PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Notre Dame defeated Villanova 3-1 (25-20, 25-17, 21-25, 25-14) in the opening match of the BIG EAST Volleyball Championship on Friday at Fitzgerald Field House, avenging a loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season. The Fighting Irish have moved on to the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Championship every year since joining the conference in 1995. Villanova, who had not qualified for the championship since 1997, has not picked up a win in the tournament since 1997.
The Fighting Irish hit .314 for the match, including .455 in the final set. Sophomore Hilary Eppink and junior Kristen Dealy had 15 kills each to lead the team. Dealy added 15 digs to record a double-double, while freshman Andrea McHugh also notched a double-double in her first BIG EAST Championship match with 12 kills and 17 digs. Villanova got 18 kills from redshirt sophomore Morgan Petkovich, while BIG EAST Libero of the Year Kim Maroon added 19 digs.
Notre Dame, who lost to Villanova 3-1 on Nov. 5, claimed the first set 25-20 as Eppink led the team with six kills. Villanova had the early advantage, scoring seven of eight points to jump out to a 14-6 lead. Petkovich had three kills during that stretch. Notre Dame battled back by scoring eight of the next nine points to come within one at 15-14. McHugh, who was honored as BIG EAST Freshman of the Year, served six consecutive points for the Irish and later finished the set by rattling off six more points including one ace. Both teams hit for a high percentage in a fast-paced first set, with the Irish at .357 and the Wildcats at .314.
The Irish held the lead for the entire second frame, scoring seven of the final nine points to win the set 25-17. Notre Dame had a very balanced attack, with three players notching two kills each and three others with three kills each. Senior Kellie Sciacca had three blocks to help hold the Wildcats to a .064 hitting percentage in the set. Junior Kristen Dealy, and freshmen Andie Olsen and Maggie Brindock all had three kills, with Brindock adding four assists. The Wildcats were led by five kills from junior Maggie Mergen.
The Wildcats avoided the sweep in the third set, taking the frame by a score of 25-21. A back-and-forth third set saw Villanova come out playing solid defense, holding the Irish to a .087 hitting percentage to take a 15-13 lead into the media timeout. The Irish finished the set with a .211 hitting percentage. Neither side led by more than five points throughout the entire frame. Notre Dame owned a 12-10 advantage, but the Wildcats scored five of the next seven points to take a lead they would not relinquish. The run ended with a kill from freshman Allison Williams after a great hustle play by classmate Alyssa Anderson. Sophomore CeCe Twitty put an end to the set with a kill down the left sideline, as Villanova finished with 16 kills on 35 swings.
The Irish clinched the match in the fourth set, winning the match by 11 points at 25-14. Notre Dame built a ten-point lead at 23-13 in the fourth set following back-to-back aces by Sciacca and a kill by McHugh. The team finished with a .455 hitting percentage in the set as Dealy and McHugh had five kills each. Eppink sealed the win for Notre Dame with a block on the final point as the squad moved on to its 16th straight BIG EAST Championship semifinal.
Notre Dame plays the winner of No. 1 seed Cincinnati and No. 8 USF at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first of two semifinal matches. The Bearcats and Bulls play the 12:30 p.m. quarterfinal match.