NOTRE DAME, Ind. - After two-plus weeks of scrimmaging teammates and battling through a tough two-day, military-style training session known as "The Program," the University of Notre Dame volleyball team opens its second year in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Minneapolis, Minn., this weekend for two matches as part of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge.
The Irish open the season against No. 12 Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. CT) Friday before closing out the weekend with a 5 p.m. ET (4 p.m. CT) Saturday contest versus reigning national runner-up No. 6 Wisconsin.
Former BIG EAST rival and new ACC foe Louisville joins the Irish at the Sports Pavilion for the four-match tournament.
Fans looking to track both Notre Dame matchups can follow Gametracker (live stats) or pay for a monthly membership to BTN Plus, which is broadcasting both matches online.
Minnesota enters the new campaign as just the sixth-highest ranked Big Ten team despite checking in at No. 12 in the preseason AVCA poll. Last year the Golden Gophers went 29-7 (15-5 Big Ten) and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Championship before falling to Stanford, 3-0, in the Lexington Regional (Ky.). Minnesota was picked seventh in the Big Ten preseason poll.
The Irish are 3-4 all-time against Minnesota and last played the Golden Gophers in 2008 (3-0 loss). Minnesota is led by preseason all-Big Ten performers Adrianna Nora (MB/RS) and Hannah Tapp (MB).
Wisconsin brings back 11 performers from a 28-10 (12-8 Big Ten) squad that made a surprising run to the NCAA Championship match after entering the tournament as a No. 12 seed. Along the way the Badgers bested Milwaukee, No. 16 Florida State, No. 19 Purdue and No. 1 Texas before falling to No. 2 Penn State in the title game. Wisconsin is ranked sixth to open the year and was picked to finish third in the league during the preseason.
The Badgers boast second team All-American Lauren Carlini and honorable mention All-American Ellen Chapman among their returnees. In addition, former Notre Dame player and Badger junior libero Taylor Morey returns for her second year at Wisconsin after playing in all 38 matches as a sophomore.
Notre Dame trails the all-time series, 3-7, after losing four NCAA Tournament matches to the Badgers over the years.
This weekend will mark the eighth time in program history that the Irish have opened a campaign against a Big Ten foe. In 2007, the Irish lost to No. 9 Minnesota, 3-0, in Minneapolis to open the season.
Notre Dame was picked to finish 11th in the ACC this season after going 13-18 (7-13 ACC) last season in its first year in the league. The Irish return preseason all-ACC performer Jeni Houser (2X HM AA) in addition to five other seniors. The Irish coaching staff also brought in six freshmen to compliment the nine returnees.
A steady performer throughout her career, Houser has a chance to move up several Irish career charts during her final campaign. Already the 21st player in program history to reach 1,000 kills (1,010), the Louisville, Ky., native would move into 20th place with six kills and could move into the top 10 with another solid campaign. She can also work her way into the career rankings in sets played and attack percentage among a few other categories.
Notre Dame head coach Debbie Brown returns for her 24th year at the helm of the Irish volleyball program. She is joined on the sidelines by 11th-year Irish associate head coach Robin Davis, third-year Notre Dame volunteer assistant coach Denise Van De Walle and former Georgia Tech assistant and first-year Irish assistant coach Craig Bere.
Following the challenging opening weekend, the Irish open the home portion of their schedule next weekend when Washington State, IUPUI and Western Michigan come to Purcell Pavilion for the Golden Dome Invitational. Action gets underway Friday afternoon.
Follow the Irish throughout the 2014 season on social media - Facebook (/NDVolleyball), Twitter (@NDVolleyball) and Instagram (NDVBall).
--Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director