Nov. 3, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - With one of the best crowds in school history looking on, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team overcame a 2-1 deficit to win a thrilling five-set match (13-25, 25-22, 17-25, 25-22, 15-9) over former BIG EAST and current Atlantic Coast Conference opponent Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
Despite a sluggish start that put the Irish in an early 1-0 hole and a tough third set that had Notre Dame on the brink of a loss, the squad didn't give up as they rebounded to win sets four and five to earn the victory and clinch their first ACC weekend sweep in program history.
"It's hard ... we've been working our tails off and it was a great weekend for us in terms of perseverance," said head coach Debbie Brown. "It wasn't like the points were coming easy, we had to work really hard for them. I'm really proud of the team and I thought it was just such a good team effort both Friday and today."
While the stats weren't pretty in every category, the Irish did hit .288 for the match, including .379 and .444, respectively, in the deciding fourth and fifth sets. Several strong performances carried the Irish, including a team-high 15 kills from junior Toni Alugbue, 12 kills and a team-high four blocks from senior Nicole Smith and 10 kills and a .474 attack percentage from junior Jeni Houser. Senior co-captain Maggie Brindock recorded a double-double with 44 assists and 11 digs, while fellow senior co-captain Andrea McHugh had a team-best 17 digs.
"This weekend was huge for us," said Smith. "It's always fun to win, but I think these two will help us get some momentum again and get back in the winning spirit.
"One of our goals after the first and third sets was to come out and put those behind us and come out with a new fire. I feel like we responded extremely well in the fourth and fifth sets to pick up the win."
Removing football pep rally crowds, Sunday's crowd of 2,127 was the third-most in school history and the most since 2,597 came to a 2005 match against Louisville. Including the pep rallies the crowd was the 14th-largest and the most since 4,107 watched Notre Dame battle West Virginia in 2010.
"I loved the crowd today," said Brown. "And I loved having the band. It was a great atmosphere for us to play in. The crowd was a huge difference for us. They weren't going to let us get down and it was really fun. I felt like it was a true home-court advantage."
The Irish (10-13, 4-8 ACC) have a quick turnaround as they travel to Syracuse, N.Y., to meet the Orange at 7 p.m. Wednesday. After a quick trip back to South Bend, Notre Dame then travels to Boston, Mass., for a 5 p.m. Saturday showdown with Boston College. Both opponents are former BIG EAST rivals.
"It's a challenging turnaround for us," said Brown. "We usually don't practice on Mondays after a Sunday match, but we'll practice tomorrow because we'll leave Tuesday. We'll come in and try to stay sharp with our serving and passing. After looking at the film I'm sure we'll have a couple of things we'll want to focus on."
The Irish looked lethargic in set one as Pitt jumped out to an 8-2 lead and didn't look back as it cruised to a 25-13 set one victory. Notre Dame only mustered six kills in the frame, while the Panthers pounded home 17 in hitting .483. Six players recorded two or more kills for the balanced Pitt offense. Pitt also registered four service aces as it had three runs of four or more points.
A completely different Notre Dame team came out in set two as the Irish had 14 kills and capitalized on several Panther miscues to win 25-22 and tie the set at one entering the break. A close set throughout, the Irish made their big move with the score knotted at 16. A kill by Alugbue gave Severyn the ball to serve. What followed were two unforced errors on the Panthers sandwiching a solo block by Smith to give Notre Dame a 20-16 lead. The Irish maintained the lead for the rest of the frame as senior Sammie Brown closed out the set with a kill off a pass from Brindock. Pitt helped out the Irish in set two as it had six attack errors, two service errors and two ball handling errors.
Pitt regained its form from set one after the break as it took the third set, 25-17, to hold a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth frame. The Panthers hit .351 and had 16 kills with just three errors and Notre Dame had trouble on offense again with just 12 kills in 34 attempts. The road squad made their big run when they were already up 13-11. Going on a 5-0 run, Pitt tallied three kills and a service ace in between an Irish attack error to gain control of the frame at 18-11. Later in the set, the Panthers closed out the frame with a tandem block by KeKe Irby and Jessica Wynn, an attack error on Notre Dame and a kill by Irby. Wynn was virtually unstoppable all match as she had a match-high 22 kills as she hit .419.
Notre Dame began its come-from-behind victory in set four as the Irish hit .379 and outlasted the Panthers in a set that had 17 ties and five lead changes. Tied at 20, the Irish quickly took a two-point lead with the help of Houser as she recorded a solo block followed by a kill. After a Panther kill cut the lead to one, an untimely service error gave the Irish the serve with a 23-21 lead. Another kill by Pitt followed by another service error gave Notre Dame set point. With junior Erin Klosterman serving the Panthers shot themselves in the foot again with a bad set to give the Irish the victory and force a deciding fifth set.
With the match up for grabs and with the crowd behind it, Notre Dame came out on fire in the fifth set and took a 4-1 lead. The Panthers didn't give up though as they roared back with three consecutive points to tie the frame at four. However, the Irish wouldn't be denied as they went on a 5-0 run that was made up of two Alugbue kills and three unforced Pitt errors to take a 9-4 lead. Later in the set, the Irish led 13-9 and finished off the match with back-to-back kills by Houser and Alugbue. Notre Dame hit an impressive .444 to close out the Panthers.
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director