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ND Volleyball

Notre Dame tops two Power Five opponents, wins Irish Invitational

| Monday, September 11, 2023

Maria Gorecki
The Notre Dame volleyball team huddles during its game against Milwaukee on Aug. 28, 2022, at Purcell Pavilion.

After just missing out on a sweep at Villanova last weekend, Notre Dame volleyball won its first two home games of the season. The Irish took care of business at the Irish Invitation, taking down Illinois (3-0) on Thursday and Oklahoma (3-2) on Saturday. Junior outside hitter Sydney Palazzolo continued her eye-opening introduction to Notre Dame, garnering the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. Now 4-2, the Irish have started 2-0 at home for the first time since 2020.

Balanced effort leads Irish to sweep of Illinois

Notre Dame opened up the weekend with a dominant showing Thursday night. The Irish took care of Illinois in three sets, winning 25-21, 25-19 and 25-22. Palazzolo and freshman outside hitter Ava Lange combined for 27 kills, while senior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff contributed six blocks up front. Junior setter Phyona Schrader was active across the board, providing seven kills, five digs and five blocks. And Notre Dame’s All-Tournament players, graduate transfer setter Nicole Drewnick and senior libero Hattie Monson were their usual selves. Drewnick accumulated 36 assists, benefiting from Monson’s 17 digs.

Set one went back and forth with Illinois jumping out to a 6-3 lead. At that point, sophomore libero Cailey Dockery picked up consecutive service aces to pull the Irish ahead. Dockery would ultimately amass six digs as well in the first set. Later on, the Irish surged out to a 16-10 advantage before the Illini reeled them back in. Trailing 20-19, Notre Dame snatched six of the next seven points — all via kills — to take the set. Schrader provided the final blow on a set-up from Drewnick.

The Irish enjoyed a far more comfortable win in set two. Schrader put Notre Dame ahead 4-0 with two kills and a block and Illinois would never pull back within a point. In the middle part of the set, six consecutive Illini attack errors pushed their deficit to 13-6. But the visitors hung around, closing the gap to 18-16. Then, Palazzolo took over, delivering four of her nine second-set kills to wrap up the six-point victory. 

Thursday’s final set emerged as its most competitive. Neither team led by more than four points at any moment in the race to 25. Illinois star Raina Terry enjoyed her best set, racking up seven kills. But the Irish overcame her efforts, opening up a 16-13 advantage on consecutive Tarnoff aces. The Illini would level the score at 21, but Notre Dame drove home the dagger with a 4-1 run.  

Palazzolo duels with Oklahoma’s Shelton in dramatic Irish victory

In Saturday’s meeting with Oklahoma, the weekend’s most valuable player earned her hardware. Palazzolo amassed 25 kills at a .310 hitting percentage, countering Alexis Shelton’s 30 kills at a .362 clip. The epic duel encapsulated the intensity of the overall match, which lasted five sets. After two and a half hours, Notre Dame came out on top (27-29, 25-21, 14-25, 25-22, 18-16). Schrader and Lange each contributed 10 Irish kills, while Drewnick (45 assists) combined for nine blocks with Tarnoff.

As was the case Thursday, set one previewed the competitiveness of the final set. Notre Dame sped out of the gate, opening a 5-1 lead and holding it steady at 12-8. But the Sooners marched back in a hurry, embarking on a 13-4 run to snatch the upper hand. Both teams earned a pair of set-point opportunities but could not seal the deal. As a result, the set reached a 27-all deadlock. Then, after an Irish attack error, Shelton’s sixth kill of the set pushed Oklahoma to the finish line.

Palazzolo and the Irish swung right back in the second set. The junior provided a game-high nine kills in the set and her teammates backed her up with eight more. Neither team led by more than two through the first 22 points, but a 4-0 Irish run changed the picture. Oklahoma drew back within a pair at 22-20 and 23-21, but Notre Dame finished the job on a Schrader kill.

The third set was one to forget for the Irish. Oklahoma enjoyed a .409 hitting percentage to Notre Dame’s -.091, cruising to an 11-point set win. Once again, Shelton set the pace with six kills. Daleigh Ellison poured gas on the Sooner fire with three service aces. And after a one-block second set, the Irish made no rejections in the disappointing third.

Oklahoma initially extended its momentum into set four, but Notre Dame quelled the tide in plenty of time to stay alive. At 11-7, the Irish rattled off six consecutive points, claiming a two-point lead. The Sooners would again stick around, pulling back in front at 21-20 with an ace. But four consecutive Oklahoma errors opened the door at set point and Lange slammed a kill right through it to take the set.

In the decisive fifth set, neither team took full control right away. Notre Dame went up 6-3 and 9-6, but Oklahoma immediately bridged both gaps. Then, after the Irish moved ahead 12-10, two Shelton kills bookended a four-point Sooner run to match point. But it was her attack error that drew the Irish even at 14. Still, Oklahoma’s go-to hitter delivered two more tie-breaking kills, yet the Irish answered each blow. Finally, at 16-16, Notre Dame made its push to victory. An errant Sooner attack preceded a Lange block, which wrapped up an epic afternoon of volleyball.

Next weekend, the Irish will play a home-and-away series with Toledo. The Rockets will visit Purcell Pavilion Friday at 6:30 p.m. for a match on ACC Network Extra. After Sunday’s meeting in Toledo, the Irish will begin conference action.

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About Tyler Reidy

Tyler is a sophomore who serves as an Associate Sports Editor at The Observer. Hailing from Omaha, Nebraska, and Keough Hall, he enjoys road trips, all things collegiate athletics and Kansas City barbecue. Reach out here or @TylerJReidy on Twitter!

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