Sept. 16, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Committed. Competitive. Enthusiastic. All-in.
Named co-captains before the 2015 season began by their peers and coaches, the duo has been charged with providing leadership to a team that features a whopping 12 underclassmen on the 15-player roster.
“They embody what it means to be a great team player and I think that’s what helps lead us both on and off the court,” said libero Natalie Johnson. “They do a good job of pushing us to be our best selves on the court, in the classroom and in our daily lives. They genuinely care about our wellbeing. Not just as a team, but also as individuals.”
Freshman libero Ryann DeJarld echoed Johnson’s comments.
“Katie and Maddie both lead by example, which can be really hard to find sometimes in a captain,” said the Chicago native. “They were both very welcoming to the freshman. They didn’t treat us like freshman, but as teammates. They hold us to high standards.”
Believed to be just the third sophomore captain in program history (Mary Jo Hensler & Josie Maternowski in 1982 being the others), Dilfer moved into the starting setter role this year after splitting duty as a freshman.
The Saratoga, California native leads the team in assists (316) and service aces (10) while playing a critical position for the Irish.
“Being a setter you have to make a lot of decisions, which Maddie is really good at,” said DeJarld. It’s a position that can be very humbling. Rarely do people say ‘great set’ after a big kill.”
Notre Dame head coach Jim McLaughlin is known to have a keen eye for setters, as he has helped mentor some of the sport’s best including 2005 Honda Award winner Courtney Thompson while at Washington.
“I have a lot of belief in Maddie, said the 25-year head coaching veteran. “I believe in her as a person and as a setter. I think she can be great. She’s not afraid to challenge herself every day.”
Higgins, meanwhile, was a breakout star for the Irish in 2014 after playing in just five matches during her freshman campaign. She has done a little bit of everything early in the year for her team.
The Kearney, Nebraska native sits second on the squad in points (78.0), tied for second in service aces (9), third in kills (59) and fourth in blocks (20) while playing in seven of nine matches.
In the opening weekend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Higgins earned a spot on the Blue Raider Bash all-tournament team after posting team weekend highs in kills (43), blocks (11) and service aces (6) while attacking at a .326 clip.
“I want Katie to be a great player,” said McLaughlin. “The better you get the harder it is to improve. So that’s the challenge for her.
“With her teammates, she has the opportunity to send a message that is very strong.”
With more than two months left in the season, leadership will continue to play a key role in the program’s development. However, if the first nine matches are any indication (ND is just two wins away from tying last year’s mark), the leadership of Dilfer and Higgins has already paid huge dividends for McLaughlin and the duo’s Irish teammates.
“They show their dedication and work ethic every day in practice and in other parts of their lives,” said Johnson. “They push us to work as hard as we can every play, every day.”
Notre Dame (4-5) closes out non-conference action this weekend at No. 22 Purdue and the Purdue Boiler Box Challenge in West Lafayette, Indiana. There the Irish will meet Ball Sate (12 p.m. ET Friday), South Dakota (5 p.m. ET Friday) and Purdue (8 p.m. ET Saturday). All three matches are available through live stats. The contest against the Boilermakers will also have a free audio broadcast through Purdue and a paid online video stream through BTN+ and BTN2GO.com.
Individual match tickets for Notre Dame volleyball are on sale throughout the rest of the season. Visit und.com/tickets or call the Murnane Family Ticket Office at 574-631-7356 for more information.
For the latest Irish volleyball coverage, be sure to log on to UND.com or follow the program on Facebook (/NDVolleyball), Twitter (@NDVolleyball), Instagram (NDVBall) and Snapchat (NDVolleyball).
–Russell Dorn, Athletics Communications Assistant Director