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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

Irish look to continue dominance in ACC this weekend

The Irish will travel to North Carolina this weekend as they take on Wake Forest and Duke. Notre Dame (11-3, 4-0 ACC) is in the midst of a four-game winning streak and will look to build off this momentum.

Irish senior outside hitter Lauren Woodard spikes the ball during Notre Dame's 3-0 win over Valparaiso on Sept. 4 at the Joyce Center.
Irish senior outside hitter Lauren Woodard spikes the ball during Notre Dame's 3-0 win over Valparaiso on Sept. 4 at the Joyce Center.

The Irish are in a four-way tie atop the ACC standings and, barring a loss this weekend, the team has a chance to start the season with a perfect 6-0 conference record. When asked about Notre Dame’s goals for the next two matches, Irish head coach Mike Johnson indicated he wants the team to translate their practice into tangible results during games.

“Well, we want to continue to improve,” Johnson said. “There are specific areas of the game that we have been working on, and we are always looking to win.”

The Irish have started off the 40th season of volleyball at Notre Dame by leading the ACC with 15.77 digs per set in conference play. They have recorded 296 team blocks, 124 in conference, while averaging 12.8 kills per set on the season. The Irish also can rely on 1.3 aces and 11.9 assists per set. Some of Notre Dame’s players rank among the elite of the conference. Sophomore Zoe Nunez ranks fifth in the ACC in total assists with 504 in eight contests. Graduate student Kristen Baer leads the Irish with 69 total blocks, ranking fifth in the conference. Johnson commented on his team’s ability to improve as a unit and to make strides as an elite program.

“We are still mostly a young team, so there are a lot of lessons that we have had to learn,” Johnson said. “I have appreciated the way the group has embraced the opportunities, the challenges and the areas to grow. We have been making great progress. Every year the standard at Notre Dame is exceptionally high, so we want to play at the best level possible.”

The Demon Deacons (11-4, 1-3 ACC) are coming off a tough loss against Boston College in four sets. They rank third in the ACC in hitting percentage (.250), opponent hitting percentage (.172) and opponent assists per set (10.81). The Deacons have shown their ability to be dangerous when serving as they average about 1.63 aces per set, which is the second highest amount in the conference.

The Blue Devils (8-9, 1-3 ACC) have struggled early-on in the season, but they will look to build off their first conference win over Syracuse when Notre Dame arrives in Durham. Duke averages slightly more blocks than the Irish with 2.63 per set; however, Notre Dame leads them in almost every other statistical category.

Duke also allows the third most aces per set in the whole ACC, so Notre Dame might be able to take advantage of this weakness when serving. Blue Devils sophomore Ade Owokoniran might prove to be dangerous as she has recorded two matches with over 20 kills, so the Irish will have to be at the top of their game to earn the victory. Johnson expressed confidence in his team’s ability to compete in close games.

“We have shown the ability to play hard, fight, and continue to battle in tough games,” Johnson said. “We have proved that we can come back and win in games that we have been down early.”

Notre Dame has a chance to continue their dominance in conference play this weekend. The Irish will face Wake Forest at 6 p.m. on Friday before traveling to play the Blue Devils at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The Duke match will be broadcasted on the ACC Network.