With campus settling back in from fall break, Notre Dame is still looking for a way to put the pieces of its young team together. Over the break, the Irish (6-16, 1-9 ACC) went 0-4 in matchups against Duke, Wake Forest, No. 23 Louisville and Virginia.
In their first matchup against the Blue Devils (10-10, 5-5 ACC) on Oct. 16, Notre Dame put up a fight throughout the three sets despite losing all three. In the first set, the Irish were down 20-17 before Duke went on a 5-2 run to claim the win 19-25. In the second set, the Blue Devils held just a three-point lead late in the game until they went on an 8-3 run to take the second set 17-25. The same story carried over to the final set as the Irish gave up a 12-11 lead, losing to Duke after the Blue Devils completed a 7-2 run to win 20-25.
“On reflecting after some tough losses, our coaches stress to us to acknowledge the errors and mentally note what we need to do to fix them,” sophomore outside hitter Sydney Kuhn said. “Then move on to the next play or the next practice and correct that error. We have learned that it is very important to not just ‘brush errors off’ but instead think about them and do our job which would be not committing that error again. We just need to continue to gain confidence in ourselves and abilities and push through despite the tough losses.”
Irish freshman libero Ryann DeJarld completes a dig during Notre Dame’s 3-2 loss to Syracuse on Oct. 4 at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish took the coaches’ advice to heart into their second matchup of the break as they traveled to face the Demon Deacons (10-12, 2-8 ACC). Notre Dame picked up its intensity against Wake Forest, starting off strong by scoring the first four points of the set. The Demon Deacons made a comeback that led to 11 ties throughout the matchup forcing the match to go past 25 points. Tied at 27 points apiece, the Irish allowed a kill, and an attack by Kuhn was blocked to end the set 29-27.
Wake Forest took the second set without much trouble 25-17. The Irish prevented the sweep by winning the following set 25-19. Sophomore outside hitter Maddie Plumlee led the Irish offense with five kills in the second. Sophomore outside hitter Sam Fry and freshman middle blocker Meg Morningstar both followed with three kills. However, Wake Forest won the game with a fourth set victory 25-22.
After their loss to Wake Forest, Notre Dame traveled to No. 23 Louisville (16-4, 10-0 ACC) and seemed to regress as the Irish lost in three straight sets. In the three sets, Notre Dame converted on just 32 kills to the Louisville's 59 kills. Freshman outside hitter Rebecca Nunge led the Irish with 10 kills. Fry recorded eight kills and Kuhn tallied six kills.
In their final matchup of the break against Virginia (14-7, 6-4 ACC), the Irish managed to win the first set 25-19, but failed to win another as the Cavaliers won the next three sets 25-23, 25-11 and 25-16. Fry led the team offensively with 12 kills, converting on about 35 percent of her attacks. Defensively, freshman libero Ryann DeJarld led the Irish with 12 digs.
With six wins on the season, Notre Dame has already tied last season’s win mark with five weeks left on the schedule. Despite the struggles this season, Kuhn doesn’t believe that this season can be compared to what the Irish did last year.
“I think it is tough to compare this team to last year's as we have almost a new half of the team,” Kuhn said. “We are very freshman and sophomore heavy. This year a lot of players are getting very valuable experience that I believe will help us incredibly as we all move forward.”
It can be easy to fall into a habit of losing games, but Irish head coach Jim McLaughlin has told the team that there is still a lot to play for in the remaining season.
“Jim has told us that there is so much that can be done in these next five weeks and we have to work hard to get better each day that we have the chance to,” junior middle blocker Katie Higgins said. “He tells us that improving is never easy but we have to be willing to make the changes and once we do, the improvement will come.”
Kuhn said that the team also reminds itself that despite its record, they can carry over their improvements to next year where they hope they can make more of an impact in the ACC.
“We just recently talked about how we have five weeks left of the season and Jim helped us realize how much we can get done in five weeks and how much we can improve in five weeks,” Kuhn said. “We are trying to become the best volleyball players after this season that we could be. Our record might not be the way we want it to but at this point it is about the dignity of our effort as Jim says.
"We are lucky enough to wear Notre Dame across our backs, and we should work to bring pride to this school and to ourselves.”
Notre Dame will travel to Raleigh, North Carolina, on Friday to take on North Carolina State.