Irish fall to UCLA in return to NCAA Tournament
Hayden Adams | Tuesday, December 10, 2019
The Notre Dame women’s volleyball team saw their season come to an end Friday night in Madison, Wisconsin, after falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the UCLA Bruins.
The Irish (19-10, 12-6 ACC) finished fifth in the ACC this year and made their return to the postseason after making the tournament in 2017, their first berth at the time since 2012, and missing the postseason last season with a 16-12, 10-8 ACC record. The Bruins (19-11, 13-7 Pac-12) finished in fourth place in the Pac-12.
The Bruins controlled the contest from the outset, building a 12-7 lead in the first set to force a Notre Dame timeout. This did little to stall UCLA’s momentum, however, as the Bruins gained an 18-11 lead and snuffed out an Irish run to take the first set 25-16.
In the second set, the Irish began to assert themselves. A kill by sophomore right-side hitter Sydney Bent helped Notre Dame establish an early 4-1 lead, but UCLA quickly rallied to knot the score at 5-5.
The set remained competitive as the teams battled to another draw at 12-12. They then traded one-point leads until a 5-0 run broke the set open to give UCLA a 19-15 advantage, which they carried to a 25-19 match win, giving them a commanding 2-0 lead in the contest and putting the Irish on the brink of elimination.
The third set began as competitively as the second set with the teams reaching a tie at 9-9. Though the Bruins would go up 13-10, Notre Dame would not go quietly; freshman and sophomore outside hitters Caroline Meuth and Charley Niego recording consecutive kills to cut the margin to 16-14 in favor of UCLA.
The Bruins never broke away as they did in the previous two sets, but they still managed a 5-3 run to gain a 21-17 advantage. They would hold on for a 25-20 set win to close out the match with a clean sweep.
UCLA outplayed the Irish in the box score, besting them 10-3 in blocks, 53-46 in digs and 47-32 in both kills and assists. For Notre Dame, Meuth was the only player to record double-digit kills with 11, while Niego and Bent recorded nine and six, respectively. Sophomore setter Zoe Nunez posted 29 assists and junior libero Madison Cruzado posted 18 digs, while Niego contributed 13 digs of her own.
Irish head coach Mike Johnson said his team has room to grow from this game.
“I believe there’s a very bright future ahead for this program,” Johnson said. “The truth is, this is a very young team and it’s new territory for a lot of us. That’s something we’re going to learn from and we’re going to be better from it in the future. So I’m proud of our kids, we did a lot of good things this season. I hope our seniors know just how thankful we are for them and I hope they know they’re always a part of this team and a part of this program. Of course I wish we had played better but I still believe this does not define us and it does not define our program moving forward.”
The game against UCLA represented the 20th NCAA tournament berth for Notre Dame in program history.