Oct. 22, 2014
Toni Alugbue has been a University of Notre Dame volleyball player fans couldn’t miss on the court.
The talented and athletic outside hitter entered the 2014 season just 82 kills away from becoming the 22nd player in program history to reach 1,000 kills for her career.
Now due to an injury that has sidelined her for her senior season, the 2012 honorable mention All-American is missed more than ever, but she isn’t letting that get her down.
Before the 2014 season began, Alugbue jumped and landed on her left leg during a preseason drill, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. She had surgery Sept. 3 and has been rehabilitating the knee since.
But when one door closes, another one opens. And as tough as it is sometimes to believe that, it is the way Alugbue has chosen to look at it.
“I was really hurt. I was really bummed that it’s my senior year and I couldn’t play with my best friends,” the Del Aire, California native said as her bright smile faded. “But I know that in perspective, it has given me an opportunity to contribute to the team in a different way, in a way that I haven’t had in the past. I could be more of a coach on the sideline, someone who is the same age as my teammates.”
Along with coaching the young Irish team, another interesting opportunity arose for Alugbue off the court: broadcasting.
It’s not often that a broadcast has a current student-athlete in a Division I sport on set who can give expert commentary, so Fighting Irish Digital Media jumped at the chance to have Alugbue share her thoughts on the Notre Dame vs. Boston College ESPN3 broadcast as the color commentator this past Sunday (Oct. 19).
“It’s nice to take a step back,” Alugbue said before the broadcast. “[As a player,] you have a certain view and perspective on the court, but when you’re actually watching and commentating from a strictly volleyball side, it will give a unique feel of the sport. I’m excited.”
Alugbue, a management consulting major in the Mendoza College of Business, had no experience in broadcasting prior to Sunday, but she didn’t seem nervous behind the microphone before the match began. She credited knowing her teammates and knowing Boston College well since she played the Eagles twice last year, as well as watching film and looking up stats prior to the game as keys for her lack of nerves.
Alugbue got to the FIDM office two hours before the first serve to get a quick rundown on how the day was going to go. Told to focus on her expertise of the sport and being conversational, Alugbue thought about what to say in the opening scene of the broadcast with the help of her co-analyst for the day, Megan Bastedo, a production intern in FIDM.
Mike check, a couple of run throughs and some down time, Alugbue recorded her first open in which she made it look effortless.
The game started and although Alugbue was calm and quiet at first, she became more and more comfortable, interjecting her thoughts wherever she could and getting excited when her Irish took the lead.
“I felt like I had a lot to say,” she said. “In volleyball, each play goes by so fast and something different is happening in each play. I felt like I wanted to say something about one play, but then another play had already occurred, but I think it all went smoothly.”
The Irish were down 2-0 against Boston College, but rallied their way back to win sets three and four much to the delight of their No. 1 fan in the broadcast studio.
In the final frame, the Eagles jumped out to a 5-3 lead, but freshman Maddie Plumlee jumpstarted a Notre Dame rally by pounding home a kill to trim the BC lead to one before going back to serve. Behind the serving of the Winona Lake, Indiana product, the Irish went on an 8-0 run that featured two Plumlee service aces and two Sam Fry kills to put Notre Dame comfortably ahead at 11-5. Later in the set with the Irish up 12-7, the Eagles self destructed with a service error and two attack errors to give Notre Dame a 15-7 win in set five and an improbable 3-2 win overall.
The win undoubtedly made Alugbue happy, but she couldn’t help feel emotions coming over her as she watched from afar.
“We had 18 blocks, and usually every time we get a block, we have a block party, so I missed all of the block parties during the match, but I’m really happy for my teammates,” she said. “It was a really good win.”
Alugbue stated that it was a bit of a shock seeing what all goes on behind the scenes of a volleyball broadcast, particularly the planning.
“I thought it was more of a you watch and you speak, but there is a lot of information provided to the commentators beforehand which helps the speaking part,” she said. “Megan helped me out a lot. It was a different view, I’ve always had a view from in the game or on the sidelines, but to be able to give my expert analysis was really cool and I think that looking at the things that I saw and [talked] about my team can help my teammates going into their next match this weekend against Virginia Tech and Virginia.”
Seeing her teammates play her game without her is also giving her an extra motivational push.
“I know that my teammates are working hard in practice, so I know I have to match that work ethic in the training room and rehabbing. That gives me the motivation to work harder. I’ve seen injuries happen to a lot of people on my Notre Dame team and on my past teams so I know it’s an injury I can come back from. Although it stinks that I can’t play with them, I know that I will eventually make a return to the court.
“I’m grateful for the short amount of time I had to play with my teammates. I know that I will return to the court soon so it hurts now but I know I’m not done with volleyball yet.”
And will fans be hearing her voice on future Notre Dame volleyball broadcasts?
“Oh yeah, definitely. It’s fun.”
By Staci Gasser