Nov. 9, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Five sets appears to be the new normal for the University of Notre Dame volleyball team. After playing in only one five setter in the season’s first 18 matches, the Irish have now played in five in their last six matches including four in a row. The latest, a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Louisville Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion (16-25, 17-25, 25-23, 25-22, 15-13), snapped a four-match losing streak for the Irish and finally got them over the fifth-set roadblock that had haunted them in the last three matches.
The win gave the Irish two victories over the Cardinals in the last three meetings where Notre Dame came from 2-0 down. In 2012, the Irish rallied all the way back at No. 10 Louisville to stun the Cardinals in five sets.
After winning a pair of close sets to tie the match at two, the Irish entered the fifth frame against the Cardinals with all the momentum. Notre Dame quickly jumped out to a 5-2 lead on back-to-back kills from freshman Sydney Kuhn to force an early Louisville timeout.
The Cardinals (14-11, 6-7 ACC) wouldn’t go away, however, as they fought back to tie the match at nine on a setting error on the Irish. A point later, Louisville claimed its first lead since 1-0 on a block from Tess Clark and Maya McClendon.
Notre Dame used the lessons learned from their three previous five-set losses to fight back. Holding a 12-11 lead, a Nicole Smith kill put the Irish to within two points of victory. After an Irish attack error, Smith pounded home her 18th and final kill of the match to give Notre Dame match point. Two points later, setter Maddie Dilfer fed a ball to Louisville native Jeni Houser, which the senior promptly pounded home to give her squad the thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Cardinals.
“I have to think it’s a little bit of anger and a little bit of commitment to play better than we had in previous fifth sets,” said head coach Debbie Brown on what helped the Irish prevail in the final frame. “Before set five we talked about how it’s a quick set and we have to be great every point. I thought we were pretty consistent and showed great composure. We really battled. It was a true team win.”
After the first two sets it didn’t seem like it would be Notre Dame’s day. Early in the match, starting middle blocker Katie Higgins, one of the team’s bright spots this season, went down with a left ankle injury that kept her out the entire match. The loss definitely hurt Notre Dame, as the Cardinals hit .500 in the opening frame and .317 in the second set to cruise to a 2-0 lead.
However, the Irish changed the match in their favor in the third set, as they tallied an impressive 18 kills in the frame to overcome a 20-19 deficit. A Kuhn service ace that gave Notre Dame the set win, 25-23, seemed to change the momentum of the match.
“It’s always tough getting down 0-2 and even after winning those next two sets, it’s hard to win three in a row against a great team like Louisville,” said senior libero Kathleen Severn, who totaled a career-high 18 digs. “Our biggest thing was to stay composed the whole time and to attack each point one at a time to get the win.”
Notre Dame had plenty of impressive performances in a true team win. Four student-athletes registered 10 or more kills led by Smith’s 18. Houser finished with 13, while Kuhn registered her fourth double-double of the year with 13 kills and 13 digs. Lastly, freshman Sam Fry, who was celebrating her 19th birthday Sunday, totaled 11 kills, three blocks and three digs.
Distributing the ball nicely throughout the team was freshman Maddie Dilfer, who posted season highs in assists (48) and digs (15) to produce her fifth double-double of the campaign.
On the back row, the Irish did a spectacular job all day of passing the ball, as Severyn led the Irish with 18 while freshman defensive specialists Natalie Johnson (12) and Jo Kremer (8) combined for 20 to go along with Kuhn’s and Dilfer’s efforts.
“Kathleen was incredibly steady out there today,” said Brown. “She passed and served really well and she kept the team composed. She was definitely a difference maker for us.
“She did the same thing for us at Boston College last Sunday. She came in during the third set and won the job in that match with her composure and by playing really well. She continued that in practice this week and obviously into the match. Because we have so many freshmen and so many younger players, we need that voice of experience and that calmness out there. She’s really vocal. Sometimes we get quiet out there. I think she made a huge difference for us.”
Johnson also had a season-high three service aces to lead an Irish contingent that finished the match with eight aces compared to just two for Louisville.
“Sydney passed well and so did Natalie and Jo,” said Severyn. “It really helps out the libero when she is surrounded by people who are playing well and we had a lot of people that played well today.”
For Louisville, middle blockers Clark and Maggie DeJong combined to total 20 kills and only three errors on 42 attempts in hitting a combined .405 for the match. They also had 12 combined blocks as Louisville finished with 15 compared to just four for Notre Dame.
Elsewhere, Janelle Jenkins had 13 kills, 15 digs and five blocks, Maya McClendon had 14 kills and 10 digs, setter Katie George posted 47 assists, 14 digs, two blocks and six kills and libero Roxanne McVey had a match-high 22 digs.
A thrilling watch for the 1,007 fans in attendance, the match featured 39 ties and 15 lead changes.
Notre Dame (6-18, 3-10 ACC) hits the road for the final time on the 2014 season next weekend, as it travels to Wake Forest and No. 25 Duke. The Irish play the Demon Deacons at 6:30 p.m. Friday and the Blue Devils at 1 p.m. Sunday.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director