proverbial dagger, sending the Irish to their second conference defeat in three games. After an early tug-of-war battle saw the Irish emerge with a 15-14 advantage, spurred by three kills from Bent, the Panthers would earn seven of the next eight points to take the lead for good. Again, the Irish threatened the Panthers with a late rally, closing the margin to 23-22, but Pitt did just enough to escape with a 25-23 victory and the sweep. Bent had 12 kills, and Meuth had 16, while sophomore setter Zoe Nunez totaled 26 assists and 19 dig. Junior libero Madison Cruzado added 11 digs in an impressive yet fruitless performance for the Irish.
After a tough matchup against the Panthers, the Irish got an easier task Sunday, hosting the Virginia Cavaliers (9-14, 1-9 ACC). The Cavaliers entered the match 1-8 in conference play and 0-7 in true road games. After a test in the first set, the Irish largely dominated en route to a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-18, 25-10).
The Cavaliers played a scrappy first set, not giving the Irish any easy points, as Notre Dame — possibly suffering from the after-effects of a tough loss on Friday — could not seize control and ultimately found themselves locked in a 21-21 tie. However, sophomore middle blocker Lauren Wenzel sparked the Irish with a booming kill, and classmate and outside hitter Charley Niego duplicated the feat for a 23-21 advantage. Virginia called timeout but to no avail as Bent ended the set with consecutive kills.
It was the only set the Irish were seriously challenged in. Despite being tied 18-18 in the second set, the Irish led virtually the whole way. Virginia refused to go quietly, but the Irish finally put them away as Wenzel came up with a block, and then a Virginia attack error spurred the Irish onto a set-ending 7-0 run.
Up 2-0 in the match, the Irish saved their best for last, as they overwhelmed the overmatched Cavaliers in the third set. Serving to start the set, Wenzel produced an ace and then another kill as the Irish took the first five points and 10 of the first 11. Virginia got as close at 10-6 before the Irish claimed seven of the next eight points and a 17-7 lead. The Cavaliers could not do anything against Notre Dame’s smothering defense and aggressive offense as they left Purcell Pavilion, putting up just 10 points in the final set. Niego ended the match with an authoritative kill to end the two-game homestand on a high note.
Notre Dame is currently tied for second in the ACC and embarks on a four-game road trip, starting with a tilt against Syracuse in New York on Friday at 7 p.m..