Following a loss to No. 2 Louisville, coach Marci Byers took her squad to South Bend, Indiana, to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday.
Virginia Tech, in the midst of a four-game skid, looked to snap Notre Dame’s three-game win streak—a streak that launched the 15th place Irish ahead of the Hokies into spot No. 10.
Having become the first unranked team to steal a set from the defending ACC champion Cardinals this season, the Hokies carried with them more momentum than they typically would following a loss. That little bit of momentum, however, was somewhat insignificant compared to the momentum the Irish possessed. Coming into Sunday, not only was Notre Dame on a small winning streak, it was on a tear against Virginia Tech, having won all eight matches between the two dating back to 2016. The last time the Hokies were able to win a set against the Irish was on Oct. 18, 2019.
Set one was streaky. Notre Dame jumped out to a 5–1 lead, then Virginia Tech tied it at seven apiece. The Irish then earned five straight points, the Hokies followed that up with four. The two traded streaks for the remainder of the set. As soon as it seemed like one side was on a tear, the other fought right back with a run of its own.
Both teams fought neck and neck, and with the set tied at 19, Notre Dame took six of the final eight rallies to win 25–21.
The second set, while less streaky, was equally as competitive. Just prior to the halfway point, the Hokies and Irish were knotted at 11. Notre Dame managed to pull ahead, but Virginia Tech evened the score at 19 and conceded a point. Then, the Hokies put the pedal to the metal, taking set two 25–20.
With the match becoming a three-set contest, set three was a new beginning for both teams. The somewhat lackadaisical play from both sides turned into offensive proficiency. Each team was pressuring the other harder than before and the set was even until the Irish pulled off a four-point run to win 25–20.
In set four, both teams’ effective offenses continued to entertain. Virginia Tech’s hitting percentage of .351 was slightly better than the .333 percentage of Notre Dame; however, their 16 kills weren’t quite enough to win the set. The Hokies fell 25–22 and lost the match 3–1.
What’s fascinating about how this match played out was the way both teams were able to rapidly change their gameplay. Not far into set two, Virginia Tech’s hitting percentage was .041 and Notre Dame’s was above .200. While the Irish’s hitting percentage at this point in the match was by no means spectacular, it’s still five times the hitting percentage they allowed their opponent to amass. But by the end of the set, this all changed.
Virginia Tech managed to claw its way back to win set two, earning a hitting percentage of .147 for the set. Over this same period, the Irish had a hitting percentage of -.026. By the time set three was tied at four, the Hokies’ hitting percentage was greater than that of the Irish, a lead they never relinquished.
Seeing that the hitting percentage is a metric that determines offensive effectiveness via total kills and service errors, it can easily be inferred that the Irish committed a large number of errors in set two.
In set one, Notre Dame committed six attack errors, which, while not ideal, was something it was able to overcome. That number doubled in set two, meaning just under half of the Hokies’ offense was generated from sloppy play on the Irish’s side of the net. Notre Dame was able to bring the number of attack errors down to four in set three and did so again in set four, totaling only three.
Virginia Tech has relied on its opponent to commit errors all season long, and today was a prime example. The Hokies recorded fewer errors than the Irish in sets two and three and more errors in sets one and four. They were able to capitalize on this opportunity in set two but were unable to do the same in set three.
Virginia Tech recorded 14 blocks en route to its four-set loss. It’s the most they have recorded this season to date, besting their previous total of 13 blocks on Sept. 2 against Marist.
Their 13 reception errors tell another story entirely. Notre Dame’s 90 service aces coming into Sunday ranked 14th in the ACC, and its 83 service errors ranked eighth.
Not only was the Irish’s ability to put up so many service aces against Virginia Tech impressive, they blanked the Hokies in the category, allowing no service aces in any set.
With its ninth consecutive loss to Notre Dame, Virginia Tech falls to 9–10 overall, its first trip below .500 since Aug. 27. It now possesses an ACC record of 2–6 and will have the chance to exact revenge against Notre Dame at home on Nov. 25, its final match of the season.
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