Nov. 18, 2014

By Renee Peggs

Dr. Shari Matvey gets all choked up when the lights go down over the court in Purcell Pavilion and Sam Fry’s name is announced in the starting lineup for the University of Notre Dame volleyball team.

Matvey, a 1983 Notre Dame graduate and member of the Irish women’s basketball team, owned the hardwood at the Joyce Center (now Purcell Pavilion) from 1979-83. At 6-1, she was a dominating force both at center and forward, becoming the first woman in Fighting Irish history to score 1,000 career points. Her sharp shooting and aggressive rebounding helped her average a double-double as a freshman (17.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg).

Sam Fry, a powerhouse middle blocker on the Irish volleyball team, is heading for similar success. At 6-0, she is in her freshman season with the Irish. A 2014 graduate of Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, Fry holds Urusline records for career kills and blocks. She was named to the first team all-district, all-city, all-conference and all-state, and in her junior year she led her team to the Division I state championship in Ohio.

In her rookie campaign at Notre Dame, she has been a real bright spot for the Irish (6-20, 3-12 ACC), as she leads the team in solo blocks (15), assisted blocks (90), total blocks (105) and blocks per set (1.07) while placing second in service aces (20) and points (297.0) and third in kills (234) and kills per set (2.21) heading into Friday’s match with No. 7 North Carolina (8 p.m.).

Why does Shari have to hold back her emotion? Sam is her daughter.

“It is amazing, surreal and exhilarating to have Sam here at Notre Dame when it meant so much to me,” Shari says.

While the mother-daughter connection is of utmost significance to Shari, the Notre Dame-family relationships don’t end there.

“My sister Renee (Matvey, ’86) came here, her husband Tim Reilly (’86) played hockey here and they have twin daughters who are sophomores here. Sam lives in Ryan Hall, which is the sister dorm to Alumni where my son Matt (Fry, ’16) lives,” Shari says.

“My pastor while I was a student here was Fr. Joseph Carey, who is now the rector of my daughter’s dorm. Fr. Carey and I were very close: he was a mentor to me during my time here, and actually was supposed to perform my wedding but had to cancel at the last minute to do a funeral. Now that Sam’s here at Notre Dame and he’s her pastor, we have reconnected. For me, this is unbelievable, having him be in Sam’s dorm and getting to know her. My hope is that when Sam gets married someday, he will do her wedding.”

She continues, “The interconnectedness of Notre Dame is so neat. We come back here for Sam’s matches and I get to see my former basketball teammate Missy Conboy (`82, senior deputy athletics director at Notre Dame). We’re actually planning a little reunion soon for our teammates,” she says excitedly.

Like any good mom, Shari made a conscious decision not to pressure Sam with respect to her college choice, “… but I prayed real hard that she would decide to come to Notre Dame,” Shari says with a laugh.

“Sam came to volleyball later than most girls who end up playing in college but she started to get attention as a freshman in high school and was actually recruited for a college visit that same year. Volleyball recruits early [compared to other Division I sports] but when they laid out the red carpet and offered her a full scholarship, it was like, are you kidding me? I was blown away.

“It just started to roll after that. She was very heavily recruited, we visited campuses all over the country but always in the back of my mind I was hoping she had Notre Dame on her list. I didn’t want to push or force that on her – I wanted her to pave her own path and decide on her own where she would want to go.”

Shari relates that when Sam was playing in AAU tournaments, “I would see a Notre Dame scout watching her and I’d kind of encourage her in my mind: `Do something good, get a kill!’ But I always kept that to myself because I wanted her to be her own person and not follow in my footsteps or play in my shadows. I was actually really surprised when she decided on Notre Dame but also very happy, content and at peace.”

Surprising her mom had been Sam’s goal, but it didn’t quite work out the way she’d planned.

“She committed at the end of her sophomore year in high school,” Shari says. “I knew she had been writing down pros and cons after each college visit – we went to several schools multiple times on visits – but she never said a word to me, never spoke about it, never told me that was her decision. She had wanted me to read about it in the papers.

“After her horseback riding lesson one day, her trainer was helping us take the tacks off the horses and she congratulated me and said `that’s so great that Sam’s going to Notre Dame, you must be so happy!’ And I had no idea. That was the first time I found out about it. But I was very happy that she decided to come over here.

“My husband and I have four children still at home in Cincinnati but we bought a condo at Eddy Street Commons so we can be here to see Matt and Sam, and go to volleyball matches and football games. It’s just the greatest time ever: seeing her play at Notre Dame on the court where I played, it’s amazing,” Shari says with great pride.

Sam was no stranger to Notre Dame but made her decision carefully.

“I didn’t want to come here just because of my mom, but I didn’t want to regret going somewhere else, either,” she says of the balancing act that her commitment decision required. “I guess I shouldn’t have worried about it because I’m blazing my own path for my own reasons. Volleyball and basketball are so different, and she played so long ago… (Sorry, Mom!) But when I came here on a recruiting visit I just knew. I want to study business and Mendoza College of Business is the best in the country. Notre Dame has so much history and tradition and I really wanted to experience that for myself. I know I made the right choice coming here.”

Many of the schools that recruited Sam are among the best volleyball programs in the nation. With its recent transition from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame’s program has some room to prove itself.

Shari takes the opportunity to brag on her daughter.

“Sam has a lot of leadership qualities and came here with the idea that she could maybe bring some energy to the team and take it to the next level. The ACC is very competitive,” Shari says. “She wants to be a leader like Skylar Diggins, a 2013 Notre Dame graduate and former women’s basketball standout, and help the program grow and leave a legacy behind her. Instead of going to a school that already was established, Sam wanted to be a difference-maker, and I really applaud her for that,” Shari says.

“If Sam had her dream she’d probably be an ESPN broadcaster or the CEO of a company, wear a three-piece suit, carry a briefcase and have a nice office.”

Not out of the realm of possibilities, especially since Sam is the daughter of two doctors.

After Notre Dame, Shari went to medical school at the University of Cincinnati. “I used to play a lot of pickup basketball during that time. It was a great way to keep in shape and a great way to meet guys, too.

“That’s actually how I met my husband, Greg, who had played football at Columbia. He’s 6-5 and a little on the slow side,” Shari says with a chuckle. “We’d play one-on-one a lot during our med school days. I tell people I kept beating him and felt sorry for him so then I had to marry him. He’s ok with it because now he gets Notre Dame football ticket privileges.”

Shari is double board-certified as an anesthesiologist and in pain management, through her residency and fellowship at Pittsburgh. She and Greg are in the same group at the University of Cincinnati Good Samaritan Hospital.

Sam is really close with all her younger siblings, who aren’t exactly small Frys.

Her sister Jordan is only 16 years old but already stands two inches taller than her big sister. Younger sisters, Hunter, Remi and young Jake have all been coached by their mom in basketball. They all study piano. And they all love Notre Dame.

For some Fighting Irish athletes, the Notre Dame legacy is all in the family.