Aug. 23, 2017
By Robby Hamman
NOTRE DAME, Ind.– The Irish enter the 2017 campaign with lots of momentum, coming off a breakthrough season in 2016 that included a program-best Atlantic Coast Conference record of 13-7.
“We had a better year going 22-10 and moving up in the ACC,” said Notre Dame head coach Jim McLaughlin. “But we want to win the ACC championship. We talked about passing the next big test and we are not afraid to be very direct and very honest about the progress that we need to continue to make.”
Notre Dame boasts an experienced roster that is primed to take the next step with NCAA Tournament aspirations on the near horizon. The Irish return 12 of 14 letterwinners from last season’s team and welcome four newcomers to the 2017 squad.
The Irish offense is led by sophomore Jemma Yeadon, who is coming off an impressive 2016 season in which she earned All-ACC Freshman Team recognition. The Mercer Island, Washington, product led Notre Dame in kills (318) and kills per set (2.94). Yeadon brings a combination of athleticism and fine-tuned skill to the court that makes her tough for the opposition to deal with.
“Jemma has matured, and she understands what she now controls and what she doesn’t control,” said McLaughlin. “She controls her improvement day-to-day and has got to continue to grow every day as a player in everything she does: emotionally, mentally, and physically. So far she’s done that. As she continues to develop, she is understanding things at a higher level. She has now even invested at a higher level and as a result Jemma has received a greater return and a higher level of confidence. She now knows that she can play and compete at the highest level and she knows better than anybody that she has to work at her game every day and she must continue to prove herself every day.”
Another key component to the Irish attack figures to be Sydney Kuhn. The senior compiled 237 kills for an average of 1.99 per set in 2016, good enough for third on the team. The Wichita, Kansas, native also excelled from the service line, recording a career-high 33 aces to bring her career total to 75.
“She had a very good spring in terms of her consistency passing the ball and also hitting the ball harder with more range,” said McLaughlin. “By the end of spring Syd was one of our best servers. She is going through what every player has to go through in terms of learning how to learn and change. I’ve pushed her a little bit harder this year because she can handle it, and the expectation is higher. She’s also a great kid. It’s neat being in the gym with her.”
Junior Rebecca Nunge was Notre Dame’s Swiss Army knife in 2016, taking on a number of different roles for the Irish when called upon to do so. Nunge exceeded triple figures in kills (227), assists (121) and digs (109) while also adding 90 blocks. The junior also took on some of the setting responsibilities when Caroline Holt went down with a season-ending injury.
“I have huge expectations for Rebecca and I think the deal is that she’s coming into practice with a level of expectation every day that is greater than before,” said McLaughlin. “She has really matured as a volleyball player. She is learning better, working harder in terms of being more mindful on each rep, and is prioritizing the task list better.”
Two other student-athletes who figure to be in the mix for the rotation are senior Maddie Plumlee and sophomore Lauren Woodard. Both Plumlee and Woodard saw action in 14 matches a year ago and have an opportunity to play a larger role with the Irish in 2017.
“Already, Lauren is a very mature young lady, and she’s going to get better and better, but she’s got really nice physical ability and she has a good heart,” said McLaughlin. “I think she’s becoming more competitive as I see her becoming a better player every day. There isn’t anything that Lauren shouldn’t be able to do. I’ve been really direct with her and I’ve been pushing her. I’m even more demanding of her this year, and that’s a tribute to the way she listens and the way she takes feedback. I love being in the gym with her.
“Maddie is another great kid with great values. She listens, pays attention, and has physical gifts to become a contributor. You’ve got to be good at everything at this level but you’ve got to be great at some things. I think Maddie can do a little of everything but I want her to become great at a few things (specifically attacking). She has her emotions in check, she thinks well, she’s beginning to push herself harder each day in practice and because of that she’s already making more changes and her pace of learning has increased.”
Hannah Thompson is the lone newcomer to the group. The Albuquerque native enjoyed an impressive career at Cibola High School, where she led the team to a state title. Thompson earned national attention, as PrepVolleyball named the incoming freshman to its Top 100 Senior Aces List (No. 61).
“Hannah is physical, she’s fast, she’s competitive, and everything is important to her,” said McLaughlin. “She is learning so much new stuff and it’s hard. Every player must learn how to learn and Hannah is starting to get it. She wants it all and I love that about her. She is learning about a process and how to stay process driven – it’s hard. She is beginning to know what to do and she now knows that the knowing is the easy part and the doing is the hard part. She is making more and more progress each day and her pace of learning is increasing.”
Sam Fry has been a mainstay in the middle for each of the past three seasons. The senior has been a force at the net, accruing 335 blocks for her career, eclipsing the 100-blocks mark in all three seasons. Fry is a two-time Second Team All-ACC selection (2015 & 2016). The Cincinnati standout is just 11 blocks shy of becoming Notre Dame’s career block leader since the NCAA switched to 25-point scoring in 2008.
“Sam invests at the highest level in her development and in her team,” said McLaughlin. “She does almost everything the right way, which is always a great thing. Sam is also hitting the ball with more and more range. Her timing and mechanics are more consistent. I think we’re teaching our offense a little bit better and I think she’s going to have greater impact on how we run our offense. I wouldn’t trade her for anybody, but Sam knows that she’s got to continue to move forward each day, too.”
Two juniors in Meg Morningstar and Kristin Baer will also be vying for playing time. Morningstar has made 49 appearances in a Notre Dame uniform over her first two seasons with the program. Baer has had a strong camp to begin the 2017 season and could play a factor in Notre Dame’s success this season.
“Meg can influence people,” said McLaughlin. “People love to be around her. Blocking is her strength and she plays hard. I’ve asked her to kill more sets in the middle third of the court and she is working at a higher rate this year. I just think she can have a greater impact on the whole group. I look forward to seeing her lead but this will take a lot of very hard work. But I think she is ready to do that every play, every day. I think she should become a middle hitter that our opponents will have to deal with and carry a significant load for us in the middle.
“The most important change Kristin has made is how she is now approaching training and because of that she is making more progress,” said McLaughlin. “She knows now that she can play at this level. She is a very mature young lady, and she’s going to get better and better. She’s got really good heart to go along with her ability. As her confidence continues to grow she is demanding more of herself and is becoming a more competitive player. She is a player and person that I love having in this program and being around.”
Emma Cottrill begins her Notre Dame career as a freshman this year, coming to the Irish from Wexford, Pennsylvania. Cottrill instantly brings the team height and length, standing at 6-foot-2. The freshman was a Pennsylvania All-State First Team selection as a senior in high school.
“I like everything about Emma so far but what I don’t like is she currently has an injury,” said McLaughlin. “I’ve seen very little of her because of her injury but that is our first priority, taking care of it and getting her ready so that she can develop the tolerance physically, mentally, and emotionally, at this level. It’s hard to become great – Notre Dame Volleyball is hard and I’m glad that Emma is part of it.”
Junior transfer Caroline Holt brought consistency and stability to the Irish in 2016. Holt led the Irish to an impressive record of 18-4 before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with an injury.
Holt was a catalyst to last season’s turnaround, averaging 10.97 assists per set to rank second in the ACC for the category. The 10.97 assists per set were the most from a Notre Dame player since Jamel Nicholas averaged 11.03 in 2009.
“I admire how Caroline works and the positive impact she has on the players and the program,” said McLaughlin. “The thing that I appreciate most is that she’s got a good head on her shoulders. She has an ability to focus at a high level, and is very aware of what is going on around her. She’s a talented girl, but I have an expectation for her that is probably off the map. However, I think she wants that and more.”
Notre Dame also returns senior Taylor Zwickl, who played in 11 matches last season. Zwickl also missed time due to injury in 2016 but helped the Irish win three of their last four matches for the season.
“What would we have done without Taylor last two years?” said McLaughlin. “We threw her into a very tough situation and she responded. She will be successful in business and life because she understands preparation and how important it is. Everyone has a plan but preparation is really what sets successful people apart and Taylor knows this. Everyone loves that she is part of this team because everyone understands what she brings to this team.”
The two returners are joined by incoming freshman Monroe Olsen, who could push both Holt and Zwickl for a starting spot. Olsen stands at 6-foot-2 and is a 2016 Under Armour All-American (Honorable Mention) recipient.
“Monroe comes in with a really complete skill set,” said McLaughlin. “When we recruited her we could see that if she developed, and did the things that we wanted her to do, that she could not only set but do a number of things as a very good volleyball player. She can block, she can dig, she can serve, and she even has a good arm-swing. She also has a strong presence and a nice confidence about her. And I think she understands that she can do all of that.”
Ryann DeJarld posted one of the best seasons from a libero in program history in 2016. The junior finished with 572 digs, the third-highest single-season total in Notre Dame history. DeJarld averaged a remarkable 5.02 digs per set. The Mother McAuley product from Chicago also was dominant from the service line, leading the team with 44 aces.
“I expect the world from Ryann,” said McLaughlin. “She’s a talented volleyball player in many ways. She has a very complete skill level. But I want her to pass the ball at 72% and she can do that. I think she can be the best libero in the ACC. What’s most important is that she becomes what she wants to become and this staff will help her. She is one of the most competitive players that I have coached (both men and women) and I appreciate that. She is more dialed in, and more focused in practice. I love coaching her every day and being in the gym with her every day.”
The Notre Dame defense also is bolstered by Natalie Johnson who has been a cornerstone to the backline for the previous three seasons. The senior has racked up 338 sets of action in her Irish career, posting 857 digs and 68 aces.
“I love coaching Nat and being in the gym training her,” said McLaughlin. “She is becoming a leader for this team. The best leaders I’ve coached listened and followed first and she does that. She always sets the right example with everything she does and that is a big part of being a leader – who wants to emulate you on and off the court? Everyone trusts and respects Nat and she also has the attention of this team and staff. It’s hard to measure the impact one person can make. All I know is that her impact is great. I’ve learned that unconditional support is an amazing thing you can give to a person and Nat gives that support to all of her teammates and coaches all the time.”
“Kelly is business as usual and when I say that it’s a good thing in that everyone on this team can count on Kelly,” said McLaughlin. “Her serve is becoming a weapon and we score points when she is in the game. I have asked her to improve her passing and digging. She is working at it and she is improving. She is very demanding of herself in practice and she is responding to errors in a way that allows her to make better corrections.
“I want Halle every day to believe ‘I’m going to do this, I can do this, and I can take it to greater heights.’ So that’s the mentality that I want to see her starting to have, and every player goes through that. I see her starting to develop a little confidence. And there is a little higher level of intensity and energy every day, as well as a higher level of concentration.”
The four liberos are joined by Madison Cruzado, an incoming freshman hailing from Elyria, Ohio. Cruzado had a decorated prep career, as she was selected to the PrepVolleyball Top 100 Senior Aces List (No. 53). The freshman also earned MVP honors on the national championship team at the 2015 AAU 17 Open.
“Madison can do a lot of things,” said McLaughlin. “Right now we’ve given her so much information that it slows you down a little bit, and then you learn how to process and prioritize. She has tremendous speed and quickness and as she develops her eye-work she will respond to situations even faster. The ball knows angles and she is starting to let her platform do the work and as a result she is becoming a more consistent passer. Her serve is improving and she has made her serve a great priority. Nothing surprises me with her with everything she does. She’s a tough kid.”
VOLLEYBALL COMING TO COMPTON
For the first time in program history, the Irish will play a volleyball match in the Compton Family Ice Arena. Normally the home the the Notre Dame hockey program, the volleyball team will host its first three matches of the season at the facility.
– Irish Volleyball (@NDvolleyball) August 22, 2017
Notre Dame opens the season with the Golden Dome Invitational. The Irish host Valparaiso at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25 and then play Rhode Island at 12:30 p.m. and New Mexico State at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26.
The Irish 2017 schedule features 16 home matches, 10 of which are conference matches.
Robby Hamman joined Fighting Irish Media as athletics communications assistant director in September 2016, coordinating efforts for the volleyball and men’s lacrosse program. Hamman is a 2010 graduate of Bethel College, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in sport management and business administration, and earned his master’s degree in business administration from Defiance College in 2013.