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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Irish begin Rockwell era with up-and-down season

Max Petrosky | The Observer
Notre Dame volleyball head coach Salima Rockwell high fives Nancy Kane (4) in-game against Duke at the Purcell Pavilion on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022.

Last season was the first season of a new era for Notre Dame volleyball. New head coach Salima Rockwell took the reigns of the program. Notre Dame finished 10-18 in her first year as head coach. After years of playing and helping coach at her alma mater Penn State, Rockwell briefly worked in broadcasting before moving back to coaching.

“I missed it [coaching]. I was really excited to be back in it [and for a] new fresh start,” Rockwell said. “I grew up watching Notre Dame on the TV … I love the academic piece of it … it’s just a magical place.”

Excited for the opportunity, she dove in, embracing the challenges of coaching with hopes of building a winning program of her own. After an up-and-down first season at the helm, Rockwell believes the Irish have what it takes to move forward and take the next step. They may have faced more adversity than they hoped this season. But Rockwell is pleased by how the Irish responded to it.

“We are incredible[y] resilient [ … and we] continue to fight and battle no matter what every single match … we have another gear,” Rockwell said.

Through the struggles of last year, Rockwell believes the team is prepared for this year. However, last season was not without its joys. For Rockwell, it was great seeing the team come together, working outside themselves. Although she claims there was no exact point when she really noticed this, she did mention the match against Wake Forest on Oct. 14 as an example of this teamwork.

“We were down huge against Wake Forest … something crazy in the fifth set … [and] we were able to extend the match and win,” Rockwell said.

Despite being down, the Irish remained unfazed, a trend Rockwell hopes to continue into the next season and beyond. In terms of next year, the team already has some goals laid out, particularly continuing to improve both individually and as a team. Rockwell stressed the importance of a team-oriented approach, something that starts in practice. In doing this, she believes the team can reach its potential as a winning program in the ACC and, eventually, beyond.

“It’s continuing to build that trust with one another … supporting your teammates even when you’re not on the court,” Rockwell said.

The Irish did show signs of promise in Rockwell's first year. The Irish won four consecutive matches from Oct. 7 to 16 against a quarter of ACC foes. They also took four of five matches at the 2022 Quest for the Crown and Bulldog Brawl in September. And the Irish had a couple of outstanding individual performances as well. Sophomore setter Phyona Schrader averaged over eight assists per set, ranking seventh in the ACC. Junior libero Hattie Monson also had a spectacular season. Monson finished with 4.19 digs per set, the third most in the conference. Outsider hitters freshman Lucy Trump and graduate student Clare Delaplane also narrowly missed the top 10 in the ACC for service aces per set. Both finished with an average of 0.33, just 0.01 back of Louisville's Elena Scott.

The team has already been gearing up for next season, working together to build a winning culture together as they test the tolerance of one another and ramp up training to prepare for the upcoming season. Going forward, Rockwell hopes to continue to build on the foundation she has laid, particularly with the buy-in of the players.

“I want people to come me and say I love Notre Dame … I want them to have a community like I had [at Penn State],” Rockwell said.

With one season in the books, Rockwell has already started making this vision a reality, and she looks to bring it one step closer this fall.