Nov. 20, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Down 24-20 in the third set, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team was just one point away from trailing Virginia Tech 2-1 in a best-of-five Atlantic Coast Conference match. What followed was four straight points from the home team, highlighted by two solo blocks from senior Nicole Smith that jump-started a Notre Dame run that ultimately led to a 3-1 (20-25, 25-21, 27-25, 25-22) victory over the Hokies Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
"We wanted this home court win," said freshman Simmone Collins. "We practiced hard for it and I think it was something we owed ourselves."
"The turning point to the match was coming back and winning that third set after we were down 24-20," said head coach Debbie Brown. "That's a hard comeback to make. I thought we kept that momentum and that confidence going into set four. I could just see in the player's eyes that we were going to win."
In arguably one of their best matches of the season, the Irish overcame a tough first set to hit .273 with 53 kills and block 14 Hokie attacks that helped propel them to a three-set sweep in sets two through four.
A big reason for the success of the offense tonight was the play of senior setter Maggie Brindock, who dished out 42 assists, while also helping out all over the court with four kills, four digs, both of the team's service aces and five blocks. After becoming just the seventh player in school history to go over 3,000 assists last weekend, Brindock enters Friday's match against Virginia just seven helpers shy of fifth place. The Rockwall, Texas native has 3,087 for career and former standout Jamel Nicholas had 3,094 from 2006-09.
"I thought Maggie set a pretty incredible match tonight," said Brown. "She really did a great job of implementing our game plan which included attacking their back pin. So we had Nicole (Smith) hitting a lot on the back side and Jeni (Houser) hitting a lot of loops and even when there were some tough balls, Maggie did a good job of getting it in place for our hitters to have some good swings."
In addition to some of the regulars that dominated the Hokies for much of the night, Collins turned in career highs in kills (6) and attacks (17) to give the Irish an energetic spark.
"In practice we have been working on the connection between Maggie (Brindock) and myself and our team's passing was phenomenal tonight," said Collins. "Without that I wouldn't have been able to get the looks I did. I owe it all to the passers."
"On offense, Maggie (Brindock) is getting more comfortable with Simmone as they have had an opportunity to continue to work on their timing in practice," said Brown. "The thing that really helps us is she (Simmone) is so quick laterally that she closes a lot of blocks. Having six block assists is pretty huge, but you have to look at the plays where she didn't get a block, but she helped put up a double block that gave our defense a play on the attack."
Veterans Jeni Houser (13K, .440 A%), Nicole Smith (12K, .375 A%) and Toni Alugbue (12K, .290 A%) attacked at will for the Irish as they combined for 37 kills while hitting .363. At the net, Alugbue and Houser each had four blocks and Smith had three, including the two monster solo stuffs. Alugbue also tallied her 10th double-double of the season with a 12 kill, 10 dig performance.
With her team-high 13 kills tonight, Houser (982) is just 18 away from becoming the 21st player in school history to reach 1,000 for her career.
Despite giving up 14 blocks, the Hokies (21-10, 9-8 ACC) had some standout performers on offense, including the ACC's attack leader - senior Victoria Hamsher, who had 14 kills and attacked at a .458 clip. Freshman Lindsey Owens had a match-high 19 kills, but also had nine errors, and senior Samantha Gostling tallied 15 kills. However, the Hokies were undone by a whopping 12 service errors to go along with 26 attack errors, two receiving errors and two ball-handling errors.
With the win, Notre Dame gains revenge on the Hokies after a 3-1 loss in Blacksburg Oct. 25 and also moves back ahead in the all-time series against its former BIG EAST rival, 3-2.
Notre Dame also improved to 8-4 on the season at home and will take a four-match home winning streak into Friday afternoon's match.
The Irish (12-16, 6-11 ACC) close out the week with a 4:30 p.m. Friday match against the University of Virginia (15-13, 8-8 ACC). Notre Dame will be looking for a measure of revenge over the Cavaliers as UVA handed the Irish a 3-1 loss in Charlottesville Oct. 27.
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A back-and-forth set early went in favor of the Hokies as they closed out the frame on a 10-5 run to win, 25-20, and take a 1-0 lead. After seven ties and three lead changes highlighted the set's first 30 points, VT went on a quick 3-0 run to claim a three-point advantage at 18-15. A couple of points later, two kills by Hamsher upped the margin to four at 21-17. A kill by Collins and a service ace by Brindock forced the Hokies to take a timeout at 21-19. However, an attack error by the Irish and a kill from Gostling put the lead back at four (23-19). A service ace from Hamsher closed out the set after the Hokies received the serve off a Notre Dame service error. Virginia Tech tallied 14 kills (.370 A%) and 14 digs to far surpass Notre Dame's totals of 12 kills (.167 A%) and six digs.
The Irish rebounded nicely in set two by virtually mirroring VT's first set. With the match tied at 16, kills by Smith and junior Meg Vonderhaar bookended an attack error by the Hokies to give Notre Dame a 19-16 lead. Later in the frame, a bad set by Hokie setter Jordan Fish upped the Irish lead to 21-17. Notre Dame was forced to take a timeout after a pair of Hokie points trimmed the lead to 22-20, but two kills by Alugbue, including a decisive one to close out the set, powered the Irish to the set two win. Notre Dame was as efficient on offense as they had been in a while, putting down 15 kills as opposed to just two errors to hit .394. They also played better defense by digging 18 balls and blocking three VT attacks. The trio of Houser (6 kills), Alugbue (5 kills) and Smith (3 kills) combined for 14 kills while hitting .482 to pace the Irish.
Notre Dame put together quite a comeback in set three, as it overcame a 24-20 deficit to win 27-25 and take a 2-1 lead in the match. The rally began with a ball handling error by Hamsher. From there a pair of solo blocks by Smith bookended a kill by Vonderhaar to tie the frame at 24 and force a Hokie timeout. Coming out of the timeout, an attack error on the Irish gave VT a chance to serve for set point. However, the Irish wouldn't be denied as they tallied three straight kills from Smith, Houser and Vonderhaar to finish off the Hokies. The big difference in the set for the Irish was their strong play at the net where they produced five big blocks, including two solos from Smith and one from Alugbue.
Momentum stayed with the Irish in set four as they closed out the match with a 25-22 win. The big run for Notre Dame came in the middle of the set. Up just one at 11-10, the Irish ran off four straight points, highlighted by a kill from Alugbue and a solo block from Houser, to take a 15-10 lead. From there, Notre Dame stretched its lead to seven at 19-12 after a Brindock service ace. The Hokies wouldn't go away though as they fought back to trim the margin to just two at 22-20. Notre Dame wouldn't be denied, however, as a kill by Houser gave the Irish match point at 24-21, before Alugbue closed out the match with her 12th kill of the night. The Hokies hurt themselves in set four with nine attack errors, including five unforced errors, and three service errors. The Irish, meanwhile, hit .286 and had minimal unforced errors.
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director