Notre Dame volleyball returns to Purcell Pavilion this weekend for the first time since their opening weekend of the season. They host the No. 11-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Friday night and the Clemson Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
“We are really looking forward to being home in our gym. It’s been a few weeks away and it’ll be nice to be back,” said junior libero Hattie Monson. “These are some competitive teams, so we have to stay focused and fight for every point.”
This weekend, Notre Dame will look to overcome a heartbreaking loss to Miami the last time out. After losing the first two sets by over 10 points each, the Irish rallied to tie it and force a fifth set. The fourth set saw both teams compete, but it seemed like Miami had it wrapped up with a comfortable 24-17 lead. Still, the Irish battled back and showed great mettle as they fought off seven consecutive match points to tie it at 24-24. From there, Notre Dame made the most of the momentum and prevailed 28-26. But it ultimately wasn’t to be, and they dropped the final set 15-13 and took the loss in a closely contested matchup.
Despite the loss, first-year head coach Salima Rockwell found some positives in the performance.
“We certainly learned against Miami that we need to come out of the gates faster,” Rockwell said. “However, we also learned that we have another gear that we hadn't seen yet. We were so competitive, and it was great to see the team not happy at all with our level of play in the first two sets. While I had to get on them a bit, it was really them that made the mentality shift to play at another level. They showed grit and resilience and we are going to need to lean on that a ton this year.”
The Irish open home conference play with Georgia Tech on Friday. The Yellow Jackets have been among the best teams in college volleyball to start the season. They sit at 9-2, with both losses coming against ranked opponents (Ohio State and Arkansas). They are also undefeated in conference play. Coach Rockwell relished the opportunity it presents for the Irish.
“It's always good to play a team that is as talented as Georgia Tech. They have experience and they are very good at every position,” said Rockwell. “You learn more about yourselves and your weaknesses when you play top teams because they can expose those more readily than some other teams. It's a chance to play, to get better and learn.”
Georgia Tech has been led by senior outside hitter Julia Bergmann. The reigning ACC Player of the Year and a First Team All-American last season, Bergmann has picked up right where she left off, leading her team in kills (201) while her next closest teammate, senior middle blocker Erin Moss, has just 83, not even half Bergmann’s total.
Monson preached preparation ahead of a weekend that will present numerous challenges for Notre Dame.
“We’ve been really mentally preparing because this will be a tough weekend,” said Monson. “We’ve been doing a really good job on focusing every day in practice to prepare for the weekends. We’ve been watching a lot of film on our opponents and figuring out the best way to play them.”
Coach Rockwell praised Monson’s effort and leadership as the team battles through difficult moments.
“Hattie Monson has established herself as a leader by the way she plays the game. Everyone knows she's bringing it every day. She never takes a play off. Best leader by example,” said Rockwell.
Notre Dame’s second opponent this weekend is the Clemson Tigers. With a 9-5 record, the Tigers present a less daunting challenge for the Irish than highly ranked Georgia Tech. Clemson is middle-of-the-pack in most statistics in the ACC. But the Tigers rank dead last in blocks. Notre Dame’s outside hitters, led by junior middle blocker Lauren Tarnoff, may be able to exploit that as a weakness.
“I have been so pleased with Lauren Tarnoff's play, and last weekend it was so cool to see her take over and be a vocal leader on the team,” said Rockwell. “It's impactful because she doesn't do it all the time, but she is so dialed into the game plan and can help direct players in every rotation, and she did just that last weekend.”
Twelve games into the year, Notre Dame and Rockwell are not where they want to be. They sit at the bottom of the ACC standings at 5-7 overall as the only team under .500. They are also winless in conference play with losses to Florida State and Miami last week. Despite the shaky start, Rockwell kept her message consistent.
“The message is the same as it's been,” she said. “We have another opportunity in front of us, to work hard, get better and put ourselves in a position to win. We are a very process-driven team, and when you put in the work and continue to focus on getting better, good things happen.”
Contact José Sánchez Córdova at email@example.com.