Nov. 22, 2015
By Russell Dorn
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After showing improvement Friday night in a 3-1 setback to Georgia Tech, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team broke through in a big way against Clemson Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, as the Irish picked up their third sweep of the season – and the first one in Atlantic Coast Conference play – with a 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-16) victory over the Tigers.
The Irish jumped out to a 2-0 lead at Clemson in mid-October but had to hold on for a thrilling 3-2 victory in five sets. There would be no drama Sunday, however, as Notre Dame wrapped up the sweep with a dominating third set.
Trailing 14-13 midway through the third frame, a solo block by sophomore Sam Fry jumpstarted what proved to be a 9-0 Notre Dame run behind the serving of freshman Kelly Byrne that gave the Irish a 22-14 lead and effectively ended the match.
During the Notre Dame run Clemson made four unforced attack errors, while three other points came off the right arm of Irish sophomore Sydney Kuhn, who pounded home back-to-back-to-back kills to force a second Tiger timeout during the rally.
Notre Dame finished with 17 kills in the third set (.286 A%) with Kuhn pounding home seven of them.
The victory snapped a 12-match losing streak that started at Georgia Tech October 11 just two days after Notre Dame beat the Tigers in the previously mentioned five setter. The sweep was the third on the year for Notre Dame after it had previously swept Eastern Kentucky and Ball State in non-conference action earlier in the season.
Notre Dame also eclipsed last year’s win total with its seventh victory of the season.
“This win is a step in the right direction and a building block,” said head coach Jim McLaughlin. “These players deserve it. To get that winning feeling is powerful. I hope we get it all the time.
“We trained better this week. We settled down and had more meaningful practices. We had better energy and better focus and just played better. We didn’t have as many errors and were more consistent.”
The improvement was evident this weekend. Notre Dame entered the weekend averaging 10.33 kills per set while hitting .141 in ACC contests. Against the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers, the Irish averaged 13.43 kills per set while attacking at a .232 clip. Notre Dame also averaged a remarkable seven more digs per set this weekend (20.57) than in the previous 16 ACC matches.
Kuhn led the Irish with 11 kills, eight digs and three assists. Freshman Rebecca Nunge had eight kills and no errors on 18 swings (.444 A%) and sophomore Maddie Plumlee finished with eight kills, four blocks and four digs. Setter Maddie Dilfer put together her seventh double-double of the year and tied her career high in digs with a 29-assist, 15-dig effort. Libero Ryann DeJarld totaled 15 digs, while defensive specialists Byrne and Natalie Johnson had 13 and 12 digs, respectively.
Clemson libero Keelie Arneson had a match-high 28 digs to lead the Tigers.
The Irish took advantage of several Tiger miscues in set one to take a 1-0 lead in the match. Notre Dame totaled 4.5 blocks on defense in the frame to go along with 10 kills. Clemson had 11 attack errors (.000 A%) and also tallied two service errors, a blocking error, a ball-handling error and a reception error.
Notre Dame and Clemson went back and forth early before the Irish started pulling away in the middle of the set. Up 11-10, Plumlee powered home a kill to give Notre Dame the serve. What followed next were three consecutive Tiger attack errors – with two of the unforced variety – to extend the Irish lead to 15-10. Up 19-14, a Kuhn service ace, Fry kill and Fy/Plumlee block moved the score to 22-14 before a kill by Nunge gave Notre Dame the 25-17 set win.
The Irish continued their block party in set two with 3.5 more to up their match total to eight. Notre Dame managed to limit its errors for the second set in a row, totaling just four attack errors in the frame. The Irish totaled 12 kills and added two service aces compared to Clemson’s seven attack errors, two service errors and two reception errors. Plumlee had five kills in the frame to lead Notre Dame.
Clemson (6-24, 1-17 ACC) and Notre Dame were tied as late as 12-12 in set two before the latter went on a 4-0 run to take a 16-12 lead. Later in the set Fry recorded a kill to up the Notre Dame lead to seven at 22-15. A couple of points later, Plumlee put together back-to-back-to-back kills to finish off the set (25-16).
Notre Dame (7-23, 2-16 ACC) closes out the 2015 season this week on the road at Syracuse (21-8, 12-6 ACC) and Boston College (11-19, 3-15 ACC). The Irish and Orange are set to do battle at 7 p.m. (ET) Wednesday. Notre Dame then heads to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts to meet the Eagles in a 7 p.m. (ET) Friday contest.
Russell Dorn, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2011 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame volleyball, rowing and baseball programs. A native of Greenwood, South Carolina, Dorn graduated from Furman University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history before earning his master’s degree in sports communications from Georgia State University in 2011.