Sept. 26, 2013
ACC Opening Weekend
Notre Dame @ No. 14 North Carolina - Live Stats: Free / Live Video: $9.95
Friday, September 27, 2013 - Carmichael Arena - 7 p.m. (ET)
Records: ND (6-5, 0-0 ACC); UNC (12-0, 1-0 ACC)
Notre Dame @ NC State - Live Stats: Free / Live Video: Free
Sunday, September 29, 2013 - Reynolds Coliseum - 2 p.m. (ET)
Records: ND (6-5, 0-0 ACC); NC State (9-4, 0-1 ACC)
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. - With the non-conference schedule firmly behind it, the University of Notre Dame volleyball team begins a new era Friday night as the Irish open Atlantic Coast Conference play for real this time with conference matches on the road at North Carolina and at NC State.
"We are very excited because it's an unknown but it's a good unknown," said head coach Debbie Brown. "We are starting off with two really strong ACC teams. I think it's a good thing to know that you have to go into someone else's house and bring your best."
In the rarest of rare circumstances, the Irish opened their 2013 season with a non-conference match against the Tar Heels at the Blue Raider Bash and will now open their first-ever season in the ACC with a match against that very same team. Notre Dame anticipates Friday's contest will be far different than the first matchup with UNC when it got blitzed, 3-0, in just 1:16 on August 30. In that match, the Irish hit .011 and had two co-leaders in kills with five.
"Last time we played UNC it was the first match of the season and we had a ton of uncharacteristic and unforced errors," said Brown. "We are playing at a completely different level than we did last time. We need to take care of the ball on our side of the net and be competitive each point."
UNC hasn't looked back since winning that opening match, as the Tar Heels are 12-0, including 1-0 in the ACC, and ranked No. 14 in the country. So far this season they have won the Blue Raider Bash, the Bobcat Invitational, the Carolina Classic and two matches in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. They also sport a 28-match winning streak at the friendly confines of Carmichael Arena.
A host of student-athletes have shone bright for the Tar Heels this season including reigning ACC co-Player of the Week Victoria McPherson, who leads the team in blocks with 45 (1.36 per set). Elsewhere, Jovana Bjelica paces the squad with 118 kills (3.03 per set) and is tied for the team lead with 12 service aces.
In the first match against the Irish, Leight Andrew (11 kills) and Kayla Berringer (8 kills, .500 A%) led the Tar Heels as the squad hit .293 for the contest.
Taking a look at the ACC stats it's no surprise that the Tar Heels are near the top in many categories including first in opponent hitting percentage (.113) and blocks (2.88 per set). They are also second in assists (13.65 per set) and kills (14.52 per set).
Even with the win earlier this season, the Tar Heels still trail the Irish in the all-time series, 5-2. Notre Dame picked up wins in 1984, 1986, 1997, 2000 and 2003, with UNC winning in 1998 in addition to the first match of this season.
The Wolfpack (9-4, 0-1 ACC) are off to a pretty strong start as well as they opened the season 6-0 by winning the Golden Griffin Invitational and the NC State Courtyard Midtown Classic. Since then NC State is 3-4 including a 3-0 loss to the Tar Heels Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
Darian Hopper leads the Wolfpack on offense, as she has a team-high in kills with 134 (3.27 per set). On defense, three players have over 100 digs, as NC State is second in the ACC in digs per set with a 16.13 average.
The two programs have met only briefly with matches in 1986 and 1995 both going Notre Dame's way.
"UNC and NC State played each other Wednesday night and even though North Carolina swept, each set was extremely competitive," said Brown. "NC State has strong outside hitters and a good middle. They have a balanced attack and just good competitors. As we go into the ACC we are excited that we are playing really strong teams every match."
Notre Dame enters the weekend at 6-5 after playing a demanding non-conference schedule. Highlighting the early-season slate was a come-from-behind victory over Southeastern Conference opponent Auburn at home after the Irish fell behind 2-0.
Last weekend Notre Dame traveled to Lawrence, Kan., to compete in the Kansas Invitational. The Irish topped North Dakota State, 3-1, before falling to Georgia and Kansas by the same score. Earning all-tournament team honors was senior Sammie Brown, who hit .329 and averaged 3.17 kills per set in addition to recording 28 digs and 19 assists in three matches.
Other standouts through the first third of the season include juniors Jeni Houser and Toni Alugbue. Houser, who made the move from right side to the middle in the offseason, leads the team in points (158.5) and blocks per set (1.02), is tied for first in service aces (9) and is second in kills (123) and attack percentage (.312). Alugbue is first in kills (134) and second in digs (109). Senior setter and co-captain Maggie Brindock has also been steady with averages of 8.93 assists, 0.87 kills, 1.84 digs and 0.80 blocks per set.
"I think our non-conference schedule prepared us really well," said Brown. "In hindsight I would do it all the same. We opened with a really strong tournament and we hosted two before getting one more road tournament in. We at times played at a really high level and I know we learned a lot. We are definitely a better team a third of the way through the season."
Fans looking to follow the Irish this weekend can checkout both matches through live stats and live video stream. Video for the match against the Tar Heels will be $9.95, while the Wolfpack offer a free video stream. Links to live stats and live video are available at the top of the page and on the volleyball schedule page.
The Irish return home next Wednesday to open up the Purcell Pavilion portion of the ACC schedule as Duke comes to town for a 7 p.m. match.
-- Russell Dorn, Assistant Media Relations Director