Senior Nicole Smith led the Irish with nine kills Sunday against No. 22 Florida State.

Irish Rally Falls Short In 3-1 Setback To Georgia

Sept. 21, 2013

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Georgia 3, Notre Dame 1Get Acrobat Reader

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – After struggling in multiple facets of the game in sets one and two, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team showed a lot of fight in sets three and four against the University of Georgia, but couldn’t rally all the way back in a 3-1 (25-18, 25-14, 17-25, 25-23) loss to the Bulldogs Saturday night at the Horejsi Center on the campus of Kansas University.

“I just don’t think we executed very well in the first two sets,” said head coach Debbie Brown. “Our defense was in disarray. We were trying to switch defenses based on which hitters were up and we just got too mental with it and we were missing digs we should have gotten.”

Notre Dame’s turnaround after the break started with improved serving and better passing. The Irish also had more fortune at the net as they hit .243 and .405 in the third and fourth sets after hitting just .219 and .000 in the first two frames. However, the Irish had trouble controlling the Bulldogs on the net all night as UGA attacked at a .331 clip and also totaled 12 blocks to just five for the Irish.

“We switched up a couple of things at the break,” said Brown. “We talked about how we had been serving too easy in the first two sets. I do think our serving got better later in the match so they were out of system more, which allowed us to put pressure on them.”

Helping the Irish rally in the last two sets were a trio of 10-plus kill players in Nicole Smith, Jeni Houser and Toni Alugbue. Smith, who had a career-high 14 kills, hit .303, while Alugbue totaled 14 kills in three less chances to hit .333. Houser rounded out the group with 11 kills while hitting .304.

“I thought Nicole (Smith) hit really well,” said Brown. “She had confidence while she was out there and it was really good to see her step up and have a good match.”

Georgia had four double-digit kill performers led by Stacey Smith’s 13.

The Irish, who earlier in the day beat North Dakota State, 3-1, play the host Kansas Jayhawks at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday in a match that will be broadcast live online at ESPN3. Fans can also pay $2.95 for a Kansas online audio broadcast of the match or follow live stats for free.

“We need to regroup first tonight and not feel sorry for ourselves,” said Brown. “Our competitive drive needs to take over tomorrow when we play them. Kansas is a very physical team and there will be a raucous crowd at their place. We’ll need to serve aggressively or we’ll have a tough time stopping them. If we perform the fundamentals of serving and passing well and have a strong competitive spirit we’ll be in good shape.”

Trailing by just a point after a kill by Alugbue made the score 14-13, the Irish couldn’t stop a run by the Bulldogs as UGA closed the first set by winning 11 of the final 16 points to take the opening frame, 25-18. Notre Dame had trouble on the defensive end as the Bulldogs hit .407 and had four players register at least one kill without an error. Notre Dame also struggled with the serve, totaling three errors. Despite these issues, the Irish trailed by just one at 18-17 and had the serve. But two Georgia kills and a block extended the lead to 21-17. After a kill by Houser made it 21-18, the Bulldogs closed out the set with three kills and a bad set by the Irish.

Georgia dominated in set two, earning the convincing 25-14 win. The Bulldogs picked up right where they left off in set one as they impressed on the offensive end by hitting .481. UGA had only three errors in 27 attempts and totaled only seven errors in the first two sets. Georgia also had five blocks to help stymie the Irish offensive attack, which hit at a .000% clip.

A different Irish team came out of the locker room as Notre Dame used a strong serving attack to take the third set, 25-17. While the box score won’t show the impressive serving, the Irish placed many serves in spots that forced Georgia out of its offense and put Notre Dame in a good position to go on the offensive. Smith was especially good on offense, pounding home six kills in 11 opportunities. The Irish also got better at digging, recording 16 in the set, which topped their first two sets combined (15). Notre Dame began to make its run when it held a one point lead at 15-14. With the exception of a lone service error, the Irish pounded home five kills, watched UGA commit three errors and had a service ace to push the lead to 24-15. Just two points later Houser emphatically ended the set with a kill to send the match to a fourth frame.

The fourth set was a back-and-forth affair, especially at the end. After being in the match the whole set, the Irish looked to be down and out trailing 23-19. Notre Dame wouldn’t give up though as a kills by Brindock and Smith trimmed the lead to 23-21 and forced UGA into its final timeout. The rally continued after the timeout as Georgia had an attack error and Smith put down her 14th and final kill of the night to tie the set at 23. However, the Bulldogs would let the rally go no further as a kill by Tirah Le’au and a block by Lauren Teknipp gave Georgia the 3-1 win. The set saw five tie scores and remarkably both teams attacked at a .405 clip as each had the same line of 19 kills and four errors in 37 attempts.

— Russell Dorn, Assistant Sports Information Director