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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Volleyball pulls off thriller upset against Michigan

Notre Dame (7-2) pulled off a major upset at home against Michigan (6-3), a team that received votes this past week for the AVCA Coaches’ Poll, on Wednesday night. The match went a full five sets and the teams were evenly matched, neither falling more than six points behind the other at any point throughout the night. Though it began as a scrappy, defensive game, the hitters made their presence felt during the second half of the match, and Notre Dame emerged victorious from the 3-2 thriller (25-23, 27-29, 20-25, 25-23, 15-13).

In order to prepare for the rivalry game, right side hitter Sydney Bent, who recorded 17 kills and seven digs against the Wolverines, said that the team put in extra effort and upped their level of play during this week’s practices.

“In practice, we were saying, ‘Let’s make our practices harder than game day,’” Bent said. “We can push ourselves harder in practice so that we’re focused and prepared for what game day has to offer, both physically and mentally.”

Irish sophomore Charley Niego and graduate student Kristin Baer rise to block a hit during Notre Dame’s home 3-0 win over Valparaiso on Sept. 4.
Irish sophomore Charley Niego and graduate student Kristin Baer rise to block a hit during Notre Dame’s home 3-0 win over Valparaiso on Sept. 4.
Coming off a 3-1 defeat against Cincinnati last Friday, the Irish began strong against Michigan (6-3), keeping the score within three during the entire first set. Toward the end of the set, the Irish tied it up at 21, 22 and 23 before pulling ahead and winning 25-23 on an ace from sophomore outside hitter Charley Niego. She would continue dominating the court in the second set and ended the night with a team-high 19 kills and four aces.

Though the Irish got off to a rocky start in the second set, falling behind 7-1 after several missed blocks and digs, sophomore Bent brought the Irish back into the game with a powerful performance, assisted by consistent serving from junior libero Madison Cruzado. In another set filled with long defense-driven rallies, freshman outside hitter Caroline Meuth excelled in the back row, picking up 16 digs for the night to accompany her 12 kills. After the Irish tied it up at 15, Michigan held the lead for the rest of the set, defeating Notre Dame 29-27.

Both teams appeared to tire out in the third set, with a large part of the set marked by exchanges of missed serves from both sides. The Wolverines led for most of the set, and the Irish fell 25-20.

“I think during those two sets we were playing kind of tentatively,” Bent said. “We went back into the locker room, and coach [Johnson] said, ‘Guys, what are we doing? We can play. Everyone shake it off, play loose, relax and do what we’ve been doing in practice.’ After that, we started playing a lot harder and more intensely.”

 The Irish offense found its groove in the fourth set with Meuth, Bent and middle hitter Lauren Wenzel racking up three kills each, and Niego adding five kills of her own. After the Irish took an early lead, Michigan tied it up at 10. Toward the end of the set, the referees called two net violations on the Wolverines, allowing the Irish to stay alive and pull off a 25-23 win on a kill from Bent.

 The energy entering the fifth set was palpable in Purcell Pavilion. Bent and Wenzel came up with several key blocks, and after Michigan took an 8-7 lead, the Irish pulled ahead. A stressful tie at 13-13 was quickly resolved with two quick points from the Irish, with the match ending on an untouched ace from senior Paige McKnight. 

Of the seven starters on the team, five are underclassmen, but Bent said that they do not let inexperience get in the way of their play.

“We don’t let ourselves being young be an excuse,” she said. “We have young players stepping up and trying to be leaders in different ways.”

The Irish, currently ranked third in the ACC, will travel to Ann Arbor this weekend to face the Wolverines on their home court.

“Playing on the road is a lot harder,” Bent said, “But I think if we come into that match even harder than we came into this one, I don’t see any reason we can’t beat Michigan again."