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Irish fencing starts strong, goes unbeaten at Elite Invitational

Notre Dame fencing picked up where it left off at its opening meet of the season, going undefeated at the University of Pennsylvania’s Elite Invitational Saturday. The Irish went 5-0 in both the men’s and women’s competitions with some standout performances on both sides.

Irish notch big wins over Princeton

Wins over the Princeton Tigers (No. 5 men’s team and No. 1 women’s team) in the morning session propelled the Irish to a stellar performance. The women handled business relatively comfortably, beating Princeton 17-10. For senior Paige Luong and the women’s foil team, it meant just a little bit more.

“Last season, women’s foil went 0-9 [against Princeton] so it was pretty bad. We came into this meet with a target on their back, so we had the goal of doing our best and kicking their butts. We ended up going 6-3 and we were calm and confident, even against their best fencers,” she said.

The men’s team had a tremendous battle to win 14-13 over the Tigers. The saber team came up huge, going 6-3 as a unit and winning the final two bouts to clinch the match. Senior epee Joshua Zhang got a win in the match and stood by as sophomore saber Alexandre Lacaze clinched it for the Irish.

“It was the biggest test of the weekend, and we knew that going in. Everyone was locked in, and saber had two huge bouts at the end to clinch it,” he said.

Zhang spoke about the matchup with Princeton setting the tone for the rest of the meet and bolstering their confidence moving forward.

“I’m just happy we did well across the board because Princeton is some of our biggest competition,” he said. “They also have a deep and talented roster, so I’m happy how, mentally, we pulled it together and embraced the intensity of the moment. We really came together in that first bout and the momentum carried forward the rest of the day. It was by far the biggest win of the weekend.”

Veterans, rookies stand out

A few familiar faces had some outstanding performances throughout the weekend. Reigning women’s epee national champion Kaylin Hsieh went 9-0 on Saturday, including a combined 6-0 against Ivy League opposition (Penn and Princeton). Graduate student saber Jared Smith finished with the best record of any Irish fencer this meet, going 12-0 against four different teams to start his season with a bang.

There were also some new faces making their mark for the Irish squad. Men’s foil had standout performances from freshmen Ziyuan Chen (11-2) and Chase Emmer (10-4). On the women’s side, freshman epeeist Michaela Joyce went 7-1 in her first collegiate competition.

Zhang emphasized how their success sets up the team for the rest of the season.

“The first meet is always the hardest and we had a huge freshman class coming in. College fencing is way different, so it was really encouraging to see the freshmen step up,” he said.

He also underlined how, along with their talent, the young fencers are bringing new energy to the squad. “This weekend we had some of the best vibes since I’ve been here. I think this team is arguably the strongest team I’ve been on so far and the fact we did so well in the first meet is really promising for our season,” Zhang said.

Irish eye bigger goals after unbeaten start

Outside of Princeton, the Irish men also picked up wins against the Air Force Academy (17-10), Long Island University (21-6), North Carolina (16-11) and the tournament hosts, No. 8 Penn (20-7). The women matched the perfect effort with wins over No. 11 Temple (20-7), Long Island University (22-5), No. 14 North Carolina (24-3) and the eighth-ranked host (20-7).

This weekend was Notre Dame’s only fall semester meet and they face a long layoff before its next collegiate competition at the St. John’s Invitational on Jan. 21 in New York. This creates put an extra emphasis on the past weekend as a way to build confidence and momentum before entering the team’s grueling spring schedule.

“This is our only meet of the semester and the only one until January. We had a lot of fencers traveling, so we didn’t even have the full squad. It’s really encouraging to be able to show how deep our team is,” Zhang said. “I think the message we’re sending is to be cautious with our victories. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and be overconfident heading into any meet. This team has everything it needs to win a championship and that’s the end goal.”

Contact Jose Sanchez Cordova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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‘End of the day, it’s all love’: Justin Ademilola shines alongside twin

Since arriving on campus in 2018 Justin Ademilola has done nothing more than put in the work and carve out a spot on the Notre Dame football team. Arriving as a 3-star recruit from Jackson, New Jersey, he has found a consistent role on the team, using his versatility to appear in every game for the Irish over the last three years.

“Since I got here, every year my football IQ has been increasing, and that’s helped with my play. I can play numerous different positions and I know the nuances of a lot of positions up front – even the linebackers. I think that works as an advantage for me,” Ademilola said.

During his career, he played at both ends of the Notre Dame defensive line. Ademilola racked up 102 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He has steadily improved his numbers every year, putting together a stellar 35 tackles and one forced fumble in 2021. He was also second on the team with five sacks last season, trailing only Isaiah Foskey.  Together, they both formed part of a formidable pass-rushing trio along with Justin’s twin brother Jayson Ademilola.

Notre Dame recruited the Ademilolas in tandem, and on June 26, 2016, the twins committed to the university together. Six years later, Justin reflected on that process.

“I just wanted to get here and see the Notre Dame experience,” he said. “I got here and my twin brother and I camped here. We earned an offer, and not even 48 hours later we decided to commit to Notre Dame because of the coaching staff, everything it had to offer, the academics — you really couldn’t go wrong,” he said.

He was especially appreciative of the opportunity to continue playing with his brother after high school.

“It’s an awesome experience. Not too many people get to play at the next level with their brother or their twin, so it’s an experience that I’m forever grateful and thankful for — that Notre Dame gave us the opportunity to play together here,” Ademilola said.

Ademilola added to that sentiment, mentioning head coach Marcus Freeman’s coaching philosophy and talking about the drive to compete and get better alongside his brother.

“[Jayson and I] are always competing to get better but it’s also all love. Coach Freeman’s got a saying called ‘competitive spirit,’ so you always have to compete and bring the best out of your brothers, but at the end of the day it’s all love,” he said.

 Throughout his time at Notre Dame, Ademilola has played under three different defensive coordinators including current head football coach Marcus Freeman. That experience has also given him a great perspective of what sets Freeman apart.

“Coach Freeman’s a hands-on guy. He’s a coach that always leaves his door open. He has relationships with every one of his players, and he’s just there for us. That means a lot for our players. Anything we need from Coach Freeman, he’ll try his best to get it done for the team. We love playing for a coach like that,” Ademilola said.

It’s that love for Freeman that generated a different level of buzz around the program this season. Ademilola felt that buzz in the locker room too. Especially on the night of a big game, like when Clemson came to Notre Dame Stadium earlier this season.

“Waking up that morning when we had walkthroughs, everyone was saying upfront, ‘It’s in the air tonight, guys.’ We knew what we were getting into, and we knew that we were coming out victorious. It’s a credit to our preparation and our execution,” Ademilola said.

Ademilola said he is still unsure of what his future holds. However, he looks forward to the end of the season and giving his best for the team. Despite the uncertainty, he expressed deep gratitude for his experiences and his teammates.

“Every year, being a part of a different team — new leadership and just the guys. I’m gonna be grateful and thankful for this experience with the guys and my teammates. I’m blessed to be able to leave here upper-handed,” Ademilola said.

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Greg Mailey’s path to Notre Dame sparked by lifelong fandom and a Brady Quinn high five

In 2006, Greg Mailey’s father brought him to campus for his first Notre Dame football game. During the player’s walk that fall in South Bend, Irish starting quarterback Brady Quinn high-fived Mailey, unknowingly setting Mailey on course to be a future walk-on for the team. 

“I fell in love with it, the campus and everything,” Mailey said of that visit 16 years ago. 

“I was a Notre Dame fan growing up, my whole life and I wanted nothing more than to play football at Notre Dame,” he added. 

Even so, it was not a straightforward path for Mailey who received offers from FCS schools and even a preferred walk-on spot at Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State. 

“Ultimately, I got a preferred walk-on opportunity here [at Notre Dame]. It was a no-brainer and I’m so glad I did it,” Mailey said. 

Five years later and his experience lets him take a wider view of the program and the reasons he’s so happy with his decision all that time ago.

“What stands out about Notre Dame is that people are genuine and they want to see you succeed,” he said. “And not just for the team, they want you to succeed as a person and that’s what’s so special about this place and this program.”

This is Mailey’s last semester on campus. After the season is over, he will wrap up the fall semester then move to Chicago for a consulting job. With a looming conclusion to his time at Notre Dame, Mailey had a chance to look back on some of his fondest memories from college.

“Both those wins versus Clemson are something I’ll hold on to for a long time, especially the one in 2020 when it was No.1 vs. No. 4. With everything else going on, getting COVID tested and just trying to survive the week, to make it to the game and then going on to beat them and have everyone storm the field was pretty special,” he said.

As he enters his final games as a college football player, Mailey offered perspective on the lifelong bonds that he has built with his Irish teammates.

“Never again will you walk into a locker room with a hundred of your closest friends that you consider family and work toward one goal,” Mailey said. “It’s special and once you realize that, you start to make the days count that much more because when you take that gold helmet off, it comes off forever, but the relationships and the bonds built over the years don’t.”

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127 days: Notre Dame fencing eyes three-peat

Barely hours after Notre Dame fencing claimed its 12th national title in Purcell Pavilion earlier this year, the championship countdown clock on the wall of their locker room was updated. The clock read “361 days,” right above the 2023 National Collegiate Fencing Championships logo. That sign — now down to 127 days — is a marker of the unwavering championship aspirations of the most dominant varsity athletics program at the University of Notre Dame.

Since head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia took over the program in 2014, Notre Dame has won four national titles. They’ve earned five conference championships and crowned 13 individual national champions. That phenomenal run of success could reach new heights this season. The Irish seek to complete the first three-peat in collegiate fencing since Penn State won six consecutive titles from 1994-2000.

Graduate student epeeist Miriam Grady, who returned to the program for a fifth year on the back of a strong season, still wants more. Grady is also one of the few remaining fencers on the squad from the 2018-2019 season, the last time Notre Dame failed to win a national title.

“Coming off two national championship wins, we’re feeling good and we know we have what it takes to win another one, so the expectations are very high,” she said. “But it’s very difficult to win three in a row, even when you have the best roster. I still remember my freshman year, when we were coming off two back-to-back wins and still had one of the strongest rosters and we fell just short. It’s really hard, so we definitely have our eyes set on creating history.”

It’s only natural that the success of the program has brought with it a lot of expectations. It has also put a target on the backs of Notre Dame’s fencers. For Grady and the team, those expectations are nothing more than just motivation to prove they belong at the top.

“We all have that burden of being number one,” she said. “Whenever we step on the strip, we know that teams fight extra hard against us just because we’re Notre Dame. We know that and have to be willing to show them who we are and why we’re number one.”

That mindset is the product of an experienced Notre Dame team that returns 10 of the 12 fencers who competed at the national championships last year. Despite this, sabre coach Christian Rascioni spoke about an interesting dynamic that emerged within the team with the large incoming freshman class.

“It’s a particular situation this year because we have a lot of seniors and also many freshmen, but not many sophomores and juniors,” he said. “It’s a big gap between the youth and the more experienced fencers, so we need to be patient to work with the freshmen and teach them our mentality, our culture and make sure they are ready soon.”

Rascioni also emphasized the role of the more experienced fencers in helping newcomers adapt to the intense environment of college fencing.

“On the strip, no matter how many people you have behind you, it’s an individual sport. You are alone. What the upperclassmen do is help the freshmen understand how to face those lonely moments on the strip when it’s just you and your opponent,” he added.

That freshman class added 23 new fencers to the Irish ranks, highlighted by foilist Chase Emmer and epeeist Eszter Muhari. Emmer is currently the top-ranked men’s junior foilist in the world and 26th overall. He finished 20th overall at the senior World Championships this July and recently won a junior World Cup event held in London. Muhari is currently the 27th-ranked women’s epeeist in the world. Additionally, she’s a former world No. 3 in the junior ranks. She finished last season by earning 15th place at the World Championships in Cairo and a silver medal at the junior European Championships.

Grady’s experience has allowed her to understand where they’ve fallen short in years past and she credits the new talent with a sense of hunger that has helped the team overcome complacency.

“Our focus wasn’t where it needed to be [in 2018]. It felt like people took the winning for granted and didn’t keep putting in the work. The problem then is that if you don’t have that drive to keep improving then other teams are going to catch up. This year, we have a huge freshman class and they’re all really hungry and bringing a ton of energy,” she said.

Sophomore foilist Nicole Pustilnik, who finished sixth at the national championships last year, spoke about the level of preparation the team has undergone to prepare for the new season.

“We do our lifts twice a week in the mornings and we’ve been ramping up on conditioning. Then it’s just a lot of training and practice every afternoon for two and a half hours,” she said.

Junior sabre Luke Linder, the 2021 individual national champion, echoed Pustilnik’s sentiment.

“Every day we come in and it’s all the intensity we can give. If we take a day off, we don’t want to feel like we’re leaving something on the table and not having a good enough practice. That effort adds up throughout the season and that’s our mentality,” he said.

That preparation will be put to the test this Saturday in Philadelphia at Penn’s Elite Invitational, the first meet of Notre Dame’s 2022-2023 season. The competition will see the Irish fence Princeton, Long Island University, Temple (women’s only), Air Force (men’s only), North Carolina and Penn.

The matchup to watch will be their season-opening bouts against Princeton. The Tigers finished fourth at last year’s national championships and had an individual champion in women’s foil as Maia Weintraub defeated Notre Dame’s Amita Berthier in the final. They also handed Notre Dame’s women’s team one of just three regular-season losses in 45 contests last year.

Linder was clear about the importance of getting off to a strong start this weekend and issued a statement of intent for Notre Dame Fencing.

“Last year we won and we don’t want things to be different this year,” he said. “We want to show we’re a dominant program and we’re here to stay. This first meet is about showing everybody that we picked up right where we left off and that we mean business.”

Contact Joche Sanchez Cordova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Belles season ends at Great Lakes regional

The Saint Mary’s cross country team finished 19th of 34 teams at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional. Fellow MIAA school No. 19 Hope College, who won the conference title the week prior, hosted a cold and snowy affair as temperatures dropped into the 30s on Saturday.

On the individual front, Saint Mary’s placed five of its seven runners in the top 150 of 247 total participants. The team’s best individual effort came from junior Amanda Tracy who ran a 23:26.5 to set a personal record. The time was a 14-second improvement on her previous PR. She was the only Belle to place in the top 100 finishers.

Seniors Angela Bannan and Anna DeMars closed their cross-country careers on a high note. Both set personal records in their final collegiate meet. Sophomore Susanna Bernovich and freshman Carly Davis also set personal bests. Overall, five Belles had career days in the cold conditions.

The 19th-placed team finish was the best performance at a regional championship by the Belles since a 17th-place during the 2019 edition. The result came on the back of a 6th-place finish at the MIAA Championships held on Oct. 29.

Outside of Saint Mary’s, No. 25 John Carroll took home the regional team title. No. 23 Calvin and hosting Hope rounded out the top three. Hope’s Anastasia Tucker also took home the individual title. Her 20:46.0 was the only sub-21 mark for the 6k race.

With the NCAA announcing championship qualifiers on Sunday, it’s official that the Belles will be shut out of the national championships. As such, their season came to an end on Saturday. A pair of sixth-place meet finishes proved the high watermark for the 2022 season.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame collapses against Clemson, likely ending their season

Notre Dame fell 3-1 to the defending national champion Clemson Tigers in the first round of the ACC tournament. The game was a rematch of the two squads’ College Cup semifinal matchup last year, won by the Tigers in penalty kicks. Ranked 48th in RPI, this loss almost certainly spells the end of Notre Dame’s season. Forty-eight teams make the NCAA Tournament, and that will include several auto-bid teams ranked below the Irish.

It was a bright start for the Irish as freshman forward Wyatt Borso broke through and had a 1-on-1 against Clemson goalkeeper Joseph Andema in the seventh minute but the freshman got down and made a good save to keep it scoreless. Notre Dame controlled much of the game early and had the best chances in the first ten minutes. However, in the 11th minute, it all changed.

Own goals dig Irish early hole

After collecting a ball from an Irish attack, Andema scanned the field and sent it long looking for one of his forwards. Instead, he found the head of Irish junior defender Paddy Burns who tried to pass it back to his classmate and goalkeeper Bryan Dowd. A miscommunication between the two led to Dowd coming off his line and seeing the pass from Burns go right by him and into the goal to give Clemson a 1-0 lead.

The own goal saw the momentum shift completely in Clemson’s favor as the Tigers asserted control over proceedings. In the 40th minute, they doubled their lead through another own goal. This time a cross from senior midfielder Alvaro Gomez fell perfectly into the six-yard box where sophomore defender Kyle Genenbacher misplayed it and bundled it into the goal to give Clemson a 2-0 lead.

It was a contentious start to the second half with three yellow cards in the opening eight minutes, but it was in the 54th minute that the game really got away from Notre Dame. Sophomore midfielder Bryce Boneau got his second yellow card of the game for a challenge from behind on Clemson’s Ousmane Sylla. His first booking came in the 31st minute when he interfered with a Clemson attempt to take a free kick quickly and go on a counterattack. The red card left Notre Dame with ten men for the final 35 minutes of the game and essentially ended any hope for a comeback. Simply put, it was two ill-advised plays from a young player costing Notre Dame big in a must-win game.

Clemson sees out the result

Clemson padded the lead with a goal from Mohamed Seye in the 59th minute to make it 3-0. The game settled in from there as Notre Dame kept going forward trying to find some offense. In the 81st minute, it came via junior midfielder Matthew Radivojsa who scored his first goal of the year to get the Irish on the board. Radivojsa got another good chance a few minutes later, but Andema made an excellent save to preserve the two-goal cushion. It was too little, too late for the Irish.

The loss eliminates Notre Dame from the ACC tournament and, realistically, also from NCAA tournament contention. After an inconsistent regular season, the Irish needed some marquee ACC postseason wins to have hope of an at-large bid in the tournament. This loss negates that and the Irish season will end at the hands of the Clemson Tigers for the second year in a row.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Notre Dame fights for playoff berth against Clemson

Notre Dame men’s soccer opens ACC tournament play on Wednesday with a road game against the Clemson Tigers. The postseason opener is a rematch of last year’s College Cup matchup where the Tigers beat the Irish on penalty kicks to advance to the national title game where they eventually beat the Washington Huskies to win the national championship.

This season has been a wildly different story for both programs. The Tigers enter Wednesday’s matchup as the 8-seed in the ACC tournament and have a 10-5-1 record and including a losing record (3-4-1) in ACC play. Notre Dame is the 9 seed and has fared even worse this season with an 8-6-2 record overall and 3-4-1 in the ACC.

Leading the line for Clemson is junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla, a second-team all-ACC player a year ago. This year, he has taken on an even bigger role for the Tigers, leading the team in goals (5), points (16), shots on goal (18), and game-winning goals (2). Freshman goalkeeper Joseph Andema has been outstanding as well, allowing 0.64 goals per game and keeping six clean sheets in 11 starts this year.

Last time out for Notre Dame, junior forward Daniel Russo scored against the Pitt Panthers on the road. He leads the team in goals (6) and points (16) including four goals in the last two games. Three of those came in a comeback rivalry win over Michigan in Notre Dame’s final home game of the year.

The Irish will also need junior defender Paddy Burns to come up big for them on Wednesday. The left-back has been a leader on the back line for Notre Dame while also providing an attacking boost down the left flank scoring five goals this season. He leads the team with 2 game-winning goals, including one just 10 days ago against Virginia Tech.

Wednesday’s game is undoubtedly more important for Notre Dame than for Clemson. Sitting at 48th in RPI, the Irish likely need to win the ACC tournament — or at least have a strong showing — to secure a bid to the 48-team national championship bracket. Clemson should be in as an at-large seed regardless, sitting at 13th in RPI.

If Notre Dame manages to beat Clemson on Wednesday, they would move on to face the undefeated No. 3 Duke Blue Devils on Sunday in Durham. Duke is the top seed in the ACC tournament after a phenomenal 11-0-4 regular season, including a 2-0 win over Notre Dame on Oct. 14.

Wednesday’s game will air at 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Volleyball pick up first ACC wins at Syracuse, BC

Notre Dame went back on the road snagging their first two ACC wins, sweeping Syracuse 3-0 on Friday and beating Boston College 3-1 on Sunday.

It was a much-needed bounce-back weekend for Notre Dame and first-year head coach Salima Rockwell after a disappointing homestand where they lost against Georgia Tech and Clemson.

Syracuse

Notre Dame swept the Orange in three sets to pick up their first conference win on Friday night. The sweep is a bit misleading though as it was a tight match throughout. In the opening set, the Irish won 25-21 with sophomore outside hitter Paris Thompson making the difference with 10 kills. Overall, Thompson finished with 20 kills, a career-high total for the Florida native.

The second set saw the two teams closely matched early until a 7-0 Notre Dame run gave the Irish some breathing room at 13-7. After a timeout, the Orange responded with a run of their own to close the deficit to just one point at 14-13. From there, the teams traded blows, but Notre Dame was eventually able to close it out. A Thompson kill gave the Irish a tight 25-23 set victory.

The final set was close throughout with six ties and three lead changes, but eventually, the Irish were able to separate with a 4-0 run led by the service of junior libero Hattie Monson. On match point, it was Thompson who stepped up once again with the winning kill to give Notre Dame the final set 25-20.

Boston College

It was a tight first set that went down to the wire. Boston College had the late lead at 24-21, but Notre Dame fought off three set points to tie it at 24 and extend the set. The teams traded points until a kill from freshman outside hitter Avery Ross made it 28-27 before an attack error from BC gave the Irish the two-point win in the first set.

The second set saw the Irish get off to a slow start, going down 1-6 early but a timeout from Rockwell seemed to turn the tide. They fought back to tie it at 11-11 and eventually take the lead. It was a close set throughout but four straight points at the end gave Notre Dame another set victory at 25-21.

The third set was never close as BC got off to a quick start and pulled away with an 8-0 run to win it 25-13 to avoid the sweep. From there, the momentum shift was evident as the Eagles got out to a 16-8 lead. But with Monson serving, Notre Dame went on a 7-0 run to make it 16-15 and force the BC timeout. The teams traded points and with the set tied at 23, Notre Dame brought in freshman serve specialist Maisie Alexander who closed it out to give the Irish the 25-23 set and match win.

Notre Dame volleyball return to Purcell Pavilion this weekend for two ACC games. They open with Wake Forest on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and then face Virginia Tech on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Monson, Irish volleyball return to Purcell for crucial conference matchups

Notre Dame volleyball returns to Purcell Pavilion this weekend for the first time since their opening weekend of the season. They host the No. 11-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Friday night and the Clemson Tigers on Sunday afternoon.

“We are really looking forward to being home in our gym. It’s been a few weeks away and it’ll be nice to be back,” said junior libero Hattie Monson. “These are some competitive teams, so we have to stay focused and fight for every point.”

This weekend, Notre Dame will look to overcome a heartbreaking loss to Miami the last time out. After losing the first two sets by over 10 points each, the Irish rallied to tie it and force a fifth set. The fourth set saw both teams compete, but it seemed like Miami had it wrapped up with a comfortable 24-17 lead. Still, the Irish battled back and showed great mettle as they fought off seven consecutive match points to tie it at 24-24. From there, Notre Dame made the most of the momentum and prevailed 28-26. But it ultimately wasn’t to be, and they dropped the final set 15-13 and took the loss in a closely contested matchup.

Despite the loss, first-year head coach Salima Rockwell found some positives in the performance.

“We certainly learned against Miami that we need to come out of the gates faster,” Rockwell said. “However, we also learned that we have another gear that we hadn’t seen yet. We were so competitive, and it was great to see the team not happy at all with our level of play in the first two sets. While I had to get on them a bit, it was really them that made the mentality shift to play at another level. They showed grit and resilience and we are going to need to lean on that a ton this year.”

The Irish open home conference play with Georgia Tech on Friday. The Yellow Jackets have been among the best teams in college volleyball to start the season. They sit at 9-2, with both losses coming against ranked opponents (Ohio State and Arkansas). They are also undefeated in conference play. Coach Rockwell relished the opportunity it presents for the Irish.

“It’s always good to play a team that is as talented as Georgia Tech. They have experience and they are very good at every position,” said Rockwell. “You learn more about yourselves and your weaknesses when you play top teams because they can expose those more readily than some other teams. It’s a chance to play, to get better and learn.”

Georgia Tech has been led by senior outside hitter Julia Bergmann. The reigning ACC Player of the Year and a First Team All-American last season, Bergmann has picked up right where she left off, leading her team in kills (201) while her next closest teammate, senior middle blocker Erin Moss, has just 83, not even half Bergmann’s total.

Monson preached preparation ahead of a weekend that will present numerous challenges for Notre Dame.

“We’ve been really mentally preparing because this will be a tough weekend,” said Monson. “We’ve been doing a really good job on focusing every day in practice to prepare for the weekends. We’ve been watching a lot of film on our opponents and figuring out the best way to play them.”

Coach Rockwell praised Monson’s effort and leadership as the team battles through difficult moments.

“Hattie Monson has established herself as a leader by the way she plays the game. Everyone knows she’s bringing it every day. She never takes a play off. Best leader by example,” said Rockwell.

Notre Dame’s second opponent this weekend is the Clemson Tigers. With a 9-5 record, the Tigers present a less daunting challenge for the Irish than highly ranked Georgia Tech. Clemson is middle-of-the-pack in most statistics in the ACC. But the Tigers rank dead last in blocks. Notre Dame’s outside hitters, led by junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff, may be able to exploit that as a weakness.

“I have been so pleased with Lauren Tarnoff’s play, and last weekend it was so cool to see her take over and be a vocal leader on the team,” said Rockwell. “It’s impactful because she doesn’t do it all the time, but she is so dialed into the game plan and can help direct players in every rotation, and she did just that last weekend.”

Twelve games into the year, Notre Dame and Rockwell are not where they want to be. They sit at the bottom of the ACC standings at 5-7 overall as the only team under .500. They are also winless in conference play with losses to Florida State and Miami last week. Despite the shaky start, Rockwell kept her message consistent.

“The message is the same as it’s been,” she said. “We have another opportunity in front of us, to work hard, get better and put ourselves in a position to win. We are a very process-driven team, and when you put in the work and continue to focus on getting better, good things happen.”

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanche24@nd.edu.

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Dividing the Premier League into tiers

Seven matchdays into the Premier League season, teams have played enough to create an identity and define expectations for the rest of the season. For the purposes of this column, I’ve divided the 20 Premier League clubs into tiers and briefly explained why I’ve placed them where I have.

Title contenders – Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham

These are the teams I believe have a genuine opportunity to challenge for the Premier League title. Two of them are here after blazing starts to their league campaigns, the other two simply have too much talent not to compete at this level.

Manchester City is the juggernaut that was expected after four titles in the last five years and is undefeated through 7 matches. Their summer signing of striker Erling Haaland has turned out better than anyone could’ve hoped with the Norwegian sitting on 11 goals through his first 7 games.

Tottenham has built on their success under Antonio Conte last season and are off to an undefeated start this season as well. Harry Kane is back to his best with 6 goals in 7 games after a down season last year.

Chelsea has underwhelmed early after a $300 million+ spending spree this summer transfer window. They even fired their Champions League-winning manager Thomas Tuchel after a loss to Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb in Champions League group play. Regardless, they have an insanely talented squad and I believe in new manager Graham Potter who has been sensational at Brighton over recent years and figures to do well with a far stronger Chelsea squad.

Finally, there’s Liverpool. The club – along with City – has been the team to beat in the Premier League over the last three seasons. They’ve been an elite club at the European level as well, reaching 3 Champions League finals and winning one over the last five seasons. This year though they’ve had a wretched start to the season. They lost Sadio Mané over the summer and his $82.5 million replacement, Darwin Núñez hasn’t been as effective as hoped. He was even suspended for three games after receiving a red card against Crystal Palace for headbutting a defender.

Regardless, Liverpool has too much talent to play like this all season. They have a track record of success and have proven that they’re capable of going on a run. They’ve also got Jurgen Klopp at the helm and I’m not sure there’s any other manager in world football I’d trust more to turn it around than him.

European places – Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United

These are the teams that will compete for the lower Champions League places and the Europa and Conference League places.

First is Manchester United. The most successful club in Premier League history looked brutal after two games. A 4-0 defeat against Brentford had fans imagining the worst. But new manager Erik ten Hag has turned it around and now United has won four straight and played some good football. They’ve also brought in Casemiro to address their midfield vulnerability and a victory over rivals Liverpool has revived the mojo in Manchester and made the Champions League a legitimate goal for the club.

Arsenal has been unbelievable to start the season and they top the table after seven games. However, I think it’s unlikely that their storming start will keep going throughout the year dropping them to the second tier. Even as recently as last year, the Gunners were in a strong position toward the end of the year before losing 5 of their last 10 games to fall out of the Champions League places.

Meanwhile, Newcastle has spent well in the transfer window and played well under manager Eddie Howe. Allan Saint-Maximin is electric up front and summer-signing Alexander Isak has done well to start the season.

Upper mid-table teams – Brentford, Brighton, Fulham and Leeds United

These are what you might consider “the best of the rest” teams that are good enough to comfortably avoid relegation but not quite enough to challenge the upper echelon of the league.

Brighton has started really well and even beat Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the year, but losing Graham Potter to Chelsea is a huge loss that limits the ceiling for a team currently sitting 4th in the table ahead of giants like Liverpool and United.

Fulham is another team who have gotten off to a great start with leading man Aleksandar Mitrović leading them after scoring 6 goals in 7 games. Around Mitrović the team has built a relatively strong core of youth and experience so I back the newly-promoted Fulham to stay up with ease.

Leeds United is another team with a lot of potential and I back manager Jesse Marsch to prove the doubters wrong and lead them to a strong finish in the league. A 3-0 victory over Chelsea showed their potential and there are good vibes all over this team that make it easy to believe.

Lower mid-table teams – Aston Villa, Everton, Leicester City, West Ham and Wolverhampton Wanderers

This is an interesting group. Aston Villa and Everton are two teams that fought off relegation last season and then made some smart transfers in the summer. Villa kept Coutinho after he was essential for them as a loanee last season. Everton lost top-scorer Richarlison but signed some proven Premier talent to replace him. They’ve also got some Premier League legends at the helm in Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who I trust to keep them up once again this season. 

Then there’s Leicester and West Ham. These two teams finished comfortably in the upper half of the table last season but have played very poorly to start the season. Both managers, Brendan Rogers for the Foxes and David Moyes for the Hammers, have a long and successful track record. However, they both have a reputation for leading good teams that eventually fall apart. It seems that collapse may have arrived at their current clubs. Still, I hesitate to say these teams will go down. There’s simply too much talent and Premier League pedigree on these squads for me to believe they will get relegated. 

That leaves Wolves who find themselves in an interesting spot. After some hugely competitive seasons under Nuno Espíritu Santo, they’ve been on a bit of a downward trajectory for the last few seasons. This summer there were rumors they might lose their best player, midfielder Ruben Neves. They were able to keep him though and even add some more young talent to the squad. They’re currently in a bit of a bind with injuries to strikers Diego Costa and Raúl Jimenez limiting their options up front too so it’s reasonable to expect some positive regression as they get healthy. 

Relegation-threatened teams – Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Southampton

These are the teams that I expect to be fighting for their Premier League lives down the stretch. Two of these clubs, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest, are newly relegated and I believe they will struggle to match the level of competition in the first division. 

Crystal Palace was a solid team last year but had a quiet transfer window while a lot of teams around them improved. This reality coupled with a difficult start leads me to believe there might be a long season ahead for Patrick Vieira and his Palace squad. 

That leaves Southampton. The Saints are one of the stranger teams in the league. They seem to have games every season when they just don’t show up. Last season they had a 6-0 loss to Chelsea and they had a pair of 9-0 losses, once to Man United in 2021 and in 2019 to Leicester. Still, manager Ralph Hassenhutl has found a way to keep them up. I’ve got a feeling their magic might run out this season.