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50 OCT. 7, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE N otre Dame sophomore Charley Niego walked off the volleyball court a couple weeks ago at Purcell Pavil- ion all smiles after her team's hard-fought and thrilling 3-2 home victory over Michigan. "It's a big rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame in every sport, not just foot- ball," Niego said. Niego should've been ex- hausted after recording a double-double with 19 kills and 12 digs in an epic battle that remained high-energy and with an uncertain out- come for more than three hours. Instead, after the match, Notre Dame's tireless out- side hitter seemed ready to play on. "Everybody needs a Char- ley on their team," Irish head coach Mike Johnson said. "She never takes a play off. She is full go, all the time, and she's not interested in anything but getting better and making every- body around her better. "Individual accolades don't mean much to her even though plenty are coming her way." Niego said her quick start in col- lege has everything to do with her head start in high school at Mother McAuley in Chicago. A leader and captain on McAu- ley's 2016 team that finished with a No. 1 national ranking, the 2016 Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year, a 2016 Illinois Class 4A state champion, and a 2017 Under Armour first-team All-American, Niego came to Notre Dame as one of the top recruits in program history. "Playing at McAuley made the transition to college much easier," Niego said. "I am really proud of my time there, I learned so much. I'm forever grateful I went there." Coached by Jen DeJarld, McAu- ley has become a pipeline for Notre Dame volleyball in recent years. If the name DeJarld sounds familiar, it should. Jen's daughter Ryann DeJarld was a four-year standout libero at Notre Dame (2015-18) and finished her ca- reer as the Irish all-time digs leader with 2,340. Freshman setter Nancy Kane joins Niego as the two Mother McAuley graduates on this year's Irish. "It's become like a pipeline because Notre Dame and McAuley are so similar in their values and how their programs are run," Niego said. "They are both incom- parable to other schools in terms of athletics, academics and faith. "Those are three very im- portant things in my life." Mature beyond her years, Niego has made the often- difficult move from high school to college seem seam- less, especially in volleyball. Niego emerged as one of the best freshmen in country last season, securing All-ACC Freshman and second-team All-ACC honors after leading the Irish with 339 kills and finishing second on the team with 307 digs. This season, Niego is add- ing leadership duties to her statisti- cal responsibilities, even as a sopho- more. "Age doesn't matter to us," she said. "It doesn't matter what age you are, it's how feisty you are." ✦ 'Feisty' Charley Niego Raising The Volleyball Bar A high school All-American at Chicago's Mother McAuley, Niego earned second-team All-ACC honors as a freshman and continues to pace the Notre Dame squad as a sophomore this season. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA Irish Roundup CROSS COUNTRY The second meet of the season for both the men's and women's programs produced yet another top team and individual finish for both squads at the National Catholic Invitational Sept. 20 in South Bend. The No. 10 men's team captured the top five spots in its race to claim its 10th title at the event in the last 14 years, while the No. 12 women claimed five of the top seven spots for their 13th straight National Catholic title. Both teams are back in action Oct. 4 for the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational. MEN'S SOCCER (4-2-1, 0-2-0 ACC) The No. 21 Irish went on the road and fell 2-0 to No. 11 North Carolina Sept. 20, but rebounded for a 1-0 win at Michigan State Sept. 24. Next up for the Irish are two home games against No. 3 Virginia Sept. 27 and DePaul Oct. 1. WOMEN'S SOCCER (6-3-0, 0-1-0 ACC) The Fighting Irish opened up ACC play with a 1-0 setback at No. 20 Clemson Sept. 20. The Irish are back home Sept. 26 against Pittsburgh and then hit the road to take on No. 4 North Carolina Sept. 29. VOLLEYBALL (7-3, 0-0 ACC) Notre Dame defeated Michigan in five sets 3-2 at home Sept. 18, but dropped a 3-1 decision to the Wolverines on the road Sept. 22. The Irish open up ACC play at home against North Carolina Sept. 27 followed by North Carolina State Sept. 29. — Vince DeDario

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