Irish volleyball retools after disappointing year, seeks to return to NCAA tournament
Mannion McGinley | Friday, May 13, 2022
Notre Dame volleyball will head into the 2022 season entirely revamped. The Irish have a new coach and an almost entirely new roster after going 13-15 overall (10-8 ACC).
The Irish didn’t have a perfect season this year. It was the first time in six years they didn’t break .500 in their overall record and the first time in three years that the Irish weren’t in the NCAA tournament.
“Every year our goal is to make the NCAA tournament, and unfortunately, we didn’t make the tournament last year but we came up just short,” junior setter Nancy Kane said. “I think we were probably going to be like the next ACC team in. So of course, that was unfortunate.”
Still, the Irish made a name for themselves in the ACC, going 10-8, and the five seniors on the team made their presence known. That group was led by outside hitter Charley Niego and setter Zoe Nunez, who rarely left the court, playing in a majority of sets.
The Irish had some significant wins throughout the year, including taking down No. 18 Georgia Tech in Atlanta. They went on to sweep in the rest of their ACC wins and three of their eight conference losses came from 2-3 decisions. Two of their closest losses on the season came against No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Pittsburgh as well.
Despite the chips falling the wrong way on the scoreboard, the Irish found success individually. Niego, Nunez and junior outside hitter Caroline Meuth played 90, 102 and 91 sets each. The trio was only outplayed by sophomore libero Hattie Monson, sophomore middle blocker Lindsey Miller and sophomore outside hitter Aubrey Hamilton, who appeared in all 103 sets for the Irish. Meuth and Miller tallied 218 and 177 kills respectively over the 2021 season while Niego and Hamilton saw 272 and 316. Nunez broke 900 assists on the year to lead the team by a wide margin followed most closely by Monson with 89. Monson, however, led the dig stats with 407, followed by Niego and Nunez with 264 and 262. To cap off the season, Niego earned All-ACC honors, named to the second team.
The Irish were stellar off the court too. Hamilton, Miller, Monson, Niego and Nunez each earned ACC All-Academic Team Honors.
Over the off-season though, the Irish will see a change in the lineup. Of those reliable names, only Monson will be returning. And, with a total of nine players leaving, the Irish have to practically start from scratch.
The players that are staying, though, are fired up, Kane said.
“[Not making the NCAA Tournament] definitely fueled our motivation for this year,” she said. “You can tell in the gym right now, with the seven girls, we do have everybody super motivated and the energy is awesome. We’re just using all that energy to drive us to compete really hard at the high level for next year and really focused on that goal of getting back to the NCAA tournament like we have in the past.”
The only two seniors returning, Kane and libero Kiara Schmidt, have begun to make an appearance on the court. Kane played in 44 sets with 14 aces and 17 digs. Schmidt played in 86 sets with 10 aces and 109 digs. Turning to the future though, the duo has taken up creating a whole new culture for the Irish.
“We’ve had a lot of different senior classes to look up to over the years and they’ve all been such great role models for us,” Kane said. “Using those different groups as role models to just form what we kind of want our class to look like. We definitely want to establish a good culture dynamic on our team. Right from the start. We’re gonna have a bunch of new girls coming in. We only have seven right now and we’re gonna then jump to having 16 girls. So just establishing a good culture for them to come into it, making it a fun year overall for everyone.”
Kane and Schmidt won’t be alone in establishing the new culture though. Notre Dame Volleyball also has a brand new coaching staff for the 2022 season. Head coach Salima Rockwell joined the Irish in January and she added associate head coaches Sara Matthews and Craig Dyer before the month was out.
“Coach Rockwell, she’s awesome,” Kane said. “She’s just been amazing. Right from the start. She came in with such a positive energy and has really worked so hard to bring everything that she knows about volleyball … She’s really taught us so much already in such a short time that we’ve known her and I’m really excited for everything else that she could teach us. We’ve already seen success on the court. I know that through her coaching that we’re gonna get so much better. We’re just so excited to have her and we’re really fortunate that [we were] able to bring in such a high-level coach. And all of our coaches as well, we’re really excited to have them on board. It’s been really great. The energy in the gyms that they brought has been really awesome.”
Since Rockwell took over the Irish have made moves towards refilling their lineup. Graduate transfer Kaylyn Winkler will join the Irish from SMU. As for the recruiting class, Avery Ross chose Notre Dame in April. The Indiana-native earned second-team All-State honors and joins the five who selected Norte Dame in November’s early signing period.
Kane says she’s ready to give this year her all for both the team and for herself. She also said expects the rest of the squad will be too.
“We‘re just gonna focus on getting better every single day, a little bit at a time and we’re already doing that, right now. We’re putting in a lot of work in the weight room, on the court as well. And you can see that we’re already making a lot of progress. Our goals for next year are just to get better and then also hopefully, win the ACC and then make a deep run in the tournament for the NCAA.”