Junior co-captain Katie Higgins had a career-high 20 kills in a 3-2 loss to Cleveland State Saturday.

Volleyball Drops Opening Matches In Tennessee

Aug. 29, 2015

Match 1: Bowling Green 3, Notre Dame 1

Bowling Green 3, Notre Dame 1 Get Acrobat Reader

Match 2: Cleveland State 3, Notre Dame 2Cleveland State 3, Notre Dame 2 Get Acrobat Reader

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – University of Notre Dame head volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin has preached progress since the first day he took over the Irish program in January. Saturday’s season-opening losses to Bowling Green and Cleveland State showcased some of the progress the program has made, but ultimately provided the young Irish a tough lesson in the importance of closing out opponents and maintaining consistency no matter the circumstances.

Notre Dame (0-2) lost match one to the Falcons, 3-1 (25-27, 25-15, 25-17, 25-20), after taking a 1-0 lead and then let a 2-1 advantage slip away in a 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 21-25, 25-22, 15-13) setback at the hands of the Vikings.

“We were a little more consistent in match two and moved forward a little bit,” said McLaughlin. “But we have a long way to go. The team wants to do it (get better). We have to become very mindful and understand what we need to do.

“This (turning around a program) is hard and it’s not magic. You have to commit to it and everyday you have to make progress. It’s learning how to change. That’s mostly how you think about and do things. We will get there. We made a little progress and we moved forward. We just have to continue in that direction.”

Against Bowling Green, the Irish struggled in all facets of the game after the first set, as they finished with a .128 attack percentage and were out-blocked by 6.5 and out-dug by 15.

Improvements occurred against Cleveland State, as Notre Dame upped its attack percentage to .250 and pounded home 66 kills, which was six more than the Vikings.

A day after being named a co-captain, junior Katie Higgins turned in a solid day at the office, leading the Irish in kills (33), attack percentage (.338), service aces (4) and blocks (7). In the nightcap, she pounded home a career-high 20 kills while hitting .405 and adding two service aces, four blocks and five digs. Her kill total was the most for a Notre Dame player since 2015 graduate Nicole Smith had 20 at Virginia last season.

Elsewhere, freshman libero Ryann DeJarld averaged four digs a set, including claiming 22 in the first match against Bowling Green, and sophomore Sam Fry had 30 kills on the day, with a career-high 19 coming in the match with the Vikings.

Notre Dame closes out the Blue Raider Bash with a 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday showdown with the host Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Fans can watch the match through MTSU’s free online video stream. Live stats are also available.

MATCH 1: Bowling Green 3, Notre Dame 1

The Irish couldn’t maintain the early momentum after taking a thrilling set one, 27-25, as the Falcons rallied back to win three consecutive sets for a 3-1 win in Saturday’s early match at the Blue Raider Bash.

Notre Dame raced out to a quick 10-5 lead in the opening frame of 2015 to force a Falcon timeout. The timeout paid dividends for Bowling Green, however, as it ran off five of the next six points to pull within one at 11-10. The Falcons claimed their first lead at 13-12, eventually stretching it out to three at 16-13. Notre Dame wouldn’t go away though as they battled back to tie the match at 18. From there the two teams went back-and-forth, before back-to-back kills from Higgins and Fry gave the Irish their first set win of the season.

The remaining sets saw an inconsistent Irish team that couldn’t play at the same level they had in set one. Bowling Green attacked at a .270 clip in set two, .303 in set three and .280 in set four, while the Irish hit just .025, .158 and .149 in the remaining three frames.

After nine ties and four lead changes in the first set, the remaining three had just seven ties and two lead changes. Bowling Green led coast-to-coast in set three after holding the lead for much of set two.

Notre Dame didn’t have much luck stopping Jelena Sunjic, as the junior from Croatia recorded a match-high 18 kills on 45 chances to hit .289. She also added 10 digs for the double-double. Setter Katie Scholten had 43 assists, 12 digs, five kills (.385 A%) and three blocks, while libero Madeline Garda totaled a match-high 25 digs to go along with two service aces. Nicole Slimko and Alyssa Maloney each had 12 kills to give the Falcons three players in double figures.

Bowling Green finished with a .276 attack percentage to .128 for Notre Dame. At the net, the Falcons had 12 blocks to 5.5 for the Irish.

The third freshman libero in the last four seasons to start the season, DeJarld racked up 22 digs, which is the most digs by an Irish player to open the season since 2012 (Taylor Morey – 29 vs. UCLA).

Elsewhere for Notre Dame, Fry had 11 kills, Higgins recorded 13 kills, two service aces, three digs and three blocks and sophomore co-captain Maddie Dilfer turned in a double-double with 42 assists and 10 digs.

MATCH 2: Cleveland State 3, Notre Dame 2

A couple of hours after a 1-0 advantage slipped away against Bowling Green, Notre Dame let a 2-1 lead go by the wayside versus Cleveland State, as the Vikings claimed sets four and five to win 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 21-25, 25-22, 15-13) and send the Irish to a 0-2 mark at the season-opening tournament.

The two teams went into the break tied at one, but Notre Dame claimed the all-important third set by scoring 20 of its 25 points by way of the kill (.436 A%).

Holding a 2-1 lead, the Irish looked to put the match away in the fourth set, but the Vikings scored six of the last eight points after the score was tied at 19 to reclaim the momentum going into the decisive fifth set.

Notre Dame had its chances in a final frame that featured seven ties and four lead changes, but six critical attack errors doomed the Irish. Tied at 13, the Vikings came up with back-to-back blocks to end the contest.

Higgins (20K) and Fry (19K) both turned in career-high efforts in kills in the loss, coming one kill shy by Fry of becoming the first Notre Dame duo in eight years to both record 20+ kills in a single match. Higgins also hit .405 and had two service aces, five digs and four blocks.

Dilfer had 50 assists, four kills (.800 A%) and five digs, while senior Haley Bonneval had 12 kills.

As was the case with Sunjic in match one, Notre Dame had no answer for Cleveland State’s Grace Kauth in match two, as she had a match-high 26 kills (.333 A%) and a match-high 16 digs. Christina Toth added 14 kills (.444 A%) and even digs.

–Russell Dorn, Athletics Communications Assistant Director