The 1995 Notre Dame volleyball team fashioned a 27-7 season, claimed the BIG EAST season and tournament championships, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament regionals despite a number of setbacks. Senior setter Shannon Tuttle missed the entire season due to a shoulder injury while junior middle blockers Jen Briggs (tendinitis) and Jennifer Rouse (sore ankles) were held to just 84 and 81 games due to their respective injuries. A demoralizing four-match, midseason losing streak vs. top-25 teams also took its toll on the team psyche but the Irish regrouped to win 11 of their final 13 outings.
A quartet of all-district performers led the way: junior hitter Jenny Birkner, sophomore setter Carey May and sophomore hitters Angie Harris and Jaimie Lee, with Birkner earning BIG EAST player of the year honors. The Irish posted a team record .271 hitting percentage and finished #14 in the USA Today/AVCA poll.
The Irish won their first eight matches while capturing the championships of three tournaments. Harris totaled 24 kills in the season-opening win over Northwestern (3-1) while May’s 13 digs paced the defensive effort.
The test was stiffer on the second day but the result was the same, as Notre Dame hung a 3-1 decision on #9 USC, avenging tough 3-0 losses at USC late in 1992 and ’94. Harris earned Shamrock Classic MVP honors thanks to her 20 kills and 13 digs vs. USC while junior Kristina Ervin contributed nine kills and nine digs in the absence of a hobbled Birkner. Briggs provided memorable backrow defense, coming up with 12 digs in the satisfying win.
The Irish were extended to 14 games during a 24-hour stretch before emerging with the championship at the Big Four Classic for the third straight year. The opening match vs. Indiana featured one of the greatest comebacks in Irish history. The Hoosiers appeared in control with an 11-4 edge in the fifth game before the Irish closed with an 11-2 run to claim the victory. Lee contributed three kills to the rally while Briggs came up with two blocks and the winning kill. Lee paced the win with 23 kills and Harris had a team-high 17 digs. Hours later, the Irish defeated Kentucky 3-1 after high-scoring wins in the final two games (17-15, 15-12). The next day, the Irish again were extended–this time by Louisville–and needed to rally before winning 15-4 in the fourth game and 15-7 in the fifth. Lee was named tournament MVP after racking up 22 kills vs. the Cardinals while Birkner had 22 digs in the final win and was named all-tournament. Notre Dame would face just one more five-game situation (a loss at #25 Georgia Tech) in its remaining 29 matches.
The Irish captured their third straight tournament championship at the Purdue Premier, with 3-0 wins over North Carolina State, Oklahoma and the host Boilermakers. Harris was tournament MVP after totaling 20 kills vs. Purdue while Lee’s 19 kills and 10 digs vs. the hosts helped land her on the all-tournament team. Freshman Lindsay Treadwell also was named all-tournament after hitting .544 in the three wins (with 27 kills and 12 blocks).
Notre Dame’s 27-match home winning streak ended the next week vs. #17 Texas, which overcame a loss in the first game (12-15) to win 15-11, 16-14, 15-13. Harris and Lee each had 23 kills, as the Irish let a 10-2 lead slip through their fingers in the third game. The Longhorns then overcame an 11-6 Notre Dame edge in the fourth game and the streak was over. The loss dropped Notre Dame from its highest-ever ranking in the AVCA poll (seventh).
The Irish responded with eight straight 3-0 wins, highlighted by two victories over #15 Colorado to began a new home streak. Lee paced the effort with 14 kills in both wins over CU. Notre Dame kept its 3-0 streak going, with road wins over DePaul, Georgetown and Villanova, before topping West Virginia and Duke at home. An easy win at Western Michigan boosted the Irish record to 16-1 and preceded the trip to Atlanta, where a memorable match was about to unfold.
The #8-ranked Irish jumped ahead 15-12 and then took the second game, 17-15. But the #25-ranked Yellow Jackets stung the visitors, taking the final three games (15-11, 15-12, 20-18). Tech could not stop Birkner’s career-high 28 kills, but Notre Dame ended up on the wrong side of a five-game match for just the fourth time since 1991. The match featured 150 points and lasted three hours.
A day later, Notre Dame again faced the challenge of beating Texas, this time at Georgia Tech and with the Longhorns ranked #11. The teams split the first two games before the Longhorns won the third game, 15-10, and closed things out 16-14. The Irish actually led 14-11 in the fourth game and had four chances to force a fifth game before Texas rattled off five straight points to claim the win. It marked the first consecutive losses for Notre Dame since 1993. Harris had 20 kills and 13 digs in the defeat.
The challenging fall break trip shifted to the west coast, where Notre Dame tangled with #4 Stanford. The Irish again gained an early split before the Cardinal surged to the win (15-7, 15-5). Harris had 18 kills while Brett Hensel kept Irish hopes alive with a team-high 18 digs.
The Irish slid down the coast to face #15 Long Beach State and split the opening games once again before losing 3-1. Birkner and Lee both posted 17 kills in Notre Dame’s fourth straight road loss vs. a top-25 team.
A return to BIG EAST conference play provided a win over Syracuse and a 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh, the only game Notre Dame would lose during the conference season. More 3-0 victories followed–at Rutgers and Seton Hall and at home vs. St. John’s and Connecticut. The Irish then took a break from league play for a trip to face #1 Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers dispatched the Irish 3-0 but Notre Dame closed with wins at Providence and Boston College.
Notre Dame hosted the BIG EAST Tournament and emerged as the champion after victories over Villanova (3-0) and Pittsburgh (3-1). Harris was named the tournament’s MVP after totaling 10 kills vs. the Wildcats and 18 vs. the Panthers, who shocked the Irish by winning the opening game, 15-5. Notre Dame quickly responded, closing out the tournament 15-7, 15-1, 15-4. It marked the 50th straight victory for the Irish vs. a conference opponent.
Notre Dame drew a bye in the NCAAs and hosted Iowa State in the second round. The Irish made quick work of the first game, 15-3, and claimed the crucial second game, 16-14, before ending the Cyclones’ season, 15-10, the 20th victory by a 3-0 score for the Irish during ’96.
The Irish were off to the regional round for the third straight season but were denied in their quest for a return to the NCAA quarterfinals, after advancing to the final eight in 1993. Upstart and #19-ranked Oral Roberts brought the Irish season to a close (15-9, 15-11, 15-4). Treadwell wrapped up the second-best hitting season in Irish history (.367) with a team-high 12 kills while Hensel concluded her career at the Stanford-hosted regional with a team-best 12 digs.