Winning the Class 3 District 1 Championship last Tuesday was a long time coming for the Notre Dame volleyball team, and the moment couldn’t have been any sweeter for the Bulldogs.
On top of it being the program’s first district title since 2015, Notre Dame swept district rival Dexter handedly 3-0 (25-11, 25-16, 25-19) to do so. The Bulldogs had their last two seasons come to an end by the hands of the Bearcats, including last year’s district title match.
“I feel like [winning it this year] is even sweeter since the past three years I’ve known what it feels like to lose that game,” Senior outside hitter Rylee McClintock said. “Now that I’ve won my senior year, it’s incredible. I’m blown away, and I’m so proud of my team.”
As the saying goes, Notre Dame was “all gas, no breaks” from start to finish as it made eight runs of at least 3-0 throughout the night. Half of those scoring runs were of five-straight points or more as the Bulldogs only trailed Dexter once the entire match, which was in the third set. This was also the set where the Bearcats made their lone scoring run of the game.
The key to the game for Notre Dame outside of an offensive attack that had four players record five or more kills was defense.
Like all season, the Bulldogs made their presence felt at the net by combining for 14 blocks. McClintock had a game-high five blocks (two solo), while middle hitters senior Lexi Rubel and junior Tori Rubel, popularly known as The Twin Towers, combined for nine with four (two solo) and three, respectively.
McClintock and Tori Rubel assisted each other on three blocks as the two made for quite the tandem this season whenever an opposing hitter decided to try and attack the wall they created.
“I am so proud of [Tori]. Whenever we got a couple blocks she was like, ‘It’s a block party!” McClintock said. “I’m like, ‘Yes! You and I are unstoppable.’ We’ve always been like, ‘No one’s getting past us.’”
On top of that, Notre Dame had seven players record eight or more digs while five of them finished in double digits. Shockingly, none of those five Bulldogs were the libero senior Brooklyn Greaser, who had eight digs.
It was Lexi Rubel that led Notre Dame’s defense in digs with 14, while junior outside hitter Kristin Anderson and senior setter Sarah Brennan paced her with 13 apiece. McClintock had the third-most digs with 12 as she was paced by junior defensive specialist Anna Garner at 11.
“I mean, honestly, they did not want anything to touch the ground,” Bulldogs head coach Meridith Brinkmeyer said. “We’ve been really kind of focusing on that in practices, ‘Hey, you may not think you can get that ball, but believe in yourself, and you’ll surprise yourself. They’ve done that and bought in to practice and brought it into the game.”
Moving to Notre Dame’s offense, McClintock led the way with a game-high 14 kills on 39 attempts (.333 hitting percentage). As a four-year starter, Rylee has helped the Bulldogs win the 2018 SEMO Conference Tournament title, the 2020 Dig For Life Challenge title and this year’s conference regular-season title on top of districts.
“It’s going to be weird when [McClintock] isn’t here. Her leadership and enthusiasm — the time she puts in outside of practice,” Coach Brinkmeyer said. “She was watching game film and sending the girls and me messages about what Dexter does. She is 100% committed to this team, and she wanted [a district title] bad and got it.”
Behind Rylee in kills was none other than Lexi (12) and Tori Rubel (eight) as both members of The Twin Towers finished with a hitting percentage above .400 as Lexi had a .500 on 20 attacks. One thing that made Lexi Rubel even more effective was Brinkmeyer placing her at outside hitter several times.
Tori Rubel’s eight kills in the district title match tied the single-game, career-high total she had in the season opener. Tori was crucial during Notre Dame’s scoring runs by making unblockable spikes, blocks of her own or forcing hitters to attack away from her, which resulted in the ball going out of bounds.
Every varsity season now that Tori Rubel has been a starter for Notre Dame in basketball and volleyball, the Bulldogs have come away with a district championship.
“She’s one that if I tell her to correct something, she’s focused and like, ‘I’m going to get that,’” Brinkmeyer said. “You couldn’t ask for a better player in Tori and just to think volleyball is not even her No. 1 sport. What she does out here is incredible.”
Setting the ball was the assist tandem of Brennan and fellow senior setter Claire Jones as they combined for a total of 36 assists with Jones leading the way at 22. Jones also recorded four kills and nine digs against Dexter.
Winning a district title capped what was a season to remember for Notre Dame as it also recorded its longest winning streak (12 games) and least amount of losses (six) in six years.
Unfortunately, all great things come to an end, though, as the Bulldogs (25-6-4) fell to District 2 Champions Valle Catholic (31-4-3) 3-1 (22-25, 25-16, 21-25, 18-25) in sectionals Thursday. There were 32 ties and 11 lead changes.
McClintock had a team-high 13 kills along with 17 digs and two blocks, while Lexi Rubel and Anderson tied for second in kills at 12. Lexi also tied for a team-high three blocks with Tori Rubel.
The Warriors advanced to the Class 3 Final Four after beating Notre Dame St. Louis 3-0 (25-11, 25-13, 25-12) in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
“These seniors will be truly missed,” Brinkmeyer said before pausing and tearing up. “It’s obviously not the way we wanted to end it, but they gave it their all. They came out with the fight and drive. I couldn’t have asked for them to do anymore than they did.”