Sept. 15, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Behind a career night from junior Jeni Houser, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat an athletic and talented Auburn University squad, 3-2 (26-28, 17-25, 25-16, 25-16, 15-11), Saturday night at Purcell Pavilion to clinch the Shamrock Invitational title.
Houser, who totaled 18 kills and a career-high 13 blocks, had her way with the Tiger defense all night, but especially during the do-or-die third set. With the Irish down, 2-0, Houser willed her team to victory, pounding home 10 of her squad's 17 kills in the set to go along with four big blocks to total 12 points. The Lexington, Ky., native had no errors in the frame and hit .714 as she tallied her 10 kills in only 14 attempts.
Houser's previous career in blocks was seven against St. John's last season.
"Jeni had a real will to win tonight," said head coach Debbie Brown. "She absolutely took over in that third set. She's a true competitor. The more pressure-packed the situation is, the better she responds. She was really relaxed tonight and it allowed the team to relax. Her demeanor was contagious."
After the Irish breezed to victory in set four, 25-16, the two squads got to business with a deciding fifth set. Auburn took an early 5-4 lead, but Notre Dame answered with three straight points that saw kills by Andie Olsen and Sammie Brown bookend a double block by the duo. The Irish held an 8-6 lead at the side change, but quickly saw their lead evaporate behind two Auburn blocks. Notre Dame wouldn't be denied though as Olsen and Brown had another block and Brown registered a kill to push the lead to 11-8 and force an Auburn timeout. Later in the set the Tigers trimmed the lead to 12-11, but Notre Dame ran off the match's final three points with two kills from Meg Vonderhaar and a block from Houser to finish off the remarkable comeback.
"I'm just so proud of the team," said Brown. "We lost the first two sets, but we were so resilient in the third set and then just finished it out. It shows me that we have a great competitive drive and have a real will to win that is going to carry us to be the team we want to be this season."
"We just had to focus on our individual jobs and when people made scrappy plays it got us more pumped," said Houser. "It was fun out there as we were coming back."
The Irish (5-3) have made a habit of charging back from 2-0 deficits recently as the come-from-behind win over the Tigers marked the third over the last two years. The others include a win at No. 10 Louisville and a win over Cincinnati on Senior Day. The loss for Auburn (9-2) marked the first time it has coughed up a 2-0 lead in five seasons and brought an end to its dominance on the weekend. The Tigers swept Loyola-Chicago and Oakland in their first two matches.
While Houser was definitely the star of the match, she had plenty of help from her teammates, including fellow middle blocker Andie Olsen, who had 12 kills and three blocks. Junior outside hitter Toni Alugbue totaled 12 kills and 13 digs for her second double-double of the day and third of the season and senior setter Maggie Brindock had 47 assists, eight digs and six blocks. Senior libero Andrea McHugh had 19 digs to give her 41 for the day.
Houser picked up MVP honors for the weekend after totaling team highs in kills (42) and blocks (20). Joining Houser on the all-tournament were Alugbue and Brown.
The win secured a perfect 3-0 weekend for the Irish and gives them a confidence boost heading into a challenging weekend at the Kansas Invitational next weekend where they'll meet Kansas, Georgia and North Dakota State.
"This win gives us a ton of confidence and shows us we can come from behind against really good teams," said Houser. "We just need to continue to work on things on our side of the net to get ready for next weekend in Kansas."
Shamrock Invitational Standings
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director