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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

Irish record another split in Catholic Challenge

Notre Dame volleyball's mission this season is all about progress. A 10-18 record in Salima Rockwell's first season as head coach last fall certainly wasn't ideal. But like most teams with a first-year head coach, last year was about more than just record. It was about preparing the program to take steps forward this fall.

Of course, progress can be measured in many different ways. For the second straight weekend, Notre Dame went 1-1. The Irish beat Villanova on Friday before falling to Santa Clara the next day, with both games being played on Villanova's home court as part of the Catholic Challenge. However, after losing more sets (five) than they won (four) in the season-opening Under Armour challenge against Wichita State and Texas Tech, the Irish swept the Wildcats and hung tight with an undefeated Broncos squad.

Notre Dame's 3-0 against Villanova was the team's first sweep since Oct. 7, 2022, against Syracuse. The Irish notched just two such victories all of last season. Rockwell saw her club’s impressive resiliency from the opening weekend carried over to Friday. After falling into a 7-0 deficit right out of the gates, the Irish recorded seven of the next eight points to spur a 25-10 finish to the set for the Irish. Senior libero Hattie Monson notched consecutive aces to put Notre Dame ahead 14-13. The slim lead, Notre Dame's first of the set, would hold up the rest of the way.

In fact, the Irish would only trail four more times the rest of the match and never by more than a single point. The Irish received contributions from up and down their roster in the second set, ending it on an 11-5 run after Villanova claimed a brief 15-14 lead. More stellar play by Monson and a set-point kill by freshman outside hitter Ava Lange sealed the set.

The Wildcats hung tough with Notre Dame early in the third set. The teams were tied on four separate occasions within the first 18 points, which were split evenly 9-9. An 8-3 Irish outburst put Notre Dame in the driver's seat. Once again, Lange recorded the knockout blow, sealing Notre Dame's second win of the season. Overall, the Irish out-blocked Villanova 9-3 and committed just 10 attack errors to the Wildcats' 17. Junior outside hitter Sydney Palazzolo led the Irish with 12 kills. Another transfer, graduate student setter Nicole Drewnick, paced Notre Dame with 30 assists.

The Irish got off to a strong start in their second game of the weekend on Saturday. Notre Dame won two of the first three sets against then 4-0 Santa Clara, holding the Broncos to just 18 points in the third set. But the Irish let an 18-16 lead in set four slip away, dropping the final two points on errors by Palazzolo (service) and Lange (block). Santa Clara went on two early runs of three or more points early in the decisive fifth set. The Broncos kept Notre Dame at arm's reach for the majority of the set, taking four of the last five points to win 15-9.

The Irish return home for the first time in 2023 this weekend as they take on Illinois and Oklahoma. The Irish host the Illini on Friday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. and the Sooners on Sunday, Sept. 9, at 2 p.m. Both games take place at Purcell Pavilion and are on ACC Network Extra.

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