Irish fall to No. 10 Ducks in round of 32
Grant DelVecchio | Monday, April 19, 2021
The curtain closed on Notre Dame volleyball’s 2020-2021 season Thursday night in Omaha, as the No. 22 ranked Irish lost in straight sets in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament (17-25, 22-25, 13-25) to No. 10 Oregon.
Notre Dame completes the never-before combined fall-and-spring season with an overall record of 15-4. The trip to Omaha marked the program’s twenty-first trip to the NCAA tournament overall, and third in the past four seasons. It was the twelfth time the team advanced to the Round of 32.
The Irish finished 13-3 in the ACC, missing out on the regular-season conference championship by one game to Louisville (who they beat in the two team’s lone matchup of the season). The second-place finish in the conference is Notre Dame’s best since joining the ACC in 2013.
After the loss to Oregon, Irish head coach Mike Johnson exuded praise for his squad.
“I give our kids credit. I thought we competed hard … It’s not how we wanted it to end of course, but I can’t say enough about our players, about the people that they are, about the sacrifices they’ve made. I just have the greatest love and appreciation for them.”
Freshman Aubrey Hamilton and junior Charley Niego paced the Irish offensively with nine and eight kills, respectively. Niego also tied for a team-high 12 digs with junior setter Zoe Nunez.
Defensively, senior Hannah Thompson put up four blocks herself, which tied for the total number of blocks Oregon had as a team. Thompson and fellow senior Monroe Olsen are the two players graduating off Notre Dame’s roster.
“They entered this team at a time when we weren’t in the second round of the tournament, and to their credit, it has never come easy to them but they’ve always worked. They’ve grown as people, they’ve grown as players and they’re gonna leave here as graduates of the University of Notre Dame,” Johnson remarked.
“I know there are greater days ahead for this program and when they come, I know that Monroe and Hannah are a part of it.”
Notre Dame advanced to the Round of 32 after pulling out a four-set victory over Army, a game in which the Irish were firing on all cylinders.
The team put up a season-high 10 service aces, three of which came via serves from Nunez, who also racked up 30 assists and 12 digs. Niego’s had a team-high 12 kills and added 11 digs to mark her ninth double-double of the season. Out of 11 spring matches, Niego collected eight double-doubles.
Defensively, Notre Dame was stellar, limiting Army to a paltry .006 hitting percentage for the match. Thompson and junior Lauren Wenzel each put up eight blocks, and sophomore Caroline Meuth added five of her own as well.
The 10 service aces and 17 total blocks were good enough for second and third-most, respectively, in the NCAA tournament in program history.
After Army won five of the final six points of the first set to win the set 25-23, Notre Dame locked in and handily took the following three for the victory.
“I thought early on we didn’t quite play to the standards and the level that we’re capable of, but I also thought that this team has really had kind of an identity that we can find a way. I thought that when it got tough, we found a way, we locked in, and we really started to play with joy and look like we were having fun out there,” Johnson noted after the first-round game.
Looking ahead, Johnson is excited about the future and the growth to come.
“I think we can play better. I think there’s more out there for us,” he said. “This was a team that had three freshmen on the floor all year, we lose two really great seniors, but for me, I’m always motivated … For us, we’re going to learn from this. We’re going to improve. We’re going to be back and we’re going to be better.”