Oct. 25, 2014
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A wild 33-31 fourth set proved to be the turning point in an action-packed, five-setter Saturday night at Memorial Gym, as the Virginia Cavaliers bested the University of Notre Dame volleyball team, 3-2 (25-23, 22-25, 15-25, 33-31, 15-8), in Atlantic Coast Conference action.
In arguably their most complete match of the season, the Irish filled up the stat sheet and out-distanced the Cavaliers in kills (72 to 59), attack percentage (.256 to .224), assists (67 to 55) and digs (81 to 64). The kill, assist and dig totals were all season highs. In addition, the 72 kills and 67 assists were the most since the Irish had 76 kills and 74 assists in a 3-2 win over Syracuse November 1, 2008. The 81 digs were the most since Notre Dame totaled 85 in a 3-2 loss to Wake Forest last October 4.
It wasn’t enough, however, as UVA found a way to make a couple more plays than the Irish in the fourth set, before pulling away in the fifth set to earn victory.
“It was little things (that made the difference). We told the team afterwards that it can be a game of inches,” said head coach Debbie Brown. “I mean it’s really little things. It wasn’t like it was any major breakdown. We served and passed really well, we hit well. I guess if you pick one thing, crunch time in the fourth set and coming up a bit short because that’s really the only thing you can look back on and be like ‘ok that was in our grasp.’ We were serving a couple of times for the match and didn’t finish it out. It’s hard to win on a serve, but that’s what you have to do when it gets to deuce point.”
The match-changing fourth set went back-and-forth and reminded many of the 39-37 first set these two teams played last November at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame had three match points, but couldn’t finish off the Cavaliers, who made the most of their seventh and final set point of the fourth frame, as Haley Kole pounded home a kill to send the match to a deciding fifth set.
In the fifth frame, the Cavaliers (13-9, 6-3 ACC) overcame an early 3-2 Notre Dame lead to go on a 7-0 run to make the score 8-3 at the side change. The Irish tried to fight back midway through the final set, but couldn’t get closer than four the rest of the way. In the same way it won set four, Virginia finished off the match with Kole’s 19th kills of the contest.
A remarkable 38 ties and 17 lead changes, including 21 and 11 in the fourth set alone, only put a number on just how close and unpredictable the match was throughout.
A plethora of career bests littered the Irish stat sheet, as several student-athletes played their best volleyball of the season. Setter Hanna Muzzonigro flirted with a triple-double, as she produced career highs in kills (7) and assists (54) while matching a career high in digs (16). She also hit .545 for the match. The assist total was the first time the Gibsonia, Pennsylvania native went over the half-century mark in her career, as she became the first Irish player to record 50+ assists in a match since 2014 graduate Maggie Brindock had 51 against Seton Hall November 1, 2012.
Elsewhere, graduate student Nicole Smith pounded home a career-high 20 kills to lead the Irish. Not to be outdone, sophomore Katie Higgins had a career-high 14 kills, senior Jeni Houser produced a career-high 11 digs, freshman libero Natalie Johnson had her best match with 23 digs, freshman Jo Kremer had season highs in digs (11) and service aces (3) and freshman Sydney Kuhn totaled a season-best 13 digs.
In addition to the career-best dig total, Houser recorded nine kills, four assists, one service ace and a team-high five blocks. Another freshman, Sam Fry, had 11 kills, two service aces and three blocks.
“Everything was much better tonight,” said Brown. “I don’t have our passing numbers in front of me and that’s not something that shows up on the box score, but I know we were in system a good amount. I thought Hanna set a great match with finding our hitters and feeding them the ball. She set a good tempo. Our defense was as good as it’s been in a long time. Our blockers did a good of following the game plan so even if we didn’t a block, our defense could play better defense around it, which I think really helped our digging numbers. So a lot of positives, but just that one huge negative in that we didn’t get the win.”
Kole’s 19 kills, setter Lauren Fuller’s 54 assists and libero Lexi Riccolo’s 17 digs led Virginia, while defensive specialist Karlie Suber totaled 16 digs. Natalie Bausback (13K, .458A%, 5B) proved to be tough to stop all night, as was Jasmine Burton, who had 14 kills and hit .297.
The Irish get back to ACC action next weekend as they welcome in Georgia Tech for a Halloween match (7 p.m.) before traveling to Boston College for a 12 p.m. Sunday contest.
–Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director