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Irish volleyball look to tame Wolfpack in second meeting

After a four-game homestand at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame volleyball is hitting the road once again on Saturday. The Irish will take a one-game excursion to Raleigh to face NC State for the second time in 13 days. Though Notre Dame has hosted all four North Carolina-based ACC schools, they have yet to visit the Tar Heel State. The Wolfpack, led by third-year head coach Luka Slabe, are 13-13 overall and 7-8 in ACC play. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is 9-16 overall and 4-11 within the conference under first-year head coach Salima Rockwell.

Last chance for a turnaround

Both teams have taken a tumble since the middle of October. Notre Dame’s losing streak has ballooned to seven games after a 4-4 start to conference action. The Irish have taken the first set just once during the skid. With No. 4 Louisville awaiting on Thanksgiving Eve, they could certainly use a jumpstart on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, NC State has dropped six out of eight games. The Wolfpack hit below .200 in all six losses and delivered less than 35 kills twice during the stretch. On Sunday, the Wolfpack fell 3-1 at Clemson after blanking the Tigers just two weeks prior. NC State outhit them .189 to .174 but were overtaken in the game’s biggest moments. Clemson secured both the first and last sets by three points or less. The Wolfpack must return to the win column to uphold a tie for sixth in the ACC. Three teams are within half a game of them in the standings.

Irish hope to “Trump” growing pains

With a freshman-heavy bunch, the Irish have had plenty to iron out since August. On a per set basis, Notre Dame bottoms out the ACC in points, kills and assists. However, Notre Dame is among the conference’s best defensive teams with 14.44 digs per set. Junior libero Hattie Monson leads the group with 4.19 digs per set and sits at fourth in the ACC. The ultra-versatile sophomore setter Phyona Schrader has 3.08 to go with a team-high 7.94 assists per set. 

Notre Dame’s strongest development of late has been freshman outside hitter Lucy Trump. The Kentucky native has expanded her game significantly, and it is paying off down the stretch. She totaled four kill-dig double-doubles in the season’s first 19 games. In the last four games, she has delivered three such performances. Trump’s outing in last Friday’s loss to Florida State was easily her best in ACC play. She collected 17 kills at a .279 hitting percentage to accompany 15 digs. The freshman leads the Irish in kills (2.71), points (257), and is third in digs (1.95).

Wolfpack howling on the defensive end

NC State occupies the middle of the ACC pack in most statistical categories. They populate the bottom two with Notre Dame for both hitting percentage and service aces. However, the Wolfpack lead the conference in digs (15.56) and are second in blocks (2.63). With both teams playing such consistent defense, offensive mistakes must be avoided and capitalization on overplays will be key. Sophomore outside hitter Madison Williams stepped up offensively against Clemson, racking a career-high 17 kills.

The Wolfpack are one of three ACC teams with multiple players among the top ten in blocks. The other two squads, Louisville and Pittsburgh, are nationally ranked. Junior middle blocker Riley Shaak is fourth in the conference with 1.24 denials per set. She has also executed 14 digs over her last two games to expand her defensive prowess. Sophomore middle blocker Jada Allen is seventh with 1.13 rejections per set. She notched eight kills on Sunday — her most since conference play began.

Notre Dame can run with the Pack, but must clean up

NC State defeated Notre Dame 3-1 back on Nov. 6, but the Irish were not entirely outplayed. They blocked the Wolfpack 12 times to win set two and keep sets one and four tight. However, NC State was generally better in the attack, outhitting ND .234 to .180. Notre Dame committed six reception errors, while the Wolfpack made only one. 

Lucy Trump was everywhere for the Irish, pounding 13 kills to go with 12 digs and 8 blocks. Phyona Schrader was her usual self as well, racking up 32 assists along with 10 digs and seven kills. On the NC State end, sophomore outside hitter Martyna Leoniak earned an impressive double-double (15 kills, 18 digs). Sophomore opposite hitter Amanda Rice and graduate student opposite hitter Vanja Bukilic each contributed 14 kills. Senior setter Kristen McDaniel and junior setter Naomi Cabello also teamed up for 51 assists.

Saturday’s first serve will fly at 5 p.m. on ACC Network Extra. This will be the antepenultimate match for both teams. Notre Dame will return home on Wednesday to host Louisville before a final road tilt at Virginia Tech. NC State will take on Virginia and Syracuse to close out the regular season.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu.

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