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Irish end first year of Rockwell Era with win

While year one of the Salima Rockwell era hit some bumps along the road, the Notre Dame volleyball squad finished on a high note Friday. They took down Virginia Tech in four sets to finish their season at 10-18 overall and 5-13 in ACC play. The Irish won the first two sets with relative ease, 25-14 and 25-20. After a tight third-set loss, Notre Dame rebounded to win the final set 25-22, clinching their 10th win of the season. 

The win ended a nine-game skid and avoided a last-place finish in the conference. Freshman outside hitter Lucy Trump dominated with 16 kills and a strong .312 hitting percentage. She also notched five service aces. Graduate student middle blocker Kaylyn Winkler added 13 kills and a .400 hitting percentage. Junior libero Hattie Monson and sophomore setter Phyona Schrader tied for the team lead with 18 digs apiece, and Schrader added 42 assists and a pair of aces. 

The Irish rarely missed in the first set, racking up 14 kills to just one attacking error. They never trailed in the set, with the last tie being at 5-5. Then, junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff delivered a kill off of a Schrader set. Tarnoff followed the kill with a service ace, sparking a 5-0 run to attain a 10-5 advantage. She and Trump led the team with four first-set kills. Sophomore outside hitter Paris Thompson and Tarnoff later notched consecutive kills to kick off a 9-1 run, a stretch including two service aces from senior libero Nancy Kane. Winkler punched home the winning point with an authoritative kill to take the 25-14 victory. 

Notre Dame led wire-to-wire in the second set, trailing early at 1-0 and 2-1 before seizing the advantage. A 6-1 run, keyed by two Schrader kills, broke open a 3-3 tie. The Irish stretched the lead to as large as 14-7, but the Hokies didn’t go away. They clawed back within two at 17-15, then got as close as a point at 20-19. Winkler stepped up in a big way when she teamed up with freshman outside hitter Avery Ross for a block, then delivered a kill and block of her own. That set the stage for Thompson to put away the set with a kill. Winkler, Trump and Thompson notched three kills each in the set. 

Virginia Tech stayed alive in the third set and led comfortably most of the way. A late Irish surge put the result in doubt briefly, but the Hokies prevailed. Down 23-16, Notre Dame reeled off seven straight points to knot the score. Three Winkler kills sparked the rally, but the Hokies regrouped and claimed the final two points for a 25-23 lead. 

The Hokies led throughout the fourth set, seeking to push the season finale to a fifth and decisive set. An Irish service error brought the score to 19-15. But, Ross promptly smashed home two kills, and Winkler added one of her own. After a Virginia Tech point broke up the run, the Irish added five more points. Schrader notched a kill, and a pair of Hokie attack errors gave Notre Dame the lead. Trump extended the lead with two kills, pushing the score to 23-20. A pair of Winkler kills allowed the Irish to hold serve and secure the victory, 25-22. 

While the Irish took a slight step back in the standings, the dip was relatively expected after the Irish lost a majority of their lineup to graduation or transfer last season. This year, the main Irish rotation of contributors included a host of newer or younger players. Of 11 players that played at least 50 sets this season for the Irish, there were four freshmen, two sophomores and a graduate transfer in Winkler. Besides Winkler, the Irish only have one other major senior contributor, so they’ll return plenty of production and look to step back into the ACC and national picture in 2023.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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