The energy rose inside Purcell Pavillion Sunday afternoon as the clock neared 4 p.m. The Notre Dame volleyball team had lost their first two games of the season in fairly decisive fashion, but they were all even as they prepared for a fifth and decisive set against Milwaukee University. It would have been understandable if a young Irish team, and their new head coach Salima Rockwell, felt the pressure of the moment. But instead, Rockwell encouraged her team to embrace it.
“I live for fifth sets,” Rockwell told The Observer after the Irish closed out a 3-2 victory over the Panthers, her first win at Notre Dame. “(I told them) this is why you come here, this is why you play volleyball. So let’s rise to this.”
Rise they did. Notre Dame jumped out a 7-0 lead in set five and never trailed, winning the set 15-13 to secure Rockwell’s first victory on the final day of the 2022 Irish Invitational. It may not have been a perfect weekend, but Rockwell and the Irish learned a lot.
“Our team knows how to battle,” said Rockwell. “They can find ways to win. We’ve got to find a way to string wins together and not give up big runs. We’re a very aggressive serving team, and we can get teams out of system. They’re a joy to coach. We’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot to work on.”
They’ll have to do that work fast, as the Irish head out west to the Long Beach State Invitational this weekend. Their first two games of the tournament pit them against Boise State and host Long Beach State, two talented teams that are off to strong starts in 2022. The Boise State Broncos are 2-0 on the year, while the Long State Elbees won their first two games before dropping a tight fifth set 16-18 to No. 19 Oregon on Saturday. Both matches for the Irish will begin at 10 p.m. EST (7 p.m. PST) with the Boise State matchup Friday night and Long State Saturday.
Though they’re unranked, Boise State could be one of the most difficult matchups the Irish will have all season. The Broncos went 24-11 last season, winning the Mountain West Championship and making the NCAA Tournament. The Broncos took a pair of matchups against St. Mary’s to start 2022 by scores of 3-0 and 3-1, respectively. Outside hitter Lauren Ohlinger and middle blocker Paige Bartsch were both named to the preseason All-Mountain West team, with Bartsch selected as the conference’s preseason player of the year.
Long Beach State also has a new head coach in Tyler Hildebrand. The team was picked fourth in preseason Big West polling, with outside hitter Katie Kennedy and setter Zayna Mayer named to the conference’s preseason Coaches Team. Long Beach State began the year with victories over Oregon State and Portland State before their aforementioned loss to No. 19 Oregon.