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Friday, June 21, 2024
The Observer

Coaching change inspires hope

As Notre Dame begins another season in its long and storied history, the Irish kick off a new era under first-year head coach Jim McLaughlin.

The only coach to win national championships on both the men’s and women’s sides, including the 1989-90 men’s title for USC and the 2005 women’s title for Washington, McLaughlin led the Huskies to a 31-3 (18-2 Pac-12) season last year en route to earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA championship.

McLaughlin brings excitement as well as experience to his new home.

“I think it’s one of the few universities where you can be excellent at what you choose to do – as a student, as an athlete – it offers the best of both worlds and more,” McLaughlin said. “And then, my wife went here and her family is close by, but I believe that this place can recruit at a very high level and we can win a championship here.”

However, he inherits a team that ended last season with a 6-23 (3-15 ACC) record, its second losing season in a row. But with a mix of returning veteran leadership and a number of exciting newcomers, things are looking up for the Irish, McLaughlin said.

“We’re changing everything: the way we think, our emotions, behavior," McLaughlin said. "All of our movement patterns are new. Our eye-work, what we look at and how long we look at different things. The systems are different, and so we just have to get these things in place, it has to become a part of us. The girls are working every day to do that. We’re making progress, we just have to keep going.”

One of the bright spots on this team a year ago was Sam Fry, who earned a spot on the all-ACC Freshman Team. As she begins her sophomore year with the Irish, Fry will transition from middle hitter to the outside, a change that will see her taking on some additional responsibility and leadership.

“It’s been a tough adjustment,” Fry said, “But with good coaching and the support of the girls on the team, it’s been getting a lot better. I’m just hoping to keep improving my game, and I’m excited that I’m improving not only at my position from last year but also a new position.”

Notre Dame faces a challenging schedule in 2015, with matches against seven 2014 NCAA championship qualifiers. The marquee matchup of the season is a home clash with two-time defending champion Penn State on Sept. 12.

Both McLaughlin and Fry have lofty goals for the season ahead.

“Our goal is to win a championship,” McLaughlin said. “Every day we just have to make a little bit of improvement, to get better, to learn how to learn and be able to measure it. We’ll be a very, very good team, and we hope to be a great team in November. That’s always been my goal, and we’re on our way.”

Fry also emphasized the importance of daily improvements in search of long-term success.

“Our team goal is to win the ACC, and it’s a very realistic goal, based on our improvement and the coaching,” Fry said. “Obviously the main goal is to win a national championship, but a goal for every day is just to get better, even if it’s one percent better every day, and just to be good teammates.”

The Irish will officially start the McLaughlin era Saturday when they travel to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the Blue Raider Bash with matches against Bowling Green, Cleveland State and Middle Tennessee State.