Sept. 13, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Behind 25 kills from preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference selections Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team opened the Shamrock Invitational in style with a 3-0 sweep of Loyola-Chicago Friday night in front of 1,101 fans at Purcell Pavilion.
In their first five matches of the 2013 season the Irish struggled mightily on offense, hitting only .161 as a team. However, the squad turned it around in fine fashion against the Ramblers, attacking at a .342 clip, led by impressive showings from juniors Houser (12 kills, .474 A%) and Alugbue (13 kills, .435 A%), senior Andie Olsen (5 kills, .500 A%) and freshman Simmone Collins (3 kills, .750 A%).
"Toni (Alugbue) and Jeni (Houser) were both so good tonight in hitting over .400," said head coach Debbie Brown. "It's not like teams don't know they are going to get the ball, so I thought they both did a great job. I was particularly pleased with Toni as she started off poorly in the first set, but came back and was really strong for the remainder of the match. Jeni, meanwhile, has been more than steady for us all season. She just loves to compete and it's fun to watch them play together when they are attacking like they were tonight."
Alugbue, who entered the match hitting .213, was disappointed in how she had been attacking so far this season and made it an emphasis during practice this week with obvious success as she peppered shot after shot through and around the Rambler defense.
"This week I worked on hitting deeper instead of settling for the short attacks," said Alugbue. "I feel like I was in a better rhythm with the setters tonight after working on it a lot during the week. I thought I connected with Maggie (Brindock) really well and she helped me see the whole court. It's a growing process but tonight was a good step."
Alugbue mentioned that the Irish concentrated on aspects of the game that they can control from their side of the net in practice this week with great success.
"We served really tough tonight," said Alugbue. "When you take the other team out of their passing rotation it makes it hard to run an offense. This week in practice we focused on doing what we needed to do on our side of the net. Tonight I think it showed as I feel like we won the serving and passing game."
The Irish also used a strong front line to block nine shots, including five in the first set, which seemed to get Loyola off-balance as they went on to commit 26 attack errors, five service errors, five receiving errors and four blocking errors to help Notre Dame's cause.
Senior setter Maggie Brindock paced the Irish with four blocks in addition to her 29 kills, while Olsen, Alugbue and Houser added three each.
"Maggie (Brindock) just does an unbelievable job of setting the block in the right place," said Brown. "Her and Andie (Olsen) did a great job in that first set of getting all four of their hands across the net and I think it really set the tone for the match."
The Irish controlled most of the first set, only trailing early for a few points. The big run came behind the serving of Jeni Houser and a dominant front by Olsen and Brindock. After regaining the serve after a Rambler' service error, Alugbue powered home a kill to tie the score at five. From there, three consecutive double blocks by Olsen and Brindock forced Loyola to take a timeout. Two more points moved the score to 10-5 and the Irish never let their lead get trimmed to below three. Kathleen Severyn served out the set as the Ramblers had three consecutive attack errors to give the Irish the early 1-0 lead. Both teams struggled hitting (.182 for ND and .000 for Loyola), but the Irish totaled five big blocks and Loyola had four service aces to hurt its cause.
Notre Dame took a 2-0 lead into the locker room with a convincing 25-12 victory. The Irish greatly improved on the offensive end, pounding home 13 kills on 25 attempts with just two errors. Loyola meanwhile, couldn't stop shooting itself in the foot, as it racked up eight attack errors, three receiving errors and one blocking error. Alugbue was especially dominant in set two, totaling six kills in only eight chances to hit .750. The Irish held a slim 11-7 lead after the Loyola timeout, and a 15-9 advantage after the second, but went on a 10-3 run to end the set. Houser served five times in a row near the end of the set, with Loyola contributing errors on thee of the four Irish points.
The match came to an end in just a 1:20 with a 25-19 victory in set three. Houser led the way in the final frame with six kills in eight chances. The Irish trailed for much of the early part of the set, before tying the match up at 10. From there the two teams traded blows until the Irish pulled away towards the end of the set. Up by just one point at 19-18, a kill by Nicole Smith and an attack error by the Ramblers forced a Loyola timeout. After a single point from the opponent, the Irish closed out the night with a kill and block from Houser, a service ace from Sammie Brown and another emphatic kill from Houser.
Day two of the Shamrock Invitational gets underway at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with Loyola taking on Auburn. The Irish play at 1 p.m. against Oakland and then again at 7:30 p.m. against the Tigers.
Fans can purchase tickets upon arrival at Purcell, with prices ranging from $5 for the general public to $3 for youth and seniors. Children under the age of three get in free.
Volleyball fans that can't make the matches can watch a free online video stream at WatchND.TV for both of Notre Dame's matches or follow live stats at UND.com. There will also be updates on Notre Dame's Facebook page (Facebook.com/NDVolleyball) and on Twitter (@NDVolleyball).
Shamrock Invitational Standings
1. Auburn: 1-0
2. Notre Dame: 1-0
T-3. Loyola-Chicago: 0-1
T-3. Oakland: 0-1
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director