Junior setter Hanna Muzzonigro

Irish Set For Road Matches With Old BIG EAST Rivals Pitt And Louisville

Oct. 9, 2014

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Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
: Free / ESPN3: Check Internet Package
Friday, Oct. 10, 2014 – 7 p.m. (ET)
Fitzgerald Field House / Pittsburgh, Pa.
Records: Notre Dame (411, 13 ACC), Pittsburgh (132, 11 ACC)

Notre Dame at Louisville
: Free / CardsTV: $9.95
Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014 – 2 p.m. (ET)
KFC Yum! Center / Louisville, Ky.
Records: Notre Dame (4-11, 13 ACC), Louisville (10-6, 22 ACC)

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Fresh off a productive home weekend where it earned its first Atlantic Coast Conference win of the season against Syracuse and took a set from No. 25 Duke, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team hits the road this weekend for an old BIG EAST weekend, as the Irish meet Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN3 before battling Louisville at 2 p.m. Sunday.

After starting 0-6 to begin the 2014 season, the Irish have shown improvement over the last nine matches as they are barely under .500 at 4-5. Notre Dame hit just .154 in those first six matches, but has upped that figure to .219 in the nine contests since. The Irish are also serving better, as they have improved their aces per set average from 0.75 to 1.24 during the run. Opponents, meanwhile, are worse in kills per set (13.95 to 13.32), attack percentage (.259 to .230), assists per set (12.40 to 12.12), digs per set (14.70 to 13.97) and blocks per set (2.80 to 2.28).

In addition to previously mentioned efforts from a spectacular freshman class that has a grip on anywhere from two to four starting spots (not including freshman libero Natalie Johnson) in any given match, Notre Dame has also gotten a solid effort from a new starter in the middle, Katie Higgins.

The Kearney, Nebraska native played in just five matches last year and in seven total sets in the first six matches this year, but has emerged as a steady contributor in the middle for the last nine contests. During those matches, Higgins leads the team in attack percentage (.319) and is second in blocks (26) and blocks per set (0.79). She currently tops the team in attack percentage (.277), while placing third in blocks per set (27), fourth in total blocks (27) and fifth in kills (61) and kills per set (1.52).

Also coming around of late is junior, first-year starting setter Hanna Muzzonigro. In her last three matches, the Gibsonia, Pennsylvania product has tallied the three best assist totals of her career, as she posted 34 against No. 6 Florida State, a career-high 49 versus Syracuse and 40 against No. 25 Duke. She also had 12 digs against the Blue Devils for her second double-double of the campaign.

Not coincidently, the offense has run much smoother in these contests as compared to the rest of the season. After hitting .176 and averaging 11.93 kills per set in the season’s first 12 matches, Notre Dame has attacked at a .262 clip and averaged 14.27 kills per set in the last three ACC contests.

The Irish have also seen their other numbers go up as well (assists per set, service aces per set, digs per set and blocks per set). The biggest benefactors of the increased offense have been graduate student Nicole Smith and senior Jeni Houser, who have both raised their attack averages substantially over the last three matches. Smith has gone from a season average of .135 to hitting .354 against No. 6 Florida State, Syracuse and No. 25 Duke, while Houser went from .239 to .314.

Meanwhile, the opponents for this weekend both sit at .500 in conference, as Pitt is 1-1 after a sweep of Boston College Sept. 28 and a thrilling 3-2 loss to No. 12 North Carolina Oct. 3, while Louisville is coming off a weekend split where it beat Virginia Tech, 3-2, in Blacksburg before falling to Virginia in Charlottesville, 3-1.

The Panthers (13-2, 1-1 ACC) cruised through a non-conference slate by sweeping 10 mid- and low-major opponents. Their lone loss came on the road at Colorado (3-1) before the close setback to the highly ranked Tar Heels.

Preseason all-ACC selection Jessica Wynn leads the Panthers in kills (176) and kills per set (3.67), while junior Amanda Orchard is hitting a remarkable .459 with 105 kills and 46 blocks. Elsewhere, redshirt sophomore Jenna Potts is hitting .365 and leads the team in blocks (75) and blocks per set (1.56). Pitt uses two setters (Jenna Jacobson and Lindsey Zitzke) and libero Delaney Clesen has 20 service aces and averages 4.66 digs per set.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 23-9, including claiming a tight, 3-2, win last year at Purcell Pavilion in the first meeting as ACC opponents.

The Cardinals (10-6, 2-2 ACC) played a tough non-conference schedule similar to the Irish, as they beat No. 15 Arizona State (3-0), lost to No. 16 Kentucky (3-1) and split with No. 6 Wisconsin (L, 3-0) and No. 12 Minnesota (W, 3-1) at the season-opening ACC / Big Ten Challenge in Minneapolis.

All-everything setter Katie George is having a heck of a junior campaign, as she leads the team in assists (630), assists per set (10.50), service aces (20) and service aces per set (0.33), is second in attack percentage (.360) and third in digs (159) and digs per set (2.65).

Sophomore preseason all-ACC selection Janelle Jenkins is hitting .324 and averaging 3.03 kills per set, while freshman Tess Clark is attacking at a .411 clip and leads the squad in blocks (67) and blocks per set (1.12).

Louisville leads the all-time series, 19-10, including a slim 5-3 advantage in BIG EAST contests. However, the last meeting turned into a thrilling Notre Dame win over the No. 10 Cardinals at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center. After losing the first two sets handily (25-16, 25-22), the Irish went to work, as they tied the match with 25-20 and 26-24 wins in sets three and four, respectively. Notre Dame then blasted Louisville, 15-3, in the fifth set to pick up its highest ranked victory in three seasons.

Friday’s match will be on ESPN3, while Sunday’s contest can be purchased through Cards TV. Fans can also follow both matches through live stats. Links for video and live stats can be found on UND.com.

To follow the Irish along on their road trip, make sure to like Notre Dame volleyball on Facebook (/NDVolleyball) and follow them on Twitter (@NDVolleyball) and Instagram (NDVBall).

–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director