Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 OCT. 17, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME The Notre Dame volleyball team is off to its best beginning in the ACC, win- ning its first four league matches of the season during a 13-3 start. The Irish were 13-18 (2013), 6-23 (2014) and 7-25 (2015) the past three years, but have undergone a dramatic renaissance under second-year and two-time national champion head coach Jim McLaughlin. Senior middle blocker Katie Higgins is among the contributors, ranking tied for third on the team in kills per set (2.23) and third in blocks (40). BGI: What's led to such a good start? Higgins: "I think it's the buildup of our technique and all of our practice on that, breaking it down to the fundamentals during the spring and over the summer. Plus, just coming together as a team with our focus and discipline to be consistent, to be able to play the way we can match after match. "The focus and discipline is much better than ever before." BGI: This year the team has as many wins as the previous two years com- bined. What's changed to make the jump? Higgins: "It was just a 'finally' moment. Everything we've been working on, the system that is in place, we can trust everyone to do their jobs. It's just unlike any other season before. We're just on a good ride right now being consistent and bringing our 'A' game in every match." BGI: You were here when the coaching change was made in 2015. What does head coach Jim McLaughlin bring to the table? Higgins: "It's very different. We just have a deeper understanding of the game. We understand what needs to be happening at all times and learned how to do it each time. There's a really set system we have in place. We all have to do our job and stay in the sys- tem, and we've used a lot of statistics." BGI: How have things changed from the previous staff to the current one? Higgins: "I would say it was a 180-degree change. It's turned out really great. It 's a whole different type of focus with volleyball. Just like football offenses and defenses have different systems, so does volleyball. He broke it all the way down to our technique. "Everyone has a certain thing to be doing at all times that wasn't in place before. There are lots of different individual jobs that collectively make us successful as a team." BGI: What do you need to continue doing to keep being successful? Higgins: "We need to focus on every match one at a time. The most impor- tant match is the one right in front of us. To do that we just have to focus and be disciplined for each match. We can't take any matches off, especially in the ACC. Every match is going to be a tough game. "This team is going to go really far, and we are ready for it this year." — Corey Bodden Five Questions With … SENIOR MIDDLE BLOCKER KATIE HIGGINS Stanford Strengths Will Show More By Matt Jones With the possibility of three straight losses at Notre Dame Stadium on the line this weekend, I believe the Irish will have their hands full against Stanford. While this Stanford team doesn't have gaudy numbers and a top-10 national ranking like recent years, it does have junior running back Christian McCaffrey. His statistics don't match his break- out sophomore season, but he's capable of put- ting points on the scoreboard in a hurry if Notre Dame's defense doesn't come to play. The exact areas Notre Dame has been sus- ceptible to this season are Stanford's supposed strengths. The Cardinal want to own the line of scrimmage on offense, something Texas, Michi- gan State and Duke did against the Irish in wins. McCaffrey can be slippery, one of the tough- est players in the country to bring down. Notre Dame has not proven it's a good tackling team this year, evidenced specifically by the Texas and Duke games. And on special teams, which is often an X-factor in close matchups, Notre Dame has been subpar. Sophomore kicker Justin Yoon has been inconsistent, and the Irish punt and kick coverage units have allowed several big returns. Remember Shaun Wil- son's 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown? Yes, that could be McCaffrey on Oct. 15 doing the same. I expect DeShone Kizer and the Irish to do their thing offensively against Stanford's defense. But if Notre Dame's work-in-progress defense can't get off the field, this game could be similar to the Michigan State loss. Miami Will Be Primed To Score By Lou Somogyi While Stanford has become a "program" since 2010 and merits respect for all that it's achieved since then, Miami could be an even more difficult matchup. Whereas the Cardinal have been plodders while muddling along on offense this season and rank- ing among the bottom five to 10 percent in scor- ing through the first five games, Miami returned one of the nation's most veteran offenses with 10 of the 11 starters back from the 2015 campaign, notably quarterback Brad Kaaya, a potential first- round pick. Now add Miami alumnus and new head coach Mark Richt, who had a fine history on offense while winning 145 games in 15 seasons at Geor- gia, and the equation is there to prosper against a Notre Dame defense trying to find itself. There is better potential for the Hurricanes to ring up the scoreboard than for Stanford. Much of it will depend on Notre Dame's mind- set on where it is after the bye week, which coin- cides with the fall semester break and the chance for the Irish players to spend some time at home with families. Will they be able to clear their head and be reinvigorated, or will the break reinforce some disappointment about how the season has transpired? Last year after the bye/fall break, Notre Dame needed a touchdown in the final minute to squeak past Temple, 24-20, despite defeating USC the previous game. Miami's athletes, especially on offense, will present an even more formidable foe. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH OCTOBER HOME GAME IS NOTRE DAME'S BIGGER CHALLENGE? Higgins was tied for third on the team in kills per set (2.23) and third in blocks (40) through Notre Dame's first 16 matches. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS Notre Dame held Stanford's Christian McCaffrey in check last year, and will attempt to do it again. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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