Aug 29, 2013
Notre Dame vs. North Carolina - Friday, Aug. 30 - 8 p.m. (ET)
Notre Dame vs. Middle Tennessee State - Saturday, Aug. 31 - 12 p.m. (ET)
Notre Dame vs. San Francisco - Saturday, Aug. 31 - 6 p.m. (ET)
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Despite reaching 20 wins and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, the end of the 2012 season left a bitter taste in the mouth of the University of Notre Dame volleyball team due to a four-match losing streak to end the season.
After a trip to Europe in May allowed the team an extra couple of weeks of practice and exhibition matches against top-flight international competition, the Irish stormed through the preseason and are set to open their inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference this weekend at the Blue Raider Bash on the campus of Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"We are definitely ready to play," said head coach Debbie Brown. "We are getting the season started a week later than last year, which is great because we had one more week of preseason practice, but has made us more anxious to get the season underway."
Match one will see Notre Dame play a unique non-conference match against ACC foe North Carolina at 8 p.m. (ET) Friday. Head coach Debbie Brown signed up for the tournament before finding out the Irish would head to the ACC a year earlier than expected, setting up the unusual non-conference match.
The Tar Heels were recently picked second in the ACC Preseason Coaches Poll and received 68 votes (No. 27) in the AVCA Preseason National Coaches Poll after going 26-6 and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. UNC's long-time head coach Joe Sagula is the lone coach in the league with more experience than Brown, as he has coached for 32 years, with 23 of them coming in Chapel Hill. Sagula has totaled 674 wins in his career to 617 for Brown.
Leading the way for the Tar Heels are a pair of preseason all-ACC student-athletes in Chaniel Nelson and Paige Neuenfeldt. Nelson, a junior, had 278 kills and 123 blocks in 2012, while Neuenfeldt, a sophomore, totaled 277 kills and 135 blocks during her first campaign with the squad.
"I don't ever remember playing a conference team in a non-conference match before," said Brown. "But we are excited to play North Carolina because they are really good and will offer a great challenge in the first match of the season. I could see us developing a healthy rivalry with UNC through the years because of how strong the two programs are."
Following the contest with the Tar Heels, the Irish play two matches on Saturday, first facing off with the host Blue Raiders at 12 p.m. (ET) before battling San Francisco at 6 p.m. (ET).
MTSU is looking to rebound after a tough 2012 season saw the squad go 10-23 overall including 7-8 in the Sun Belt. Five starters return, but the Blue Raiders will be breaking in a new libero this weekend.
San Francisco posted a winning mark last year with a 16-13 record, but went 7-9 in the West Coast Conference (WCC). The Dons bring back three starters plus their libero.
The Irish were picked fourth in the ACC and totaled six votes nationally (No. 39) after going 20-10 last season. Returning for the Irish are preseason all-ACC picks Toni Alugbue and Jeni Houser and multi-year starters and 2013 co-captains Maggie Brindock and Andrea McHugh.
Fans looking to follow along all weekend are in luck as MTSU is offering a free video stream as well as live stats for all six matches throughout the two-day tourney.
The Opening Serve
The Irish are 27-6 all-time in season opening matches ... last year Notre Dame lost a spirited match to No. 1 and defending national champion UCLA in Lincoln, Neb., 3-1 ... other season-opening matches of note: a 3-0 loss to Trine in 1980 proved to be the first match in Irish history; a 3-0 win over IUSB in 1983 was the first win to kick off a season in program history; a 3-0 win over in-state rival Indiana in 1986 and then again in 1988; 16 straight wins to open the season from 1991-06 including a 3-1 win over No. 10 Arizona in 2003; a 3-0 win over Michigan in 2005.
Notre Dame is 5-1 against North Carolina all-time, having last earned a 3-1 win over the Tar Heels in 2003. The Irish are 0-2 against San Francisco, but haven't played the Dons since 1991. The Blue Raiders and Irish have never met on the court.
Playing in two tournaments and in a league that runs the length of the East Coast, the Irish will visit nine states in 2013. Non-conference matches will see the Irish converge on Tennessee and Kansas before ACC play takes the Notre Dame to New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Director of Media Relations