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Rockwell, Monson lead Irish into ACC play

Notre Dame volleyball’s head coach Salima Rockwell came onto campus with a rocky start. The Irish opened up the season 0-2 against Texas Tech and Mississippi State before winning in the fifth set against Milwaukee. The Irish then traveled to the Long Beach State Tournament where they also went 0-2 on the weekend. This would be the start of a nine-game road streak. 

Since the Long Beach State Tournament, however, the Irish have shifted their luck. The Irish went 1-4 for the first five games of the season, and 4-1 in the latter five. 

“I think at first it was a lot of experiments, we were just trying to figure out a good lineup,” Rockwell said. “What was going to work for us? What combination of players can execute best on the court? But, you know, the big thing we talked about in our gym is minimizing errors, and then just trying to maximize what we do well. And I think that’s probably our biggest area of growth is getting better at little things, eliminating some of those errors that maybe we were doing early on. We’re not seeing quite as much right now.”

The Irish have gotten cleaner in their game. In the first two games of the season, the Irish had 67 kills to their opponent’s 102. In the most recent two games, the margin is 89-77 in favor of the Irish.

“Not to be cheesy but whether you win or not, you want to just play better and better with every match every weekend. And that’s what we did,” Rockwell said. “It was fun to see our upside get a little higher, and we know where we could be if we sustain a level of execution and play. So we’re definitely gonna use that momentum going into this weekend to kind of continue to build on what we’ve already got.”

A major component in the shift of the team’s dynamic was the Irish finally meshing and becoming comfortable with one another. In addition to a brand new coaching staff, the Irish welcomed six freshmen onto the team, including outside hitter Avery Ross, as well as three graduate student transfers. With the influx of new members, there is always a transition time needed. However, with the new players, there were returning ones willing to put in the work to guarantee a successful season. 

“It definitely had its ups and downs for sure, playing with all new people around you is definitely something you need to get used to and it definitely puts you back into your freshman state,” junior libero Hattie Monson said. “As the weeks have gone on, especially the grad players and the core seven of us who have stayed, we’ve done a really good job of helping the freshman stay comfortable. As the weeks go on, it’s great to see their progress as they are trusting us more and more and just everyone trusting each other.” 

The Irish squad will need to be trusting in one another as they look toward their packed schedule ahead of them. Notre Dame starts off their ACC run on Friday against Florida State. Though the Seminoles aren’t ranked, they have an 8-3-0 record. 

Additionally, the ACC is not an easy conference for volleyball as three teams are ranked in the NCAA top 15: Louisville (2), Pittsburgh (10) and Georgia Tech (13).

While the Irish are surely getting more comfortable with each other, they still need to perform well for anything to count. In the ACC, the Irish are ranked last in kills per set, and 13th in opponent’s kills per set. 

While the team stats are not as good as they would have hoped, there are multiple Irish players ranked with impressive stats. Junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff is currently ranked fourth in the ACC for hitting percentage, followed by graduate student middle blocker Kaylyn Winkler at 8th with .364. 

On the defensive side, Monson is ranked second in the ACC with 4.43 digs per set.

“Hattie Monson. I wouldn’t trade her for any libero in the country,” Rockwell said. “She’s a bright spot. In the gym, she’s a joy to be around. And she’s tough as nails. And that’s that combination. You don’t get that every day and it’s so fun to be able to push her; she wants to be pushed. She wants to be better. And she challenges herself every day.” 

With Florida State on the horizon and the daunting task of playing No. 13 Georgia Tech in the near future, Rockwell and the Irish squad will be working hard to prepare for conference play. 

“One game at a time and one foot in front of the other,” Rockwell said. 

The Irish open up conference play on the road in Tallahassee, Fla. Notre Dame will play Florida State on Sept. 23 starting at 6:30 p.m. EDT.

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Irish sweep Bulldog Brawl with wins over Central Michigan, Ohio

Notre Dame volleyball played two games this weekend at the Bulldog Brawl in Indianapolis, winning both to move to 5-5 on the season. In game 1 on Friday, the Irish beat Central Michigan in straight sets before downing Ohio in four sets on Saturday.

Game 1: Central Michigan Chippewas

The weekend got off to a strong start with a dominant first set against the Chippewas. The Irish had an early 7-0 run to take a commanding 12-3 lead early in the set. From there, they coasted to take the opening frame 25-12 winning the final point on a combined block from two grad students, middle blocker Kaylyn Winkler and outside hitter Clare Delaplane.

The second set seemed like a repeat of the first with Notre Dame taking a 12-6 lead and forcing a CMU timeout. After the break, the Chippewas came out battling to make it a two-point set at 14-12. Notre Dame was able to respond going on a run of their own and extending their lead, eventually sealing the 25-19 set victory.

In the third set, the Irish found themselves in an early 0-3 hole that was first deficit of the game. It didn’t last long though with freshman libero Maisie Alexander coming in to serve and leading the Irish on a 7-0 run to retake the lead. The team was able to protect that lead for the rest of the set, keeping the Chippewas at arm’s length to win 25-21 and take the match.

Sophomore setter Phyona Schrader led the way offensively for the Irish with 23 assists and five kills in the game. Freshman outside hitter Lucy Trump joined Winkler with 8 kills in the game to lead Notre Dame in that category.

Game 2: Ohio Bobcats

The second game saw the Irish face more adversity against the Bobcats, with a tight opening set that was tied at 9-9 as the teams traded blows. Notre Dame was able to separate thereafter, taking a 15-11 lead and forcing an Ohio timeout. The Bobcats rallied and tied the set at 22 before a Trump kill gave the Irish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish as they held on to win the set 25-23.

Notre Dame stormed out to an 8-1 lead in the second set but a service error from Schrader opened the door for the Bobcats who came back to tie it at 10. The set was closely contested throughout until Ohio’s Caroline Clippard broke the 21-21 tie to get serve back for her team and force the Irish to regroup. It seemed it might’ve worked as two kills from freshman outside hitter Avery Ross kept the Irish in it at 24-23. It wasn’t to be though as Ohio’s Olivia Margolies shut the door on Notre Dame to claim the second set for the Bobcats.

The third set was a similar story with a closely contested frame that saw the two teams tied at 17-17 before Notre Dame put their stamp on it. An 8-4 run from the Irish closed out the set with junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff hammering home the final point in a 25-21 set victory.

 The final set was close early on, but Notre Dame quickly put some distance between the two teams to finish off the game. The Irish finished the game on an 18-8 run, beating the Bobcats 25-15 in the final set. Trump and Tarnoff led the Irish in kills against Ohio with 13 and 10, respectively. Phyona Schrader rounded out a good performance with 35 assists and two service aces, including one in the deciding final set.

After a difficult start to head coach Salima Rockwell’s tenure, the Irish have turned it around winning four of their last five to get back to .500. The two games this weekend were Notre Dame’s final non-conference matchups ahead of their ACC opener on the road against Florida State on Friday.

Contact José at jsanch24@nd.edu

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ND Volleyball posts mixed bag in weekend tournament

After finishing 0-2 in the Long Beach State Tournament in the first road trip of the 2022 season, Notre Dame volleyball traveled to Norfolk, Virginia this weekend for the Quest for the Crown Tournament. The Fighting Irish picked up two hard-fought wins against East Caroline and Old Dominion on Friday but dropped a match to Navy on Saturday to make it to 3-5 on the year. It was the first time in program history that Notre Dame had played each of these teams.

Notre Dame tipped off against the East Carolina University on noon on Friday. After losing the first two sets, the Irish went on take down the Pirates in the final three sets. ECU would go on two finish their weekend with a 3-1 win against Navy and a 3-0 shutout of Old Dominion.

In the first set vs. the Pirates, the Irish made a late comeback thanks to the efforts of graduate student blocker Kaylyn Winkler and junior libero Hattie Monson but ultimately fell short of success, losing 25-23. The second set saw 17 ties. The final one came at the score of 23-23, but ECU ended up prevailing to take a 2-0 set lead over the Irish. After jumping out to a 17-12 lead in the third set, the Irish were able to secure a set victory with their backs to the wall because of Pirate errors and two late kills by freshman hitter Lucy Trump. ECU played a close game in set four, but the Irish were able to run a with it thereafter, wining the final two sets to pick up their second win of the 2022 season.

Notre Dame was led offensively by freshman hitter Avery Ross who tallied 14 kills and sophomore setter Phyona Schrader recorded a career high 54 assists. As a team, the Fighting Irish racked up 66 kills, 64 assists and 60 digs.

Later Friday evening, the Irish went on to defeat tournament host Old Dominion in five sets. The Monarchs were 3-4 on the season before facing the Irish.

In set one, the Irish trailed at times by a margin of 12-4 and 23-9, eventually falling by a score of 25-14. The Irish jumped back out in the second set, expanding a 16-11 lead to a 23-15 advantage thanks to kills from Ross and Winkler. The Irish would go on to close out the set to tie up the match at 1-1 heading into the third set. Fending off a late run by the Monarchs which brought the score to 23-20, kill and ace efforts by Winkler and Schrader respectively secured the third for the Irish. Old Dominion did not back down, taking the fourth set to force Notre Dame battle in their second fifth set of the day. The Monarchs came close to closing the gap and 12-11, but the Irish came alive with their second match triumph of the day in gratitude to back-to-back kills via Winkler.

Winkler finished the game with 16 kills and five blocks with graduate student hitter Clare Delaplane close behind with 14 kills and 2 blocks. Ross picked up a lucky 13 kills, and Schrader added another 44 stately assists.

The Irish fell on Saturday in their final game of the weekend tournament to Navy’s Midshipmen in four sets in an attempt to battle back to an even-win loss record on the season. At the end of the match, Schrader led the team with 31 assists, Trump led the way with 14 kills and Monson punched in 13 digs.

Navy jumped out to win the first set by an unlucky 13 points. A late block from Schrader and Winkler helped lift the Irish to a 27-25 win in the second set. A 7-1 run by Navy to extend an early lead of 12-7 to 19-8 helped the Midshipmen push past the Irish in set three. In the fourth and final set, an ace by freshman libero Maisie Alexander gave Notre Dame a late 25-24 advantage. However, two subsequent kills by Navy and a service error from the Notre Dame ended Irish’s hope to win out the match up and sweep all three weekend games of tournament play.

Hopefully drawing on the positive momentum built toughly by the Irish this weekend in Virginia, Notre Dame will head to Indianapolis next weekend for the 2022 Bulldog Brawl. Friday at 3 p.m., Notre Dame will take on the Central Michigan Chippewas. On Saturday, the Irish will then match up against the Ohio University Bobcats, also at 3 p.m.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.