Irish set for NCAA tournament
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, December 5, 2019
The No. 32 Notre Dame volleyball squad has qualified for the 2019 Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship for the 20th time in program’s history. The Irish (19-9, 12-6 ACC) will be traveling to Madison, Wisconsin on Friday to square off against No. 27 UCLA in the first round of the tournament.
Many Irish players have contributed to the team’s noteworthy season. Sophomore outside hitter Charley Niego and sophomore setter Zoe Nunez earned first team All-ACC accolades. But the Bruins (18-11, 13-7 Pac-12) also have a star-studded roster with junior outside hitter Mac May, who was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year — the fifth Bruin ever to be named conference Player of the Year, the last of which came 25 years ago in 1994 when Annett Buckner won the award. May is ranked ninth in the country in points-per-set with 5.42 and 14th in kills-per-set with 4.77.
Notre Dame and UCLA have faced off against each other just three times and UCLA was victorious each of those times, two of which took place at neutral sites. The last matchup came back in 2012 when the top-ranked Bruins defeated the Irish in four sets at the U.S. Bank/Arby’s Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Dwelling on the early ’90s, the Irish recorded their best finish of all time in the tournament with a trip to the quarterfinals in 1993, the year before Buckner would take the Pac-12 by storm. However, it has not necessarily been smooth sailing for the Irish since their run to the quarterfinals in 1993. The last time the Irish made a run in the tournament was in 2005 when they defeated Dayton and Northwestern to advance to the Round of 16. Their last game in the tournament was in 2017 when Western Kentucky took them out in three sets in the first round. The Irish have a record of 11-8 in the first round of the tournament.
If the Irish do end up advancing to the second round of the tournament, they will likely face off against a strong No. 4-opponent in Wisconsin. The Badgers are 22-6 on the season and 18-2 in the Big Ten. The only unranked opponent they have fallen to this year was Ohio State, who defeated the Badgers in four sets. Other than that loss, the Badgers have only fallen on five other occasions to top-ranked teams. The Badgers will be coming into the tournament with a hot hand after a sweeping win over Rutgers to clench their sixth Big Ten Tournament Championship in program history, their first since 2014. When the Badgers get to the postseason they tend to play their best volleyball, having qualified for the tournament on 22 other occasions including the last seven years. They are 46-22 in the tournament and have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 the past six years in a row.
The Irish will be faced with a tough challenge in the tournament, but should be able to put together a good run behind the leadership of Niego and Nunez along with other standout players sophomore right side hitter Sydney Bent and freshman outside hitter Caroline Meuth.
The first-round matchup against UCLA will take place on Friday at the UW Field House in Madison, Wisconsin and is set to start at 5:30 p.m.