Nov. 24, 2001
The 25th-ranked University of Notre Dame volleyball team lost a hard-fought four-game match (30-24, 30-26, 30-32, 30-24) to #7 Florida in the final match of the University of Florida Volleyball Conference Challenge at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Buena Vista, Fla., on Saturday afternoon.
Notre Dame wraps up its regular season with a 22-6 record, while Florida improves to 25-1.
The Irish were led on offense by senior Kristy Kreher and Malinda Goralski with 15 and 12 kills in the match, respectively. Goralski earned all-touranment honors, along with teammate Kristen Kinder (46 assists, three digs, four blocks, seven kills in Saturday’s match).
Goralski and Emily Loomis, who carried the offensive load for Notre Dame during last weekend’s BIG EAST Championship, kept the Irish in game one early. Two kills from each from the duo kept their team in striking distance, but Florida took advantage of a kill and two consecutive Irish attack errors to build a 15-10 lead and force a Notre Dame timeout.
After the break, the Irish put together a mini-rally behind a Kristen Kinder-Kim Fletcher block and a Loomis kill to cut the lead to one at 16-15. Florida turned to its player of the year candidate, Aury Cruz, and the sophomore put down three kills in a 10-3 Gator run. Florida’s Benavia Jenkins started hitting well late in the first game, scoring three consecutive points for her team with three kills and putting game one out of reach for Notre Dame. Florida would end up with a .318 hitting mark in the first game, while the Irish could manage just a .195 number in the 30-24 setback.
The term ‘tight contest’ is sometimes over-used, but it is the only way to describe the second game of the match between the Irish and Gators. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead throughout the second contest with great net play, passing and serving from both teams. Eventually, Notre Dame tied the game up at 22-22 to force a Florida timeout, but the Gators came right back to score six kills and close out the second game 30-26 and take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
Even as Notre Dame competed with Florida point-for-point in game two, the team’s hitting was still struggling. Florida was able to post a .450 hitting mark in game two, while Notre Dame struggled again with a .189 team hitting percentage.
Determined to get back into the match, Notre Dame came out much more aggressive in game three. Behind two team blocks and a solo stuff by Goralski, the Irish jumped out to a 7-3 lead and forced an early Florida timeout.
A Marcie Bomhack kill eventually pushed Notre Dame to an 11-7 lead, but Florida came right back behind eventual tournament MVP Nicole McCray. Two kills from the Gator middle blocker, combined with two Notre Dame attack errors made the Irish lead disappear and Notre Dame called timeout with the score knotted at 12-12.
The Irish briefly grabbed back some momentum with a spectacular solo block by Fletcher on McCray, but the Gators seized control of the match back with five consecutive points – including two aces from Jen Mandes.
Notre Dame was not going away quietly. Playing with even more renewed energy, the Irish clawed back into the game with solid defense and some exceptional blocking at the net. Bomhack and Jessica Kinder both posted solo blocks, while Notre Dame’s hitters started to wake up. Behind two kills from Kreher and a kill from Goralski, the Irish found themselves with a 20-19 lead.
The teams would trade points until Jessica Kinder scored her solo stuff and followed up with a thunderous kill off an overpass to put Notre Dame ahead in the game at 28-25. Florida managed one more rally behind McCray, who performed a solo block and two kills to tie up the contest at 29-29.
The Irish looked to 2001 BIG EAST Player of the Year Goralski, and she delivered with two kills on points 30 and 31. Jessica Kinder eventually put the game away by snapping off an ace and Notre Dame was back in the match with a 32-30 game victory.
Notre Dame earned that game three victory by reversing the pattern from games one and two. Notre Dame raised its hitting to a .371 team mark in the game (led by Goralski and Kreher with four kills each) and held the Gators to a .175 team mark. The recipe for success was outlined, but could the Irish follow it in game four?
For Notre Dame to follow the recipe, they would have to shut down McCray. The Florida middle blocker was unstoppable, as she was all over the court in the fourth game, scoring six kills to help her team build a 20-14 lead.
The Irish were able to keep scoring kills, but the team’s serve started to break down. Notre Dame committed six service errors in the second half of game four, each of them seemingly taking away any hint of momentum.
McCray eventually put the match away with a kill off a slide set to secure the 3-1 match victory for the Gators.
MATCH NOTES: All-tournament team: Ana Lang, Virginia Tech, Megan Davis, LSU, Kris Bova, Florida, Kristen Kinder, Notre Dame, Benavia Jenkins, Florida, Malinda Goralski, Notre Dame, Nicole McCray, Florida (also MVP) … Kristy Kreher posted a double-double for the Irish with 15 kills and 12 digs … Jessica Kinder added seven kills and 10 digs (including three consecutive kills that cut into the Florida lead late in game four) … Notre Dame out-blocked Florida 13-7 in the match.