Oct. 25, 2013
Front Page Photos from Dave Knachel – Virginia Tech Athletics
BLACKSBURG, Va. – Despite a strong defensive effort that produced a season-high 18 blocks, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team had a lackluster performance on offense, totaling just 39 kills, in a 3-1 (25-23, 23-25, 25-20, 25-21) loss to Atlantic Coast Conference foe Virginia Tech Friday night at Cassell Coliseum.
In the first matchup between the two teams since 2003 when both programs were still in the BIG EAST Conference, the Hokies got the better of the Irish in front of 689 fans as standout junior Kathryn Caine put on a clinic with 16 kills and only two errors in 29 attempts to hit a match-high .483. Freshman Lindsey Owens actually led the Hokies in kills with 17 to give VT two players with 15+ kills on the night. As a team, Virginia Tech had 57 kills, 18 more than the Irish.
Despite Caine’s efficiency though, the Hokies totaled 30 errors and only hit .193 as a team in large part to the Notre Dame front line. The Irish turned back an impressive 18 VT attack attempts, which was the most since the squad blocked 19 against Pitt 364 days ago (Oct. 26, 2012).
“On the bright side our blocking had its best showing of the season,” said head coach Debbie Brown. “We just need to get the offense to go with it. It’s been a struggle for us to get both sides of the ball to be consistent at the same time. We’ve seen greatness on both sides of the ball at times, but the consistency to do it night in and night out hasn’t been there.”
The Irish just couldn’t get going on offense, however, starting from the beginning of the match where they opened with two consecutive attack errors.
“We knew we wanted to attack the line but we started off the match with some unforced errors attempting that,” said Brown. “We never got into a good rhythm on offense and it was frustrating. It’s pretty obvious that only 39 kills in four sets is not going to be enough to win. Our offense has to get better.”
For the night, the Irish had 25 errors in 121 attempts to hit .116. Senior Andie Olsen and junior Jeni Houser each had eight to lead the Irish, while senior Nicole Smith had seven. Houser led the way in blocks with 10, her second double-digit performance of her career. Senior setter Maggie Brindock recorded six blocks to go along with a team-high three service aces.
The Irish look to get back on track at 1 p.m. Sunday when it continues its Old Dominion state swing with a showdown with the University of Virginia.
“We have to generate more kills against Virginia, there’s no question about that,” said Brown. “We talked to the team after the match that when we were receiving the serve we got some pretty good approaches and swings on the ball, but in transition we weren’t getting off the net very well so we weren’t able to get a very good approach to get back up. So that will be our focus tomorrow during practice.”
The four-set match featured aggressive serving (15 service aces between two teams), and lots of tie scores (29) to go along with 15 lead changes.
Behind unbelievable sets from Owens and Caine, the Hokies held off the Irish in the first frame, 25-23, to take a 1-0 lead. Owens (4K, .800A%) and Caine (5K, .833A%) combined to hit .818 and had nine of the squads 15 kills. As a team the Hokies hit .226, while the Irish attacked at just a .129 clip. A back-and-forth frame saw 10 ties and four lead changes with the final coming at 18-18 after a solo block by VT’s Fish. The Irish had held an 18-16 lead, but the Hokies scored four consecutive points to claim a 20-18 advantage. Notre Dame cut Virginia Tech’s lead to one at 20-19, 22-21, 23-22 and 24-23, but could never get completely over the mountain as Bryan turned in her second kill of the set to close out the Irish.
Facing a 2-0 hole on the road as they trailed by four late in set two (21-17), the Irish rebounded in fine fashion to win, 25-23, and even the match at one. As is the case with many comebacks in volleyball, a big block can change the tide of momentum. Notre Dame got just that trailing 22-19. As Kennedy Bryan went up to try and give VT a 23-19 lead, Houser and Smith stuffed her attack attempt to trim the lead to 22-20 and give the Irish serve. Andrea McHugh went back to serve for the Irish and promptly dished up an ace to force a Hokie timeout. After the break, a block by Houser and Smith was bookended by kills from Houser and junior Meg Vonderhaar to give Notre Dame set point. After another kill by Caine, Smith ended the frame with a kill off a pass from Brindock. The Irish had seven blocks in the second set to help hold the Hokies to a .000 attack percentage.
The turning point in set three, and the match, came after a Hokie timeout followed a 3-0 Notre Dame run that tied the set at 18. Whatever was talked about in the timeout worked for VT, as the Hokies went on a 7-2 run to end the frame (25-20) and take a 2-1 lead in the match. After the teams traded points, kills by Caine and Samantha Gostling and a service ace by Owens gave the Hokies a 22-19 lead and forced a Notre Dame time out. A kill by LaTasha Samson-Akpan increased the lead to 23-19, before a service error stopped the Hokie run. However, another kill by Caine – her eighth of the night – and a block by Hamsher and Caine gave the Hokies the set victory. VT hit .324 for the frame by pounding home 17 kills with just five errors during the frame.
Virginia Tech closed out the match with a 25-21 victory in set four. Ahead 19-13, it looked like the Hokies would cruise to the win. However, the Irish squad wouldn’t go down without a fight as they ran off three consecutive points to trim the lead to 19-16 and then later in the set cut it to 24-21. The comeback attempt was snuffed out the same way the match began though – with an Irish attack error. Notre Dame struggled on offense for the entire set, as it produced just six kills to hit -.071.
— Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director