MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The University of Notre Dame volleyball team had No. 12 Minnesota on the brink in the 2014 season's opening two sets, but the Golden Gophers rallied in both frames, and finished off the sweep in the third set to beat the Irish 3-0 (26-24, 27-25, 25-18) in the nightcap of day one at the ACC / Big Ten Challenge in Minnesota's Sports Pavilion.
Playing in front of 3,018 screaming fans and in a building with no AC that must have been 85 degrees or warmer, the Irish came out with some intensity as it gave the highly-ranked Golden Gophers all they wanted in the first two sets. Notre Dame had set point in both frames, but made key errors both times that allowed the home team to stave off defeat and ultimately win each set. In the third frame, the Irish looked a bit tired and the Gophers took advantage to close out the match.
"Those two sets were huge opportunities," said head coach Debbie Brown. "When it gets down to the end it's a matter of finishing and that's what we didn't do in those first two sets. We put ourselves in a position to win, but didn't finish. It's a learning process and hopefully we will learn in a big way and we will have more resolve and more of an aggressive mentality going forward."
The third set skewed the final stats a bit, as the Irish were dominant in blocking during the first two frames (11.5-6.5), but ultimately lost that battle (13.5-11.5). Notre Dame had two more kills than Minnesota (38-36), but only hit .106 for the match. The Irish also had 15 more digs and one more assist. The Gophers' big edge came in serving, where they had seven service aces to just two for Notre Dame.
Senior Jeni Houser led the Irish on the offensive end as she tallied team highs in kills (11), attack percentage (.320) and digs (9). Grad student Nicole Smith had eight kills through the first two sets and finished with 10 overall, while also adding seven digs and three block assists. Freshman Sam Fry earned the start in the middle and had a strong first match with five kills, two digs and a match-high nine block assists.
"Sam's first match of her career and she had nine block assists. That's pretty amazing," said Brown. "We are still trying to work on our offense and get our middles more involved. That's something we need to work on and get more balance. It wasn't very balanced tonight and I think we passed well enough that it should have been more."
Standout Daly Santana led Minnesota as she totaled a match-high 13 kills to go along with two service aces, five digs and three block assists. Teammate Katie Schau had a solid all-around match with two kills, a match-high three service aces, four digs and three block assists.
Notre Dame closes out the opening weekend at 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. CT) Saturday as it meets No. 6 Wisconsin. The Badgers opened their 2014 season in style Friday with a convincing 3-0 sweep of Louisville. Fans can follow the Irish and Badgers through live stats (Gametracker) or by purchasing BTN Plus access. Links for both are on UND.com.
A wild first set that had 15 ties and six lead changes saw the Irish hold set point at 24-23. However, a critical service error on set point gave Minnesota the serve. Santana, a member of the Puerto Rican National Team, continued her impressive set with a service ace to make the score 25-24. Santana finished the frame with set highs in kills (6) and service aces (2). One play later, preseason all-Big Ten honoree Adrianna Nora pounded home a kill to give the Golden Gophers the early 1-0 lead.
Playing in front of a big Minnesota crowd, the Irish came out confident in the first frame as they gave the highly-ranked Golden Gophers all they wanted. Notre Dame held a 1-2 point lead for much of the frame and out-hit (.231-.226) and out-blocked (5.5-3.0) the Gophers. Smith led the way for the Irish with four kills and a .429 attack percentage, while Houser had three kills on six attempts for a .500 hitting percentage. Hurting Notre Dame was the fact that it only tallied one service ace to four for Minnesota.
"While we didn't have many service aces, I thought we served aggressively and put them back on their heels," said Brown. "They are a pretty tough team to stop in system and when we put them back on their heels it helped get us into a rhythm."
Set two looked similar to the first frame in many ways. It featured 13 ties and six lead changes and again the Irish had set point but couldn't close the door. This time, an attack error gave Minnesota the serve back with the score tied at 25 and a block and service ace sent the Golden Gophers to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
The Irish trailed 11-8 early, but rallied to tie the set at 13 on back-to-back block assists by Sam Fry. The action was back and forth the remainder of the frame as neither team could pull away. Notre Dame overcame a 22-19 deficit as Houser produced a kill and Smith tallied back-to-back kills to tie the score at 22. Facing set point, the Irish rallied again as Smith had her fourth kill of the set and Fry tallied another block assist to give Notre Dame set point. However, the Gophers didn't go away as they took a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
It was all Minnesota in the third and final frame as the Gophers had seven blocks and held the Irish to a .048 attack percentage. Notre Dame actually had seven more kills than Minnesota, but had 12 attack errors. On the serve, the Gophers had two more to up their match total to seven. The Irish convincingly out-blocked Minnesota in the first two sets, 11.5 to 6.5, but didn't record a single block in the final frame to lose the match total, 13.5-11.5.
Freshmen Fry, Jo Kremer, Natalie Johnson and Maddie Dilfer played in their first collegiate match against No. 12 Minnesota ... Fry and Johnson earned their first career starts ... Fry turned in impressive first match with five kills, two digs and a team-high nine block assists ... Johnson started at libero and had seven digs and a service ace ... Kremer had a service ace while Dilfer entered in the third set and had eight assists and a dig.
Houser moved into 20th place on the program's all-time kills list Friday night ... the Louisville, Ky., native had a team-high 11 kills to up her career total to 1,021 ... she moves past former standout Marcie Bomhack (1998-01) ... next up is Mary Leffers (1996-99) at 1,094.
Notre Dame last played Minnesota in 2007, suffering a similar 3-0 loss in the season's opening match ... however, the '07 match was in Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame.
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director