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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame picks up key home win over No. 18 Purdue

Notre Dame secured a key win early in the season, topping No.18 Purdue at home Friday in a come-from-behind victory.

The Irish (4-1) entered their first ranked matchup of the season with their only loss coming to Wright State in the second game of the Golden Dome Invitational last weekend. However, the Boilermakers proved to be their toughest opponent yet straight out of the gate.

The Notre Dame women's volleyball team celebrates after defeating Valparaiso.
The Notre Dame women's volleyball team celebrates after defeating Valparaiso.

In the opening set of the match, Purdue set the tone, taking a 10-5 lead, but the Irish hung in there, keeping the score within one at 15-14. While the dynamic combination of freshman outside hitter Caroline Meuth and sophomore right side hitter Sydney Bent kept things interesting, Purdue was simply too much for the Irish down the stretch, and the Boilermakers ended on a 10-2 run to claim the first set 25-16.

“I actually thought we were right there in the first set … and we had a little string of unforced errors that made the score look a lot more lopsided than it actually was,” head coach Mike Johnson said. “I liked how we were playing, I liked how we were competing.”

Johnson said he was pleased with his team’s initial efforts and was optimistic heading into the second set despite the beating they took at first.

“I thought we were being very aggressive in the first half and I liked how we were just competing. We were just missing,” he said. “I knew if we could just keep swinging, we’d start hitting those shots. I didn’t really have any worry, concern — nothing. Let’s just keep playing how we’re playing, let’s just keep hitting the shot a little better and it’s going to be a different game. And that’s what happened.”

Johnson’s strategy paid off in the second set as the Irish started to connect. However, this set was far from over as both teams kept grabbing hold of the lead, with the Boilermakers eventually taking a one-point lead. This time, it was Notre Dame’s turn to respond with an attack down the stretch, going up 22-19. While Purdue managed to tie things up at 24, sophomore middle blocker Lauren Wenzel delivered an impressive hit followed by a service error that tied things up at one set apiece.

“We talk often [about] how we have an aggressive mentality, and when you set into the gym, you get all of us,” Johnson said of his team’s ability to bounce back from adversity.

In the third set, junior libero Madison Cruzado and sophomore outside hitter Charley Niego got more involved and helped spark the Irish out to an early lead. Purdue mounted a strong counter attack and tied things up at 19 before ultimately earning the 25-22 victory.

With their backs against the wall heading into the fourth set, Johnson said he refocused his team and aimed to provide some perspective for the young players.

“Certainly there were a couple of tactical things Purdue had changed that we had to adjust to. First, they started moving some people to slightly different spots,” he said. “Beyond that, that’s when … I just want to try to re-center the group. I thought by doing that, you know, the reality is that you just have to make this one play and it’s natural human nature to add a lot more meaning to it, and it’s just the reality that when you’re playing in that moment, there is more meaning. But the execution comes back to just very basic things that we do everyday in practice.”

The Irish stormed back in the fourth set and took a seven-point lead near the end. Purdue kept things close, but the early start of Johnson’s team gave them enough cushion to force a fifth set with a 25-21 win.

In the final set, the Irish continued their momentum, taking a 10-6 lead and forcing the Boilermakers into three attack errors. Just like they’d done all night, though, neither team was willing to go quietly, and Purdue tied things up at 11-11. The Irish closed things out with three-straight wins and picked up a key win for the program.

Johnson said in many ways, Friday’s game was a reflection of his team’s mentality throughout the season.

“I think going into the match on a daily basis it’s simply ‘How can we continue to improve?’ … It was very simply grabbing on the improvements that we needed to make and the improvements that we had made and seeing if we could carry it over into the match. The mindset, more than anything, is ‘Why not us and why not now?’ To take this further, really a theme that we grabbed onto the entire night is just being able to maintain our focus,” he said. “There’s a lot of young kids on the floor right now and when you’re younger, I think you can lose focus more easily. In a bigger game, it’s easier to lose focus. It’s easier to have these distractions, so the mindset really was, ‘Let’s just get our focus tight on having this one play and let’s be right here in this one moment, and stay here.’ If we lose our focus, to be able to bring ourselves back … that’s really all we did.”

Two breakout stars of the night were Meuth and fellow freshman Iibero Kiara Schmidt, who recorded a team-high 19 digs. Both Meuth and Schmidt are just two more additions to an already-young program, but Johnson said they each bring unique skillsets to the table.

“They’re very different. They both bring some very special traits. Caroline plays with a passion and an excitement unlike almost anyone. I think at first, you kind of see that energy and think, ‘Can she maintain that?’ then you realize, ‘Yeah, she can,’” he said. “She plays with an energy, enthusiasm, excitement that people can really grab onto. Her energy is infectious, and that’s very exciting. Kiara’s very different in that she offers a very calm, stabilizing force. In Kiara’s position — that was her second match as the starting position — you really like a calm presence, someone that can anchor both the offense and the defense. They bring a very different presence to the floor, but both very good.”

Despite having an impressive resume thus far, Johnson reiterated the importance of Friday’s win and the impact it should have on his team going forward.

“There was definitely an excitement. There was an enthusiasm and energy and it was earned. I hadn’t felt that we played that well at any point yet throughout the season,” he said. “It was by far the best match we’ve played. These kids have worked hard … and sometimes work very hard and you don’t see the return yet. It takes a discipline and it takes, really, a will to continue to work and to finally get a return for all the work they had done — it was awesome.”

The Irish will travel to Highland Heights, Kentucky, on Saturday to take on Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Ball State throughout the weekend.