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Notre Dame sweeps Bernie

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Notre Dame volleyball team played five matches during the tournament it hosted over the weekend.

The Bulldogs missed 44 serves and, to hear them tell it, allowed an unfathomable number of their opponents' tips to fall to the court on their way to winning the tournament's silver bracket.

Those problems were addressed in practice and mostly erased during Notre Dame's 25-15, 25-18 win over Bernie on Tuesday night.

"It felt good to come out here tonight and have one game to focus on and play clean," Notre Dame coach Tara Stroup said. "Over the weekend we had some big ups and big downs. It was good to be consistent."

The Bulldogs (5-1-1) raced to a 13-3 lead in Game 1 thanks in large part to the consistency of senior middle Miranda Fowler.

Fowler had three kills and an unreturned serve to help her team build that lead. She finished with 11 kills and just two errors.

"She is my only really experienced player from last year," Stroup said. "I have a few that played some last year, but she started and she had a big role. She's getting so good at hitting around the block. It's not necessarily the hardest hit ball, but she places it so well. Such a smart player. She's absolutely wonderful, one of the most coachable players I've ever worked with."

The Bulldogs start six seniors and a junior, so although they haven't played together at the varsity level before, they have experience playing together.

"All of us are, like, best friends," Fowler said. "We get along so well. Even though we're juniors and seniors, we're all one. It's weird for that to happen so early in the season, but we meshed well all summer and continued that throughout the season."

Notre Dame missed just three serves against Bernie (1-1).

"We served for like an hour yesterday, and we missed three in two games tonight," Stroup said. "So that was much better."

Stroup complimented her team for making adjustments and for its work ethic.

"That's great," Stroup said. "This is the hardest-working team I've ever had, and I can say that easily. I get here at a Sunday practice that's supposed to start at 2 o'clock. I get here at 1:30, and everyone on my team is already here. They are hard workers, and they love to play. This is a great group. Glad to see them come out and play good tonight."

While the Bulldogs cleaned up their mistakes, Bernie's offense struggled with errors throughout the match. The Mules had four hitting errors in the match's first 11 points.

"It's our second game, so we're still working out a lot of glitches," said Bernie coach Erin Hoffman, who is in her first season at the school after successful stints at Meadow Heights, Bell City and Scott City. "We made a lot of errors. I think we pretty much gave the other team a lot of points. But we're working it out. They're doing a lot of things they haven't done before, and I think once they trust themselves -- that they can do what we've been learning -- then you'll see a whole different team on the court."

Fowler opened Game 2 with four kills in the fist six points as the Bulldogs built another big lead. They held leads of 11-4 and 24-13 before Bernie narrowed the gap with five consecutive points on match point.

"Miranda's definitely our most consistent hitter," Notre Dame setter Taylor Ward said. "I'm not ever scared to set her because I'm pretty confident that she'll hit the ball to the floor."

Ward is in her first year as the Bulldogs' setter. She put together a sparkling performance against Bernie with 19 assists and four kills. While Notre Dame has most often used a two-setter rotation in recent years, Ward sets in all six rotations this year.

Stroup said Ward missed most of her sophomore year with a hip injury and played catch-up during her junior season.

"Over the offseason she played club and set a 5-1 on the club team," Stroup said. "And then we played a lot of games this summer, and so the experience finally caught up with the talent, I think."

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