Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 24, 2020

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

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50 OCT. 24, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE N otre Dame volleyball coach Mike Johnson delivered a consistent message to his players and assis- tant coaches during this spring and summer when every member of his program became isolated because of COVID-19. "If we can work harder and maxi- mize our time in quarantine better than the other teams in the ACC, we will be at an advantage," Johnson declared. And judging by the quick start his fifth-ranked Irish put together so far this season, Johnson's players got the point. "During quarantine, we actually had live team workout sessions to- gether [by computer video]," star Irish setter and junior captain Zoe Nunez said. "We were working out a couple of times a week to make sure we were all staying in shape. So when we finally got back to practice, we were able to hit the ground running." During her first two terrific seasons at Notre Dame, Nunez has already become one of the more decorated players in the ACC. An All-America candidate this season, Nunez was named a second- team All-ACC selection and a mem- ber of the All-ACC Freshman Team in 2018 before becoming a first-team all- league choice as a sophomore in 2019. Nunez was also named to the All- ACC Academic team both years — all part of the plan when she chose Notre Dame over some powerful Big Ten programs out of Keith Country Day School in Rockford, Ill. "I knew it was going to be tough coming to Notre Dame, but I like to be pushed, so it was a perfect fit," said Nunez, a marketing major who committed to the Irish before her sophomore year of high school. "Notre Dame really drew me in with the competitive volleyball as well as the competitive degree, it's the best of both worlds. "I knew that Notre Dame would be able to set me up for a successful future." Whether that future leads Nunez upon graduation into the workforce or onto the professional volleyball circuit remains undecided. In the meantime, Nunez has set a couple of lofty but attainable goals for her team — winning the ACC regular- season title (the conference does not hold a postseason tournament), and reaching the final four of the NCAA Tournament, when and if that event is eventually held. "And honestly," she said, "I think we have the team to do it." Notre Dame certainly has a player and an accomplished leader in Nunez to make it happen. Not unlike a quarterback in foot- ball, setters in volleyball are imme- diately thrust into a leadership role. And Johnson explained that even as a freshman starter on a veteran team, Nunez embraced that responsibility. "With Zoe, I'm not constantly bug- ging her to get better," he said, adding that Nunez became a team captain as only a sophomore. "She's always wanting to know from me what she needs to do to make herself better." Nunez stockpiled even more indi- vidual honors to her already deco- rated career in early March when she became one of only four setters and 28 players in the country selected to the 2020 U.S. Women's Collegiate Na- tional Team, an honor that would've allowed Nunez to play alongside and against the U.S. Women's National Team during preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics before the pandemic halted that amazing opportunity. Even so, "she came back from those tryouts even hungrier to get better, she's a player who wants to be good at every facet of the game," Johnson explained, "and when the leader of your team is pushing herself to that standard, it models that behavior well for everybody else." ✦ Nunez — a junior who is a two-time team captain — was an All-Freshman and second-team All-ACC pick as a rookie in 2018, and earned first-team all-league recognition as a sophomore last year. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Never Satisfied, Volleyball Junior Zoe Nunez Is Always Improving Irish Roundup MEN'S SOCCER (2-2 OVERALL, 1-1 ACC) Notre Dame edged Syracuse 1-0 at home Oct. 11 … Junior forward Jack Lynn scored in the sixth minute and the Irish limited the Orange to just four shots on goal in a strong defensive effort … Notre Dame returns to action with a match at Virginia Tech Oct. 18. — Steve Downey

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