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Irish volleyball drop two more ACC matches in return to Purcell

After winning four of five to close their nonconference slate, Notre Dame volleyball’s momentum has come to a grinding halt. Despite returning home for the first time in over a month, the Irish couldn’t put together a win, dropping two more ACC matches. Notre Dame is now 0-4 in conference play. This weekend, No. 13 Georgia Tech dispatched the Irish, followed by Clemson. The latter was a five-set battle, marking the second five-set defeat for the Irish in conference play.

In Friday night’s game versus the Yellow Jackets, efficiency was the name of the game. The Irish only made three service errors and zero reception errors, tying and outclassing Georgia Tech in both categories. However, while the Yellow Jackets notched 55 kills with a .261 hitting percentage, the Irish posted just a .110 mark and 31 kills. Graduate student transfer Kaylyn Winkler notched eight kills, as did sophomore outside hitter Paris Thompson.

In the first two sets, the Irish only led once, at 1-0 in the first set. From there, the Yellow Jackets (10-2, 3-0 ACC) ripped off five straight points to take control. Then, up 11-5, Georgia Tech blitzed the Irish for another 5-0 run, seizing control at 16-5. They ballooned the advantage to 22-8 and closed out the set comfortably, 25-13.

The second set was more competitive, but the Irish never obtained a lead. Notre Dame kept things closer in the early going, trailing 8-7, but Georgia Tech gradually pulled away. They notched six of the next seven points to grab the momentum and rode that wave to a 20-14 advantage. Notre Dame flashed some resiliency, as a Thompson kill kickstarted a five-point streak, closing the deficit to a single point. From there, however, the teams traded off points, neither squad able to retain their serve. The Irish never surfaced from the deficit, dropping the second set, 25-23.

The third set was largely controlled by the Yellow Jackets. They took the lead early and kept the Irish at bay in the first half. Then, up 13-12, they won nine of the next 11 points to ice the match. The Irish didn’t get closer than five points and lost, 25-19.

Irish can’t finish off fifth set

On Sunday, Notre Dame played a sloppier game, but they were also more dynamic offensively, which gave them a chance down the stretch. Thompson led the way with 16 kills, while freshman outside hitter Avery Ross claimed 14 of her own. However, the Irish also made a total of 14 service and reception errors, which allowed Clemson to edge the Irish in the five-set contest.

The Irish never led in the first set, as Clemson ran off eight straight points to claim a 17-9 advantage. They had no issues in closing out a 25-17 win from there, taking the early 1-0 lead. Then, down 12-3 in the second set, Notre Dame looked primed to go down quickly once more, but this time, the Irish responded. Following a timeout, Notre Dame clawed back into the set. Although they didn’t rip off any extended runs, a gradual 14-6 spurt tied the set at 18-18. After trading points, the Irish buried the Tigers with six straight points. Freshman defensive specialist Maisie Alexander delivered three aces in the second set to lead the way, while Thompson and Ross combined for seven kills.

In the critical third set, the Irish and Tigers were locked in a 14-14 tie. But after Clemson nudged ahead with three straight points, Notre Dame couldn’t quite get back even. They closed within one at 18-17 and 19-18, but Clemson closed with a 5-2 run to win, 25-20. The Irish blew an early 13-9 advantage in the fourth set, but they rallied. Deadlocked at 17 points apiece, the Irish rode a wave of excellent service by junior libero Hattie Monson to five straight points and a 22-17 advantage. Sophomore setter Phyona Schrader came up big in the final few points, notching an assist, kill and block on the final three Irish points to force a fifth set.

There, the marathon turned into a sprint to 15 points. Clemson was the first to gain momentum, tallying four straight points to take a 9-5 lead. Notre Dame got a point back here and there, closing to 12-11. But they couldn’t find the last service break they needed and traded off the final few points, losing 15-13 in the fifth set.

Notre Dame falls to 0-4 in ACC play, last in the conference. They will look to start stacking wins next weekend, but it starts against Syracuse, who is 4-0 in ACC play. They play the Orange on Friday and complete the road trip at Boston College (13-5, 1-3) on Sunday.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athomas28@nd.edu

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Belles volleyball lose tenth straight, fall to North Park

Woes continued for the Saint Mary’s volleyball squad this weekend, as they faced another highly regarded opponent. North Park came to town after receiving votes in the most recent national polls, and they swept the Belles in three consecutive sets. Saint Mary’s has now lost eleven straight sets dating back to Sept. 20. They fell to 3-10 and 0-2 in MIAA play.

Saint Mary’s got off to a solid start in the first set, leading for much of the early portions of the game. Junior outside hitter Colleen McCarthy delivered one of her team-leading nine kills to give the Belles a 9-8 lead in the first set, but that was as good as it got. North Park ripped off seven straight points to take a commanding lead. The Belles remained within striking range, down 18-14 a few minutes later. But then North Park notched another 7-0 run, cementing a smooth 25-14 first set victory.

In the second set, again, Saint Mary’s led in the early going. They went up 11-10 after a North Park service error. However, the visitors claimed seven of the next eight points to take the 17-13 advantage. McCarthy nearly rallied the Belles back into this one, with a kill and a service ace sparking a quick three-point spurt. That brought the Belles to within 22-20, but North Park closed out the set by scoring the final three points.

The third set was less competitive, as Saint Mary’s final lead was 6-5. North Park blitzed the Belles for four straight points, and then a few points later, they replicated the feat to take a 16-10 lead. The Belles couldn’t string together consecutive points for the rest of the set, and one final 5-0 spurt for North Park clinched the result. The Belles lost the final set, 25-14.

Despite the loss, McCarthy put together another solid performance with her nine kills and nine digs. She also delivered the team’s only two service aces. Senior libero Emma Watford added 11 digs.

The Belles now head on the road for three games, starting with a conference clash against Hope on Tuesday night. The game starts at 7 p.m.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu

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Penalty kick dooms Irish men’s soccer in 1-0 defeat

The Irish entered Saturday night’s conference clash with North Carolina with a healthy dose of momentum. Eight days previously, freshman midfielder KK Baffour had scored at the death to deliver Notre Dame their first ACC victory, 2-1 over Virginia. Then, in a Wednesday non-conference battle, the Irish dominated and found the back of the net four times against Chicago State.

However, on Saturday, familiar issues resurfaced for the Irish. Notre Dame generated only a few offensive chances, and failed to finish any. As a result, they fell 1-0 to the Tar Heels in a frustrating defeat.

For the third time this season, the Irish gave up a goal via penalty kick. A foul in the box gave UNC the prime scoring chance and Milo Garvanian buried his team-leading third goal of the season. 

It was really the only scoring chance the Tar Heels produced. Irish junior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd was only required to make one relatively easy save after the goal. The Irish backline produced a cohesive effort that limited North Carolina to very few chances. After giving up five goals in their first two games, the Irish have surrendered just four in the past five contests. 

“First halves of conference games are always going to be cagey, and we were really unfortunate with the penalty there. I’m really proud of how the guys responded, because that’s a really frustrating thing when you’re playing well,” Irish head coach Chad Riley noted. “That’s arguably our best performance of the year against a really quality opponent.”

Notre Dame earned double the amount of corner kicks (4-2) and outshot North Carolina 10-6. However, only two shots found their way on frame, both in the way of quality scoring chances. First, junior halfback Paddy Burns delivered a rocket of a left-footed volley. The slicing shot seemed destined for the lower left corner, but North Carolina keeper Andrew Cordes made a reflex save with his right hand. Burns generated another chance off of a corner kick. Baffour delivered a near post cross, and Burns flicked it towards the far post corner. The flick evaded Cordes, but a North Carolina defender saved the Tar Heels with a leaping goal-line clearance.

“I think they’re a tough team. Nine shots in the second half. North Carolina is always going to be a good defensive team, and I’m really proud of the way we played,” Riley said. “I think the second half, we were great. I thought it was one of our best performances. An inch here or there and we tie the game — and we maybe win it.” 

Beyond those two chances from Burns, quality opportunities were few and far between. The Irish offered continuous pressure and out-possessed the Tar Heels in the game by a 57-43% margin. They kept the ball in the visitor’s half of the field for most of the half. But they just couldn’t break through.

“We have a fit, deep squad. Our energy continues to grow. I felt like we were inches away from getting a couple,” Riley said. 

The Irish pushed hard late, getting one more excellent chance. After an Irish shot ricocheted off the crossbar, junior forward Daniel Russo faced a wide-open net. However, with heavy pressure from a defender on his heels, Russo airmailed the rebound effort. Soon there after, North Carolina secured the clean sheet victory.

Notre Dame plays Division III Kalamazoo on Tuesday, and they’ll return to conference play next Friday at Alumni Stadium. They kick off versus Boston College at 6 p.m. 

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Irish keys to victory versus North Carolina

After earning their first victory of the year, Notre Dame heads to North Carolina, eyeing a return to a .500 record. They face a tall task, entering the game as slight underdogs to the unbeaten Tar Heels. The story of this game is two programs with completely opposite strengths. Notre Dame ranks 115th out of 131 in scoring offense, but their defense has been solid, allowing seven total touchdowns in three games. That included a battle with the vaunted Ohio State offense. UNC is averaging over 51 points a game, but they’re giving up over 37 per contest. They haven’t faced a Power-5 program yet, so the offense will face their most difficult test of the young 2022 season. Notre Dame’s offense is certainly struggling, but UNC’s defense is truly an eyesore through three weeks. To truly measure the stark difference: the Irish offense has scored seven touchdowns this season…the UNC defense gave up six touchdowns in the fourth quarter of their season opener. So there is a path to victory for Notre Dame, but what are the keys to obtaining the slight upset win? 

Key 1: Minimize Drake Maye as a runner

Drake Maye is going to be solid. He’s a really strong quarterback and will make some plays. But Notre Dame let Cal stick around last week via Jack Plummer escaping a collapsed pocket and ripping off a bevy of first-down runs. Against a far better runner, that cannot happen with the Tar Heels. 

This responsibility largely falls to the Irish linebackers, who struggled against the Golden Bears. They need a quarterback spy on Maye to make him uncomfortable outside the pocket. This will be difficult without senior captain J.D. Bertrand playing the first half (the tail-end of his targeting punishment from last week), but the Irish have the depth to fill his role for 30 minutes. Additionally, the Irish defensive line must finish their job. While they terrorized Plummer with six sacks and 27 quarterback pressures last week, Notre Dame whiffed on several sacks, allowing the Cal signal-caller to escape. That can’t happen this week. 

Key 2: Beat the UNC secondary at the line of scrimmage

This is huge for Notre Dame, and it corresponds to a general strength for the Irish. UNC generally features a heavy dose of press coverage, and that makes beating your man at the line of scrimmage absolutely pivotal. The Irish have a tight end in junior Michael Mayer who can beat anyone at the line of scrimmage. Sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles showed against Marshall and at times against Cal, he can beat his defender off the line and get open quickly. 

If they can win quickly against the cornerbacks, the Irish may be able to open up the vertical component of their offense that has been so sorely lacking. This is a big test for these Irish receivers. They have struggled so far this year, and their offense has moved lethargically at times. This is a unit they can expose, and if they can’t, it speaks to far bigger issues for this Irish offense moving into the middle third of the season. 

Key 3: Contain Josh Downs

The key word here is ‘contain’. Notre Dame, in all likelihood, will not stop UNC’s dynamic receiver. Injuries have limited Downs to one game this year. But he was a difference-maker in that contest, notching nine catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The Irish would likely be ok with more yards from Downs but less scoring impact. Last year, Downs caught 10 passes for 142 yards against Notre Dame; but he didn’t score. For Notre Dame, that’s successful containment. They made the Tar Heels find secondary methods of scoring, and that’ll be key again on Saturday. 

Ultimately, this is going to be a major test for the Irish. The defense faces a loaded offensive unit. On offense, Notre Dame was at full panic mode through the first half of the Cal game. After scoring 17 points in a three-drive span in the second half against a solid Cal defense, that panic subsided a little bit. Now, against a weaker defensive unit, the goal should be 30+ for the Irish, a number they’ll likely need to hit in order to win this road battle, and for head coach Marcus Freeman to snag win No. 2 of his career.

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Rep by rep: It’s Pyne Time

The first time Irish fans saw Drew Pyne take the field for the blue and gold, it was at the tail end of a 52-0 blowout win over South Florida. Not exactly the most memorable moment. However, the second time Pyne saw the field with the Irish tells you everything you need to know about Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback.

On Jan. 1, 2021, Notre Dame was facing Alabama in the College Football Playoff. When Ian Book briefly left the field for injury, Pyne was thrust into the action. A true freshman at the time, Pyne entered for two plays, completing his only pass attempt for seven yards. It was hardly a groundbreaking play, nor was it an extended performance. But with no warning, playing in the Rose Bowl against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Pyne came in cold off the bench to quarterback the Irish offense.

“My mindset has never changed since the moment I got here,” Pyne said on Tuesday. “I will always be prepared and as ready as possible for any point that I need to help the team.”

That mindset has been evident throughout Pyne’s career at Notre Dame. Last year, he appeared in two games. First, he replaced an injured Jack Coan against Wisconsin, with the Irish trailing 13-10. He completed six of eight passes, including his first career touchdown toss. That score pushed the Irish lead to 24-13. A week later, Pyne performed admirably in attempting to rally Notre Dame from a 17-0 deficit against Cincinnati. He got the Irish within four points despite being forced into a one-dimensional offense that threw the ball 22 times in the second half.

Last weekend, Pyne entered in relief of an injured quarterback once more, replacing sophomore Tyler Buchner. This time, Pyne did struggle, tossing an interception that sealed an already likely Notre Dame loss. Although he led a touchdown drive to give the Irish a last-gasp onside kick attempt, it ultimately proved to be too little, too late.

But now, with Buchner announced out for the season, it’s truly Pyne time in South Bend. But according to the redshirt sophomore, that hardly affects his mindset. “ I’m going to keep preparing and treating practice like a game every day,” Pyne commented. “It’s easy to fall in a trap, to think that it’s different. I’ve prepared as hard as I can no matter what situation I’ve been in. I’ve got to lead the guys on the practice field, push them as hard as I can every day and that’s what I’m focused on right now.” 

Pyne’s biggest challenge is sparking a lethargic Notre Dame offense. Notre Dame has scored 31 total points this season. They matched or exceeded that output in 10 of their 13 games last season. The ground game has been nonexistent outside of Buchner. And the passing game has been inconsistent at best and awful at worst. Now, without their biggest running threat, and the offensive line continuing to struggle, what can Pyne improve upon in his first career start?

The Connecticut product was quick to point out that it’s hardly just one guy or one position that was failing the offense.

“I think it’s easy to point fingers on the offense, but it takes eleven guys to succeed on offense to run the ball,” Pyne said. “It takes receivers, it takes a quarterback, it takes a running back. It takes 11 guys to succeed.”

Every player can certainly share some of the blame for this 0-2 start. There were dropped passes that could have been touchdowns. Missed blocking assignments from the offensive line and tight ends that caused negative plays in big situations. In the passing game, only junior tight end Michael Mayer and sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles have more than three receptions. Pyne knows he must find a way to get them the ball. But he also needs to spread the offense out.

“I think Coach Rees does a great job of that. He knows how to get guys open and create space. He knows how to put us and me in a great position to succeed,” Pyne said. “I have full faith in him and everything he does.” 

Additionally, there was a lack of disruptive play defensively, punctuated by the zero turnovers the Irish have caused. Pyne can’t fix everything, but he needs to provide a spark. And Pyne is ready to do just that. Not for his own benefit, but for the teammates that have helped him throughout his career, which has included a bevy of quarterback battles.

“I’m not here for personal accolades or for stats. I’m here to do whatever I can to help my team win. I think the guys know that. Right now, I play for [Jarret Patterson], for Bo Bauer, for AD [Avery Davis], for guys like that,” Pyne said, name-dropping a few Irish veterans in their final year on the team. “I’m playing for all those guys on the team that have taken me in since I got here.” 

That preparation starts in practice, as it has for three years for Pyne. And he’s not letting anything get to his head, and he’s taking it day by day.

“I’m not thinking long-term. The opportunity I see is after this I’m going to go watch film. It’s easy to fall into that trap of letting this get to my head, but the opportunity I have, from where I’m standing, is being able to… come back tomorrow and have a great practice… taking it practice by practice, rep by rep, as hard as I can and with as much focus as I can.” 

Pyne’s in a relatively unique position. Frequently, a four-star recruit who lost consecutive quarterback battles (last year to Coan, this year to Buchner) would hardly hesitate before entering the transfer portal. By 247 sports, Pyne was the eighth-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020. He received interest from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and other premier programs.

But Pyne has first and foremost always been all in on Notre Dame. Last year, after the Cincinnati game, he discussed his frequent trips to the Basilica, or his walks around campus that he used to calm himself and reflect after practices and games. Pyne has always bled blue and gold. Now he gets a chance to do so on the field.

“It’s an honor to be able to help this team win,” he said “I’m focused on one thing and that’s preparing as hard as I can for Cal and practicing to be able to have success this week.”

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu

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A legacy of Irish women’s national championships

1987 – Women’s Fencing National Championship

Notre Dame’s first women’s varsity team national championship came via one of the school’s premier programs. Notre Dame fencing has accumulated 12 national championships to date. In 1987, the program had won three, all as just a men’s team. The women’s program joined the party, winning their first team title, led by All-American Molly Sullivan.

The women’s team, due to a smaller field, only competed in foil. But Sullivan garnered a third-place overall finish, and her teammates Janice Hynes and Anne Barreda added the necessary supplemental performances to claim the team title. Making the first-ever women’s team title in Irish history sweeter, it was also claimed on home soil. The Irish won the 1987 championships in South Bend, something they didn’t accomplish again until 2022. While the ‘87 title remains the women’s team’s only championship, the Irish women haven’t stopped winning bouts. Fencing championships became co-ed in 1990, and the Irish have claimed eight titles, including back-to-back championships heading into the 2022-23 season. 

1995 – Women’s Soccer

Eight years after the fencing team broke the ice, Notre Dame women’s soccer joined the championship club. After coming up short the previous year, losing 5-0 to UNC in the national championship, Notre Dame entered the year with a singular goal in mind. Their defense keyed the title run, as they didn’t allow a goal in their first eight games, en route to 16 shutouts on the season. 

In the NCAA Tournament, the Irish shut out all six opponents. In the semifinals, they ousted North Carolina, ending the Tar Heels’ nine-year championship streak. To punctuate the run, the Irish took on an undefeated Portland squad and battled out a triple overtime game, finally delivering the game-winning goal. Junior Cindy Daws won the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, and sophomore Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) earned the most outstanding defensive player. 

2001 – Women’s Basketball

Muffet McGraw was knocking on the door, making the Final Four in 1997. Then she qualified for the next three NCAA Tournaments, failing to reach that national stage again. But in the 2000-01 season, McGraw led a team ready to go the distance. The Irish lost just twice before the NCAA Tournament, although one loss came in the Big East Championship to UConn. 

The Irish mowed through their first four NCAA tournament games to get back to the Final Four. There, UConn was waiting, but Notre Dame didn’t trip up this time. They won 90-75, advancing to a national championship versus in-state rival Purdue. The Irish trailed by double digits, but behind Niele Ivey and Ruth Riley, the Irish weren’t to be denied. Down 66-64, national player of the year Riley scored the game’s final four points. She shined alongside Ivey, who notched 12 points and six steals in the finale. 

2004 – Women’s Soccer

Nine years after their first title, the women’s soccer program added another. This time, it was the likes of stars Katie Thorlakson and Erika Bohn lifting the Irish in an impressive effort. Again, defensive success propelled the Irish, as they started their NCAA Tournament run with three consecutive shutouts. They faced off versus their 1995 national championship opponent, Portland, in the Elite Eight and won 3-1. In a thrilling Final Four, the Irish first disrupted the Cinderella squad, Santa Clara, in the semifinals. Then, they triumphed over UCLA in penalty kicks to claim the national championship. Thorlakson and Bohn won most outstanding defensive and offensive players of the tournament. Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman also earned spots on the all-tournament team. 

2010 – Women’s Soccer

In 2010, the women’s soccer squad earned their third national title. That’s the most of any women’s program at Notre Dame and the third-most of any program overall, behind fencing and football. In terms of the program’s championships, this one was arguably the most unlikely. The Irish entered as a four-seed in their own region, but they hit a spurt of pure dominance in the NCAA Tournament. 

After a pair of dominant victories to open the postseason, the Irish slaughtered top-seeded UNC 4-1. Then they outscored their final three opponents 4-0, concluding a surprisingly dominant title run with a trio of shutouts. They edged an unbeaten Stanford squad in the finale, 1-0. Six different players made the all-tournament team for the Irish, led by Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller. The Irish women’s soccer team made it back to the Sweet 16 last season, but they’re still seeking a return to the College Cup.  

2018 – Women’s Basketball

Seventeen years after she claimed her first, Muffet McGraw earned her second national title as a coach. The Notre Dame legend had come so close, losing in the title game four times earlier in the decade, and in the Final Four once more. This time, she pushed her squad over the edge. The Irish were a top seed but faced stiff resistance, eventually reaching the Final Four, where the real heroics started.

The Irish faced down longtime rival UConn in the semifinals and trailed by seven at the half. Jackie Young scored 32 points, however, and Arike Ogunbowale added 27, as the Irish forced overtime. There, Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating jumper shocked the world and sent the Irish to the championship. This time, the Irish trailed by 13 at half, but they erased the deficit in a dominant third quarter. An even fourth quarter led to a wild overtime. There, Ogunbowale simply did it again, draining a buzzer-beating three and sending the Irish into a state of euphoria.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Notre Dame-Ohio State: Postgame

Instant Analysis: 5 game-changing moments

Irish fail to execute late, fall to Buckeyes

Buchner ushers in a new era

Observer On The Ground: Ohio State

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Irish volleyball drop two in fruitless West Coast trip

After picking up her first collegiate head coaching win last weekend, Salima Rockwell must wait another weekend to find her second. The Notre Dame volleyball squad traveled west but dropped a pair of games, losing to Boise State and Long Beach State in successive nights. The Boise State clash was a four-setter, while the latter was a straight sets loss.

Against Boise State, the Irish split the first two sets with the Broncos. After dropping the opener 25-18, the Irish dominated the second set by a 25-13 scoreline. Graduate students Kaylyn Winkler and Maddie Waumans each delivered three kills in the early going of the second set to get the Irish back on even footing. 

The third set was a contested battle, with the margin rarely growing larger than a point or two through most of it. However, trailing 17-15, Notre Dame surrendered four straight points. That gave Boise State breathing room, and the Broncos closed the third set out with relative ease. A slow start saw Rockwell’s squad fighting from behind throughout set four. Despite closing an initial 8-3 deficit to 9-8, Notre Dame couldn’t maintain that momentum. Boise State closed out the match with a 25-18 victory. 

Notre Dame’s freshman duo of Avery Ross and Lucy Trump continued their strong rookie campaigns, delivering 12 and 13 kills, respectively. Junior libero Hattie Monson recorded 16 digs. The Irish actually boasted a better hitting percentage than the Broncos (.268 compared to .258). However, they also struggled with service, racking up 18 service errors, which became a decisive separator. 

In the second clash of the weekend, Notre Dame dropped a straight sets decision that was far closer than the 3-0 scoreline indicated. Each set was extremely tight, and the final score finished at 21-25, 23-25, 23-25. Both teams played extremely well defensively, with Notre Dame posting a .071 hitting percentage, largely created by Long Beach State’s stellar .984 receiving percentage. The Beach only slightly bettered the Irish’s hitting percentage, with a .152 mark. The Irish never led in the first set. After battling to an 8-8 tie, the Beach strung together a quartet of points to gain some separation. Notre Dame charged hard but could never even the score, drawing as close as 22-20. In the second set, Notre Dame had to battle from behind again, trailing 6-1 and 12-6. Finally, the Irish ripped off four straight points to close their deficit to 15-13, and then chipped the deficit down to 21-20. They came within a single point one more time, at 24-23, but Long Beach State delivered the clinching blow to take a 2-0 set lead. 

More slow starts doomed the Irish in their final set of the weekend. The Beach steadily pulled away early, garnering a 14-8 advantage. Notre Dame closed to two at 15-13. They again brought the score to 24-23, but once more, they couldn’t extend the set. The Beach closed out the straight sets victory. 

Notre Dame never led in the contest, but kept each set competitive. Trump again led the away, punctuating a strong weekend with 12 kills. Ross added seven. Monson’s 22 digs led the Irish. Notre Dame stays on the road next weekend, playing three games in the 2022 Quest for the Crown. They’ll play East Carolina and Old Dominion in a Friday doubleheader. They’ll wrap up their weekend in Norfolk, Virginia by clashing with the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday. 

Aidan Thomas

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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‘Keep making it go up and up’: Freeman, Irish confident as massive underdogs

When Notre Dame opened as a 13.5-point underdog to Ohio State back in May, head coach Marcus Freeman made waves with his response.

“Make it 14,” Freeman said. 

Well, he got his wish and then some. The Irish enter their Saturday showdown with the Buckeyes as 17.5 point underdogs.

“We’ll use that in the team meeting today,”  Freeman said on Monday. “I remember the one time we were on College Gameday [when Freeman made the ‘make it 14′ comment], I said just keep making [the spread] go up and up.”

Freeman’s brash confidence is not meant to be disrespectful to Ohio State. He’s repeatedly referred to the Buckeyes as a great team and a great program. But he does have well-placed confidence in his roster, a team that has several potential first-round draft picks and a roster that saw several players forgo NFL Draft aspirations last year to return for a national championship run.

There are questions to be sure. First-time starting quarterback sophomore Tyler Buchner has talent. But does he have the composure to stay level-headed in a manic environment? Can one of his targets in a thin wide receiver corps establish themselves as a true No. 1 target? Can any of Notre Dame’s three running backs make up for the missing production of Kyren Williams? Can the Irish secondary contain Ohio State’s aerial attack?

Freeman has done so many things right over the course of his tenure as head coach at Notre Dame. But of course, there’s one blemish — the one game he’s actually coached. The Irish came out hot in the Fiesta Bowl, taking an early 28-7 lead against Oklahoma State. But they ultimately fell, 37-35 in a game that the Irish failed to make necessary adjustments down the stretch.

Recruiting wins are great. There is legitimacy in building off-field momentum. But if Notre Dame comes out and loses by 20, a lot of that built-up goodwill is going to dissipate. No recent Irish regular season game has generated the type of emotion and build-up of this contest. The nine-month ramp-up since both teams finished their successful 2021 seasons has created palpable tension and hype as the matchup nears. And now, the challenge for the Irish lies in playing with the right level of emotion.

“The emotions you have … we get to go play a great team. We get to play in a great, hostile environment. You get the emotion, the excitement about going into a place like that and getting to compete against a great program like Ohio State,” Freeman noted. “How can you keep it contained and focus on the things that matter, and that’s the preparation. And that’s what we can control between now and Saturday. We have to be very intentional and have a great week of preparation.” 

For Freeman, there could be added emotion in making his regular season head coaching debut against his alma mater. But he continues to remain adamant that this isn’t the case for him, referring to himself as “emotionless” in the matter.

“My focus is Notre Dame football and preparing this team. And then when we get to September 3rd, Ohio State happens to be the opponent,” Freeman said.

Instead, the Irish’s head coach is focusing on harnessing the inevitable emotions of his players and applying those emotions in a beneficial manner on the gridiron.

Freeman’s embraced this throughout the offseason and summer and fall camps. He knows the environment will be hostile. But he wants to emphasize that the Irish are still playing football. He’s tried new tactics, such as moving a Notre Dame practice to a local high school, just adding to the idea that no matter where they’re playing or practicing, the mission remains the same. He’s added a new level of intensity to Irish practices, something that current players have lauded.

For a program that has frequently found itself boat-raced against elite opponents, starting fast and generating early momentum is important. As such, Freeman has added competitive twists to practice that frequently come in the form of early competitions between the offense and defense. Usually, these additions come right out of stretching, boosting the competitive nature of the practice instantly. This includes red zone drills, receiver-defensive back one-on-one competitions, and more.

“We try to start practice with some openers and different situations. The minute we’re done with stretching, we go right to a competitive situation,” Freeman explained. “It’s a mindset, but it’s also about execution … starting fast has been important for us since the day I became head coach. You can’t start slow against a team like Ohio State.” 

For nine months now, the college football world has watched Marcus Freeman build momentum for this Notre Dame program that hasn’t been seen in years. Now, they’ll watch him take center stage in Columbus, Ohio. His group of gold-clad underdogs will be in tow, now underdogs of 17.5 points. 

But why not make it 18? To quote Freeman, why not “keep making it go up and up”? The Irish will be ready regardless.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

Categories
Sports

Observer sports staff ranks ND football schedule

With just days leading up to the daunting season opener in Columbus, 23 Observer sportswriters sat down to vote on how to rank the Irish schedule, from the easiest game to their most challenging clash. Here are the results:

12. UNLV (Average Rank: 11.59)

Out of 23 votes, 15 placed the Rebels 12th, with an additional seven ranking the Group of 5 opponent at No. 11. This should be a very easy home clash, and the votes indicated as such. 

11. Marshall (9.84)

After UNLV, things did get a little less clear. Marshall slots in at eleventh, but the Thundering Herd were ranked as high as sixth. A lot of this ranking could be dependent on the status of running back Rasheen Ali. The talented back is currently away from the team with an undisclosed issue but is a difference-maker if on the field. 

10. Navy (9.06)

Another volatile ranking came with the Midshipmen. Although they generally settled towards the lower end of things, several writers ranked the Naval Academy much higher. This can be a tribute to the triple option, a traditionally tricky offense to handle. But the Midshipmen ultimately are a far less talented roster, as is standard in this rivalry, leading to this No. 10 ranking. 

9. Cal (8.11)

The Golden Bears have a solid defense and a generally abysmal offense. If the Irish’s new-look offense comes out firing, then this matchup shouldn’t be an issue. However, that’s not a slam-dunk certainty. This matchup got ranked as high as third on our list. If Notre Dame is struggling offensively, this would become a defensive grindfest where small mistakes could determine the outcome. 

8. Syracuse (7.911)

The road trip to visit the Orange generally ranked in the middle of most rankings. One voter ranked it the easiest game on the slate, while a trio slotted it as high as No. 5. The timing of this game is difficult, with it coming a week after that UNLV game. What should be a cakewalk in the prior week could have the Irish sleepwalking in Syracuse, particularly if they’re looking ahead to Clemson the following week. If that’s the case, the Orange have a solid defense and a respectable offense to make this a chilly and miserable Halloween weekend for Notre Dame. Ultimately, however, the Irish should have plenty of talent to prevail. 

7. Stanford (7.675)

To rank it high because of the rivalry and primetime status of the game, or to rank it low because Stanford has been absolutely miserable in recent years. That was the dilemma facing our voters, which ultimately led to this middle-of-the-road ranking. Voters slotted the Cardinal as high as fourth and as low as eleventh, with votes placing the Irish’s lesser Californian rival at every spot in between. Coming off an intense road trip to Vegas, this could be a sleeper trap game, but Notre Dame has dominated this matchup in recent years. 

6. Boston College (6.963)

The Holy War and the Phil Jurkovec revenge tour are enough to vault the Eagles into the top half of the rankings. On talent alone, they likely wouldn’t make it. But Jurkovec has been somewhat outspoken about his displeasure regarding his time in South Bend, and he’s got some talent at the skill positions, headlined by Zay Flowers. A Senior Day stunner in Notre Dame Stadium is unlikely but not unthinkable. 

5. UNC (4.79)

The Tar Heels have to replace Sam Howell at quarterback, but Drake Maye looks like the real deal, at least as much as one can in preseason. The challenge for the Tar Heels may be that Notre Dame is their first Power-5 opponent of the year. Will their young quarterback be ready against a veteran Irish defense? However, it’s certainly a tricky road trip for the Irish, and the Tar Heels have the offense to force Notre Dame into a shootout. That’s not a recipe for success for the 2022 Notre Dame squad. This has been a close game in the previous two matchups, and it could be once more in Week 4. 

4. BYU (4.34)

The Catholics and the Mormons in Sin City. It’s a matchup made in heaven for headline writers, but it’s not a walk in the park for Notre Dame. The Cougars return 97% of their defensive production from 2021, as well as plenty of offensive production as well. Quarterback Jaren Hall is a gamechanger, and BYU always has some elite talent at wide receiver. A massive difference maker could be the environment. It’s a home game for Notre Dame, meaning they get the larger ticket share. But BYU travels well and is located closer. It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for some of Notre Dame’s fanbase to sell off their tickets and make this less of a homey environment for the Irish. 

3. USC (3.816)

USC was relatively consistently ranked between third and sixth on the ballots. One ballot listed the Trojans at No. 2, while one dropped USC down to eighth. It’s a reflection of the turnover within the program, as there are certainly question marks about how the team looks under Lincoln Riley. With the renowned head coach at the helm, along with highly touted quarterback Caleb Williams coming over along with wide receiver and Biletkinoff winner Jordan Addison, the offense could be scary. But the defense has struggled recently, and the Trojans may still be relatively one-dimensional. Where this game ranks in terms of difficulty will become clearer throughout the season. But for now the raw offensive talent on USC’s roster, plus a road rivalry game, is enough to rank this contest third overall. 

2. Clemson (2.17)

The Tigers received 20 votes at 2nd place, a pair of third-place votes, and a single tally at fourth place. Almost unanimously, this is one of the toughest games on the schedule for the Irish. Will the Irish storm the field once more, or can Clemson pull off the road victory? Both teams have elite defenses, strong ground games and questions surrounding their aerial attack. It’s a titanic clash of extremely similar, and likely highly ranked, teams that will be an incredible home test for Marcus Freeman and Co. 

1. Ohio State

In a not-so-shocking development, all 23 ballots ranked this weekend’s upcoming clash with Ohio State as the most difficult game on the schedule. Can’t say much about this one that hasn’t already been said. But it’s going to be a brutal and bruising test for the Irish. As 17.5 point underdogs, the Irish haven’t won while being such underdogs since 2007, when they won as 21-point underdogs against UCLA. Can they shock the world on Saturday night in Columbus? The summer of anticipation is almost over. 

Aidan Thomas

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu