NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Down 2-0 to No. 10 Louisville, a winner of 10 consecutive matches, Notre Dame never faltered and won three consecutive sets to upset the Cardinals in five, 3-2 (16-25, 22-25, 25-20, 26-24, 15-3), on Sunday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
After forcing a fifth game with an impressive comeback in set four, the Irish dominated the home-standing Cardinals 15-3 in the fifth set. The Cardinals were down one at 3-2 before three Irish kills, two Irish blocks and two Louisville attack errors gave Notre Dame a commanding 10-2 lead behind the serving of Sammie Brown. After a kill by 2011 Big East Player of the Year Lola Arslanbekova made the score 10-3, Notre Dame ended the set and match with a 5-0 run that included a resounding kill by Maggie Brindock to give the Irish the thrilling five-set win. Notre Dame hit .588 for the set, while Louisville hit -.105.
The Irish (9-5, 2-0 Big East) victory was their first top-10 win since they defeated No. 5 Stanford on Sept. 29, 2009. The win also snapped Louisville’s (12-2, 1-1 Big East) 10-match winning streak that began after a 3-0 loss to No. 4 Penn State on Aug. 25. Notre Dame has now snapped winning streaks that were nine matches or longer in consecutive weekends as they defeated Kansas last weekend in the finale of the Golden Dome Invitational.
Notre Dame improves to 3-1 on the year in five-set matches, 1-3 in matches when trailing 2-0 and 1-4 against teams ranked in the top 20.
With the two road wins this weekend, Notre Dame has now started Big East play 2-0 in 16 out of the 18 years it has been in the league.
“I am so proud of this team for capturing a signature win against a talented Louisville team on the road,” head coach Debbie Brown said. “I was unbelievably impressed with our composure at the end of the fourth set and then I’m not sure if I have seen anything like set five before. It was a great team win for us.”
A trio of performers produced 10 or more kills, led by sophomore Toni Alugbue, who had 18 kills and 18 digs for her eighth double-double of the season. Junior Andrea McHugh registered her sixth double-double of the season with 10 kills and 20 digs. Sophomore Jeni Houser rounded out the trio with 14 kills and four blocks as she returned to her hometown for the first time since she came to Notre Dame. Brindock tied her career high in assists (54) after setting the new standard on Friday night in a 3-2 win at Cincinnati. She also had 15 digs, four kills and two blocks. For the fourth time this season freshman libero Taylor Morey reached 20 or more digs as she tallied 25 in the match. Also turning in impressive performances for the Irish were middle blockers Hilary Eppink (9 kills, .409 hit percentage) and Andie Olsen (7 kills, 5 blocks).
The Cardinals were led by the do it all Arslanbekova, who had 20 kills, 17 digs and five service aces.
The highly-ranked Cardinals jumped on top of the Irish early on their way to a 25-16 victory in set one. Notre Dame trailed by as many as six at 10-4, but trimmed the lead to 11-8 on the strength of three Alugbue kills in five points. Up by three at 16-13, the Cardinals ran off six of the next seven points to take control of the set. A kill by Arslanbekova gave Louisville the 1-0 lead. As has been the case at many points this season, ill-timed service errors hurt Notre Dame’s chances to even the set, as they had four in the first frame alone with all four coming in the first 14 points for Louisville. The Irish hit just .167 in the first set to .350 for the Cardinals.
Four different players tallied kills to give the Irish a 15-12 lead midway through the second set. However, the Cardinals wouldn’t be deterred as they chipped away at the Notre Dame lead led by Arslanbekova. The Big East Preseason Player of the Year candidate had a kill to make it 16-15, and then powered home a second one to give Louisville the lead at 17-16. The Irish rebounded to take an 18-17 lead, but the Cardinals ran off three consecutive points as Arslanbekova had a kill and a service ace to give Louisville a 20-17 lead. A kill by Lukyanenko gave the Cardinals set point at 24-20, and a kill by Kaitlynn James ended the set at 25-22. Eleven ties and seven lead changes accompanied the highly-competitive set.
The Irish sent the contest to a fourth set by building a big lead and then holding on against the Cardinals. Winning by just two at 8-6, the Irish went on a 14-6 run behind three kills and a block from Olsen. The Cardinals answered with a 7-1 run to trim the lead to 22-19 as Arslanbekova had a kill and three service aces. Louisville kept itself from completing the comeback as it had two service errors and an attack error to give Notre Dame three of its final four points. The Irish hit .325 for the set, led by Olsen and Alugbue who each had four kills.
Notre Dame forced a deciding fifth set in thrilling fashion, taking set four 26-24 after being down to its final point for three consecutive serves. Trailing 24-21, a service error by Caitlin Welch gave the Irish new life at 24-22. Brindock and her teammates seized the opportunity as Houser had a pair of kills and Alugbue added a third with Brindock serving to give the Irish set point. An attack error by James sent the match to the deciding fifth set.