NCAA roundup: Notre Dame on a roll, Florida wins big

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Elon's Maddie Jaudon bump sets for teammate Kam Terry, who led the Phoenix with 16 kills in a win over William & Mary/Tim Cowlie photo

Don’t look now, but here come the Irish.

When Notre Dame stunned the NCAA volleyball world by luring coach Jim McLaughlin away from Washington, he knew he had a rebuilding job on his hand. To wit, last year the Irish went 7-25, 2-18 in the ACC. It was more losses in one season than McLaughlin had sustained in the previous five years total at Washington.

But now, after Notre Dame went to Miami and swept the Hurricanes on Sunday, the Irish are 11-3, 2-0 in the ACC.

More on that in a bit, but first No. 6 Florida. On Friday of last week, Alabama knocked off visiting Texas A&M and you had to think for a second, well, maybe Bama can challenge. Sunday, Florida went to Tuscaloosa and came away with a three-set rout of the Crimson Tide.

Among the other ranked teams that played on Sunday, No. 15 Florida State beat Louisville in four, No. 16 Colorado had to go five to win a big Pac-12 match over Arizona, No. 25 Western Kentucky swept Charlotte, and Arkansas State had to go five to beat Sun Belt Conference newcomer Coastal Carolina.

Also, Connecticut beat visiting Tulane in four, Penn State swept Northwestern in the only Big Ten match of the day, Dayton won to improve to 15-1 and how about Elon? The Phoenix are 14-4.

Arkansas got a much-needed SEC win Sunday at LSU and we have a video interview with first-year coach Jason Watson at the end of this story.

Start with Notre Dame, off to its best start since 2005. In its 25-22, 25-15, 25-15 victory at Miami, senior Katie Higgins had 10 kills on 15 swings without ad error and hit .667. Higgins also led with three blocks and had two digs. Jemma Yeadon added nine kills and Sam Fry and Sydney Kuhn eight each for the Irish, who hit a collective .360.

Notre Dame entertains Duke on Friday.

“The challenge is that you know what is going on and you are unable to correct it, so they took advantage of it,” Miami coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “That’s a well-coached team and they took advantage of some weaknesses that we weren’t able to correct.”

His team, which fell to 6-8. 0-2, got 17 kills from Olga Strantzali, who hit .333 while adding six digs, two blocks and a service ace.

Florida has won 12 in a row since losing that season opener to No.1 Nebraska. The Gators rolled over Alabama 25-22, 25-14, 25-19 as they hit .375. Alex Holston had 14 kills, Rhamat Alhassan 11 and Rachael Kramer nine.

“To come in and beat this Alabama team, which was on such a great run and played so well on Friday night, speaks volumes about our preparation and execution,” Florida coach Mary Wise said.

Alabama, 12-3, got 17 kills from Krystal Rivers, who failed to get a block.

Florida State’s Katie Horton had 10 kills, 17 digs and four blocks (two solo) while Milica Kubura and Christina Ambrose added 15 and 10 kills, respectively, to lead the Seminoles past Louisvlle 26-24, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22. They are now 9-2 and 2-0, while Louisville fell to 5-7, 0-2.

“We had two different teams on the court today,” FSU coach Chris Poole said. “Starting the match we were playing inconsistently on offense, but better defensively. Our offense got better as the match progressed, but our defense struggled. We are glad to get the win and we need to get everyone back on the court in practice to improve.”

Colorado’s 25-19, 25-22, 19-25, 19-25, 15-9 victory over visiting Arizona saw the Buffs improve to 9-3 as both teams are 1-1 in the Pac-12.

And it was a huge day for CU junior Gabby Simpson. She had 22 kills and hit .486 with three errors on 35 swings. She also handed out 21 assists to become the first Buff in CU history to record a 20-20 double-double with kills and assists. Simpson was the team’s top blocker as well, posting six total with one solo.

“I think it’s important this week to win at home because it’s so hard to win on the road,” first-year CU coach Jesse Mahoney said. “That’s why losing against Utah was as frustrating as it was. I think we did a nice job regrouping too.

“We had a couple days of practice and I felt we were ready to play this match. Arizona is a really good team so even after set three, we didn’t blow them out of the building. They came back and played well and we’re glad to get a win.”

Arizona, 9-5, was led by Katarina Pilepic, who had her best match as a Wildcat. The senior transfer led UA with 17 kills on .351 hitting and a team-high-tying five blocks.

“Tough loss for us today,” Arizona coach Dave Rubio said. “We didn’t play very well; we weren’t very sharp. Back to the drawing board on Tuesday.”

Western Kentucky won its 40th consecutive home conference match, beating Charlotte 25-17, 26-24, 25-20. The Lady Toppers are 14-2, 2-0 in Conference USA.

Arkansas State came up big 25-12, 21-25, 20-25, 27-25, 15-9 at Sun Belt newcomer Coastal Carolina. It left ASU 10-6 overall, 1-1 in the SBC, while Coastal is 10-4, 1-1.

Arkansas, as mentioned, won at LSU 25-21, 25-17, 25-14. Watson, who moved to Fayetteville after a great run at Arizona State, lost the team’s best player, senior outside hitter Pilar Victoria, to a knee injury and is relying on a freshman setter, Rachel Rippee, who did a great job Sunday as her team improved to just 3-10 as it won its SEC opener.

Seniors Danielle Harbin and Savannah Voelzke led the Razorbacks with 14 kills apiece and they outblocked LSU 14-4.

We caught up with Watson after the match:

There are just two matches on tap today in Division I, both in the Missouri Valley: Evansville at Wichita State and Southern Illinois at Missouri State.

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