February 2012 Archives

Irish Seniors Brighter Than The Sun

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Courtside with Notre Dame Basketball

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Tom Knight

Brittany Mallory

Yes, Please!

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compton.jpg

Irish at the Combine

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The NFL Scouting Combine came to a close yesterday in Indianapolis, as the safeties and cornerbacks completed their workouts. Many fans know the combine for the 40-yard dash seen on television. While important, a player's opportunities to make an impact on NFL teams are about more than how fast he runs in a straight line.

There are a series of on- and off-the-field evaluations, screenings and interviews that help teams get a better idea of how they will use their selections in April's NFL Draft.

Six former Notre Dame football student-athletes participated in this year's combine - cornerback Robert Blanton, offensive lineman Taylor Dever, running back Jonas Gray, linebacker Darius Fleming, wide receiver Michael Floyd and safety Harrison Smith.

Gray is still rehabbing the knee injury he suffered this past November against Boston College, and was only able to participate in the bench press segment of the physical tests. He hopes to be ready for Notre Dame's Pro Day in April.

Here's a look at some notable performances from the Irish who took part in the combine:

- Robert Blanton tied Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) and Josh Robinson (Central Florida) for third among cornerbacks in the 20-yard shuttle. Blanton's time of 3.97 seconds also ranked third for all defensive backs in the drill.

Blanton also fared well in the three-cone drill. His 6.71 placed fifth among cornerbacks, seventh among defensive backs and 11th among all combine participants.

The Matthews, N.C. native tied for seventh among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle, clocking a time of 11.28.

- On Saturday, Taylor Dever ran a 7.49 in the three-cone drill, tying Nate Potter (Boise State) for fourth out of 43 offensive linemen who completed the test.

- Darius Fleming completed the combine drills on Monday, where he ranked sixth among linebackers in the three-cone drill (7.03) and tied for seventh in the 20-yard shuttle (4.28).

Fleming also placed sixth in the 225-lb bench press test with 27 reps. The Chicago native tied Keenan Robinson (Texas) and Luke Kuechly (Boston College), winner of the 2011 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy.

- Michael Floyd ran a 4.47 (13th among wide receivers) in the 40-yard dash, quieting some critics who had previously questioned his speed. With the exception of Miami's Tommy Streeter and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill none of the other wideouts who ran faster share the 6'3," 220-lb receiver's combination of size and speed.

- Harrison Smith, the 2011 Notre Dame captain, had an impressive Tuesday, the final afternoon of the combine. Smith's best drill was the three-cone test (6.63), where he placed first among safeties, fifth for defensive backs and seventh among all combine participants.

The safety ran a 4.57 in the 40 and completed 19 reps in the bench press test, both good for seventh at his position.

Smith also turned in a strong showing in the 20-yard shuttle, running a 4.12 - good for second among safeties and 13th among all defensive backs. He tied LSU's Morris Claiborne, who is projected as a possible top-5 pick.

These former Fighting Irish players aspire to play on Sundays, but no matter what happens eight weeks from now in New York, and in the free agency period thereafter, each will have a degree from the University of Notre Dame - and that will benefit them long after their playing days are complete.

Notre Dame's NFL Combine participants, as well as other Fighting Irish professional hopefuls will be back in action just over a month from now on Pro Day, to be held on April 3 in the Loftus Sports Center.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Chase Fulfills Dream by Playing for Irish

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6012328.jpeg The Observer - Irish senior co-captain Tommy Chase never needed to be sold on Notre Dame - he spent most of his high school years trying to show off his skills for the Notre Dame coaches.

"I was always a huge Notre Dame fan, so I kind of came out and recruited myself," Chase said. "I came out to the camps and they saw me and they wanted to have me on the team, but they were a little short on scholarship money, so they said that I could come and play as a walk-on, so I didn't have a scholarship."

Chase's plans for his Notre Dame career probably didn't include the knee surgery that wiped out his sophomore season or a coaching change before his junior year, but even as a walk-on without a scholarship, he knew he made the right choice.

"It's just been an absolute dream being here for the last four years," Chase said. "It's definitely the best decision I ever made."

Now that Chase has lived his childhood fantasy as a middle infielder for the Irish, he and his teammates are helping South Bend elementary students develop their own goals through the "Dream Team" project.

"Generally, we go with our teammates, and we work with third and fourth grade classrooms and go in once a week for five weeks, and we essentially have a little curriculum each week," Chase said. "We talk about having dreams and having goals and working really hard to attain those goals.

"I think it's very important, because a lot of these kids come from families where they don't necessarily have two parents and the support isn't necessarily there, so having Notre Dame athletes and people they look up to coming in and telling them that they can do whatever they want is really special, and it's really an honor to be able to do that."

Chase and his teammates followed up the "Dream Team" project by inviting third grade classes from McKinley and Perley Elementary Schools to visit Notre Dame on consecutive Friday nights earlier this semester, giving the kids an opportunity to skate at the new Compton Family Ice Arena one week watch a hockey game from the student section the next.

"That was about bringing kids from South Bend to Notre Dame, because some of these kids will never come on the Notre Dame campus, and just to be able to see what it means to be at Notre Dame puts a picture to what their dreams can be," Chase said. "It was really successful and we really had a great time."

Chase also played a large role in organizing the baseball team's "Adopt a Family" effort, which ultimately raised nearly a thousand dollars to aid a local family, and helped recruit 24 student athletes who joined him on a fall break trip to aid in the clean-up of Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was heavily damaged by a tornado last April.

But between organizing a new service project, helping his assigned third grade student prepare for the state-wide standardized test or attending a Notre Dame Christian Athletes meeting, Chase is also busy fulfilling captaincy responsibilities with senior pitcher Will Hudgins.

"We run most of the meetings, we facilitate meetings [with] the sports psychologist on campus, we make all the little decisions, including what we wear on the road, curfews on the road, and who's responsible for carrying what bag on the road," Chase said. "We have to keep the focus on our goal at hand and constantly built relationships with our other teammates and just try to be the best model of leadership that we can be."

- Vicky Jacobsen

From Concussion to Coaching

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Shoot a message of support to Ringel (@EricRingel) and the Irish (@ND_Hockey)
as they head into CCHA postseason play!

Queens of the BIG EAST

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No whiteboards were harmed during the filming of this video.

Don't Call It a Comeback!

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Never before in my life have I been happier for a team named "Men In Tights"

Daily Dish - 2.29.12

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- The names of three former Notre Dame football all-stars--Dave Casper, Raghib Ismail and Jim Seymour--appear on the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) ballot . . . The Hall of Fame class will be announced May 15 and then inducted at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame's Annual Awards Dinner Dec. 4 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
Here are details on the three former Irish players on the ballot:

* Dave Casper - Offensive Lineman/Tight End - 1973 consensus first-team All-American . . . Notre Dame co-captain and offensive MVP in 1973 on national championship team . . . 1973 Academic All-America selection . . . received post-graduate scholarships from NCAA and National Football Foundation . . . received NCAASilvery Anniversary Award and is member of Academic All-America Hall of Fame.

* Raghib Ismail - Wide Receiver - Two-time first-team All-American earning consensus honors in 1989 and unanimous honors in 1990 . . . Walter Camp Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1990 . . . led Notre Dame to a Fiesta Bowl and two Orange Bowls . . . set NCAA record by twice returning two kickoffs for TDs in a single game (Rice 1988, Michigan 1989).

* Jim Seymour - End - Two-time first-team All-America selection in 1967-68 . . . set Notre Dame career records for receptions (138) and receiving yards (2,113) and for pass receptions in a game (13 vs. Purdue in 1966) and still holds record for receiving yards in a game (276 in that same game).

Notre Dame has 43 former players and six former coaches already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, providing more inductees than any other institution. The most recent addition is former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, who was inducted in 2009 and enshrined in July 2010 in South Bend.

- Consecutive losses dropped the Notre Dame men's basketball team to a projected #7 seed in two bracketology versions, with both versions sending the Irish to Greensboro. SI.com projected the Irish against #10 Harvard; CBSSports.com projected theIrish against #10 Southern Miss. In both cases the other half of the bracket featured #2 North Carolina.

- Notre Dame's quarterfinal game in the BIG EAST Women's Basketball Championships at 2 p.m. Sunday in Hartford will be against either #8 DePaul, #9 USF or #16 Pittsburgh.

- For the third time this season, Notre Dame junior guard Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind./Washington) has been selected as the BIG EAST Conference Women's Basketball Player of the Week, it was announced Tuesday by the conference office. Diggins joins Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers as the only three-time BIG EAST Player of the Week selectionsthis season, with the Fighting Irish floor general adding four other BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll citations to her current resume. In addition, this marks the 75th time a Fighting Irish women's basketball player has earned a BIG EAST weekly award (44 Players of the Week, 31 Freshmen of the Week), the second-most selections in conference history despite the fact Notre Dame joined the BIG EAST in 1995-96, a full 14 seasons after the league began sponsoring women's basketball (1982-83). Both fifth-year senior forward Devereaux Peters (Chicago, Ill./Fenwick) and senior guard/tri-captain Natalie Novosel (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic) also have been named BIG EAST Player of the Week at some point this season (Novosel on Dec. 19, Peters on Jan. 23). What's more, rookie forward Markisha Wright (Des Moines, Iowa/Des Moines East) was chosen as the BIG EAST Freshman of the Week on Jan. 2. . . .

The Adventures of Tim and Scott

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"A lot of those credits didn't transfer ..."

The Mayor of South Bend

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Fighting Irish Xtra

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Irish Have All The Answers vs. UConn

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ESPN.com - One team always leaves this place with more questions than answers, its every flaw exposed and each deficiency exploited by an opponent at home in its surroundings. Hockey's Whalers have been gone for years, but the power play often feels alive and well, one team controlling the game as if it has more players on the court.

One team often shows what basketball looks like in five-part harmony, which is why the XL Center is so often home to championship celebrations this time of year.

It just isn't the team with a flight to catch in most cases.

Notre Dame has all the answers this season. It leaves Hartford with its first outright Big East championship after a 72-59 victory against Connecticut, the first-ever win for the Fighting Irish at the XL Center, the Huskies' second home. In front of 15,132 fans unfamiliar with what unfolded, Notre Dame won not by playing a perfect game or rising to the moment, but simply by playing basketball the same way they have all season.

And the Huskies are left with plenty of questions to ponder on the short trip back to campus.

"They're just better than we are right now," Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. "Devereaux Peters is a better rebounder than anybody we have. Natalie Novosel is just a tougher kid than anybody we have right now. And they deserved to win, fair and square."

Peters finished with 15 rebounds, two blocks, three steals and three assists. It was the seventh time in the past 10 games that she grabbed at least 15 boards. Six of Monday's rebounds came on the offensive end, part of an effort from the Fighting Irish that piled up 19 offensive rebounds, the most by any team against Connecticut this season (since the beginning of last season, Connecticut has given up as many as 19 offensive rebounds just five times; Notre Dame is responsible for three of them). Novosel added eight rebounds and finished with 21 points, missing 11 shots from the floor but getting to the free throw line nine times. Skylar Diggins added 20 points and three steals.

But it isn't just that Notre Dame has three great players, one of whom, Diggins, is a lock for All-American honors, while the other two merit consideration. Peters was darn good during her 35 minutes on the court Monday, and Novosel was relentless, but it would be difficult to argue any of the three stars played her best game of the season. The Fighting Irish blew open what was a close game not because of their strongest link but because of the lack of any weak links.

The game was enough of a foregone conclusion, and Auriemma frustrated enough, that he emptied his bench at the same time as the stands emptied in the closing minutes, but it was still in doubt at halftime. Connecticut's Tiffany Hayes and Stefanie Dolson combined for 30 points in the first half, providing the kind of support Bria Hartley didn't have when the teams nevertheless played into overtime in the season's first meeting, and the Huskies trailed by just three points on this night.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said the team talked during the break about making post entry more difficult and helping more off the dribble when Hayes went to the basket. The result was Dolson finished with six points in the second half and missed five of eight shots. Hayes took just two shots, scored four points and committed three turnovers after the break. Instead of riding the wave of momentum, Connecticut foundered against defensive pressure.

All told, the Huskies shot just 35 percent and committed 10 turnovers in the second half, their offense looking like so many visiting offenses have looked over the years.

"They put on great pressure on us," Dolson said. "We backed up. We didn't fight back."

Connecticut tried its own adjustments, relying heavily on a zone early in the second half. Unflustered, the Fighting Irish moved the ball around into the open hands of Kayla McBride, who knocked down three shots in quick succession, and Brittany Mallory, who hit two 3-pointers, one to push the lead to nine points and the second to extend it to 10 points, quelling the last run the Huskies would make.

All five parts worked as one on defense, and all five parts worked as one on offense (or six parts, if you want to count Natalie Achonwa throwing a pass to an admittedly wide open McBride as the latter stood to urge on teammates from the bench).

"Today was a really good game for us because we only turned it over 12 times," McGraw said. "I was just starting to worry about the turnovers. I thought that could be our Achilles' heel, we really were making some poor decisions. And tonight we came out, and I thought took care of the ball pretty well. Defensively, first half, we gave up a lot of points, so I was happy with the second-half defense.

"I think there's still work to be done."

Just not as much work as on the other side.

After the game, a clearly frustrated Auriemma talked about how little his team has improved since the beginning of the season and how close to perfection it needs to come to beat teams like Notre Dame and Baylor. That the Huskies are good enough to beat most teams isn't up for debate, a 26-4 record evidence enough for a team still in line to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. But most teams are the teams Connecticut plays to pass the time between the games that matter, the games by which Auriemma measures his program. And it's those games in which Connecticut still looks like a team in search of an identity.

Notre Dame isn't unbeatable. Just ask West Virginia. But the Fighting Irish know what they have each and every game. They know that if they play their game, they can win any game. Perhaps should win any game.

Connecticut doesn't know what it has, getting individual brilliance from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (against Stanford), Bria Hartley (against Baylor or Notre Dame the first time) or Hayes and Dolson in the first half this night but never looking as complete as the Fighting Irish looked Monday.

"It's been a couple of weeks, a month maybe, where somebody steps up and somebody backs up," Auriemma said. "Somebody else steps up and somebody backs up. When you get a team like Notre Dame, [when] Diggins plays well and Novosel plays well and Peters plays well and they get a great night from McBride, all of a sudden now you just don't have enough."

Things could turn out differently if these teams meet again in the Big East final next week. They could turn out differently if they meet in the Final Four, as Notre Dame proved a season ago. But on this night, the same thing happened in the XL Center that always happens here.

The better team won.

"I think this team is really special," McGraw said. "And they have really high goals. They're a competitive group, they have a lot of pride, and I love that about them."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com.

Follow Graham Hays on Twitter: @grahamhays

Following Flynt - Irish Unwilling to Share

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With 8:29 left in tonight's game, Connecticut's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made a layup, got fouled and completed a three-point play to cut Notre Dame's lead to 62-58. All signs suggested this Big Monday matchup was coming down to the wire.

From that point on however, the Irish allowed just a single Kelly Faris free throw, closing the game on a 10-1 run, silencing the XL Center crowd and coming away with a 72-59 victory in the regular season finale.

Holding Connecticut scoreless over the final 7:33 of a game is impressive in its own right, but it's even more eye-opening when you consider the fact that Geno Auriemma's squad had won 99 of its last 100 games on its home floor. (They've now lost two in a row at home - Feb. 18 vs. St. John's at Gampel Pavilion was the other.)

Notre Dame has won three straight against Connecticut. They've done it in the Final Four, in front of the Purcell Pavilion home crowd, and now, on the road, in an environment where the Huskies once seemed unbeatable.

Finishing with 21 points, Natalie Novosel led the Irish in the scoring column for the second straight game. Skylar Diggins added 20 points, and Kayla McBride scored 12. Devereaux Peters had another impressive game on the boards, pulling down 15, just two days after tallying a career-high 18 in the Senior Day win over South Florida.

Notre Dame had already locked up the top seed for the upcoming BIG EAST tournament and at least a share of the conference regular season title. Defeating UConn for the second time in less than two months also means that for the first time ever, head coach Muffet McGraw's team will not have to share the honor - something the Irish admitted (not surprisingly) after Saturday's game that they did not want to do.

During the 2000-01 season, the same year in which the Notre Dame women's basketball team won its first and only national title, the Irish were co-champions with the Huskies.

This time however, it's all theirs.

Tonight's win was the 10th of the season against a ranked opponent, and the fifth against a top-10 team. The ten victories over top-25 opponents sets a school record, topping the previous mark of nine set during the 2000-01 campaign.

The Irish return home for a few days, before heading back to New England and the same venue where tonight, they earned their 28th victory of the season. They will take on the winner of DePaul vs. USF/Pittsburgh in the BIG EAST quarterfinals on Sunday at 2 pm ET on ESPNU.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Irish Welcome Top Runner

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seidel.jpg Other teams better watch out. Notre Dame's got a highly touted recruit arriving next year who's ready to have an immediate impact from day one. This kid is talented, smart, and incredibly athletic. I think the Irish have got a great building block here.

And before you guess, no, I'm not talking about incoming quarterback Gunnar Kiel. I'm talking about the Gatorade National Runner of the Year and a future member of the Notre Dame cross country team, Molly Seidel.

While she may not have gotten as much attention on campus as the highly touted quarterback or other football recruits, Seidel's credentials can stack up with any one of them. Seidel, who hails from Hartland, Wis., was a four-time first team all-state performer and also won four consecutive Wisconsin Division 3 individual state titles. She won the National Foot Locker Cross Country Championships this past cross country season with a time of 17:22.

"I think that Molly is very talented, but I also think that she's incredibly competitive," said Notre Dame women's cross country head coach Tim Connelly. "And if you put talent and competitiveness together, you're going to have a great athlete."

However, Seidel doesn't just excel as an athlete. She also was a star in the classroom, earning a perfect 4.0 GPA and recognition as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. Seidel also finds time to serve as vice president of her high school's student government, volunteer with several groups and is an active member of St. Joan of Arc Church.

Connelly thinks Seidel will be a great fit in South Bend.

"I think what we look for besides kids who are really talented and kids who are great students, are kids that belong at Notre Dame," said Connelly. "There's a reason beyond academics and running for those kids to come. And I think she's that kind of kid."

Seidel is poised to have a great career running for the Irish. And yet the Irish will not need to rely on their star prospect right away.

"I think she can be an immediate impact," said Connelly. "But I don't think she'll have to come in and carry the whole load because we've got a really good team coming back. And we actually signed a couple of other great recruits, too. So I think it's a situation where Molly's going to be an impact person - there's no doubt in my mind about that. But I don't think she's going to have to come in and do it all by herself. She's going to be part of a great group."

There's no question that she's got the talent, determination, and will to succeed. Molly Seidel will be a key figure for the Irish cross country team for years to come.

- Tom McGuire ('14)

Plenty of Hockey To Go Around

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With just six weeks left in the NHL regular season, teams are preparing to make a late surge in the hopes of securing playoff positioning. Here's a look at the former Notre Dame hockey players who are a part of the madness ...

Veteran defenseman Mark Eaton ('98) has seen significant ice time for the Islanders this year. His lone goal of the season came during overtime in his 600th career NHL game on Feb. 3 against the Senators.

Defenseman Brett Lebda ('04) came off injured reserve last week and has returned to the Blue Jackets roster. Despite being undrafted out of Notre Dame, Lebda scored his first goal during his NHL debut on opening day in 2005 and contributed to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup run in 2008.

The Islanders placed right winger Tim Wallace ('07) on waivers this week. His 31 games this year are almost double his previous career high (16).

Senators right winger Erik Condra ('08) had an assist Monday, contributing to Ottawa's 6-0 win over the Islanders. Condra has seven goals and 14 assists with a solid 12 +/- in his first full season in the NHL.

St. Louis recalled defenseman Ian Cole ('10) Friday from AHL Peoria. The former first-round pick has one goal and three assists in his last 10 NHL games.

Although the spotlight is on the NHL, there are a few former Irish players who hope to be the future of their franchises. Here's a glimpse through the AHL ...

Having played one game for the Vancouver Canucks this season, right winger Victor Oreskovich ('06) has contributed 12 points in 28 games for the AHL Chicago Wolves.

Right winger Kyle Palmieri ('10) has played with both the AHL Syracuse Crunch and the NHL Anaheim Ducks this season. Currently on the Crunch's roster, Palmieri has scored an impressive 30 goals and 16 assists in only 34 AHL games.

Having made his NHL debut Oct. 31, winger Ryan Thang ('10) has netted 24 points in 50 games for the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville AHL affiliate.

- Craig Chval ('15)

Following Flynt - Notes From The Gug

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Head coach Brian Kelly met briefly with some members of the media this afternoon for a story that will run later this week about his players who are moonlighting with the Notre Dame track team - George Atkinson III, Josh Atkinson and Bennett Jackson.

Naturally, questions deviated from the topic at hand, as discussion shifted towards which Irish student-athletes will be returning for a fifth season. Rumors, tweets and blogs discussing the possibilities have persisted, but right now everything remains speculation.

Though Notre Dame does not officially apply the redshirt title to any of its players, those who do not appear in game action during a season retain that year towards their four years of athletic eligibility.

These athletes then have an opportunity to apply for a fifth season, but must obtain approval from the Faculty Board on Athletics before being granted permission to compete.

I spoke briefly with football director of media relations Brian Hardin (@bhardin2), who explained that the fifth-year application process has begun and an announcement will hopefully be made before spring practice begins on March 21.

Coach Kelly did confirm the reports that former walk-on safety Chris Salvi, who starred on special teams this past year, has been awarded a scholarship for the 2012 season.

Salvi is also competing in the Bengal Bouts, and will fight in the 188-lb semifinals tomorrow evening. The bouts begin at 6 pm and will be held in the north dome of the Joyce Center.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Huge Night for Irish Hoops

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It's Big Monday on the ESPN family of networks, but it might be an even bigger evening for Notre Dame basketball.

The fun starts at 7 pm ET on ESPN when the #20/#19 men's team takes on #11/#12 Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Despite a loss to St. John's on Saturday, head coach Mike Brey's squad is still in contention for one of the two remaining double-byes (Syracuse and Marquette have already clinched) for next week's BIG EAST tournament.

At 12-4 in the conference, Notre Dame is in third place and currently leads Georgetown and South Florida by one game. A win tonight, and the Irish would not kick off their quest for a conference title until next Thursday's quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.

If Notre Dame drops its second straight game, it risks losing that spot and having to play its first game on Wednesday, Mar. 7. Still, the Irish control their own destiny and could rebound this Friday at home against Providence. A win against the Friars, and Notre Dame would be, at worst, in a three-way tie for fourth place with Georgetown and South Florida.

Both the Hoyas and the Irish defeated the Bulls, so the tiebreaker would go in favor of Georgetown and Notre Dame for the third and fourth seeds.

Beyond conference seeding, a road victory over a ranked opponent would bolster Notre Dame's already impressive NCAA tournament resume, while also taking some pressure off of Friday's Senior Night game.

On the women's side the #3 Fighting Irish travel to Hartford for a game against #4 Connecticut at 9 pm ET on ESPN2. The Huskies have dominated the series, 28-6, but Notre Dame has taken the past two matchups - last March in the Final Four and earlier this season at the Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish have already clinched a share of the BIG EAST regular season championship, as well as the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament, but they can earn their first outright title - something they have not accomplished in 17 years - with a win tonight.

Notre Dame shared the conference honor in 2000-01, when it split the title with UConn. That season, head coach Muffet McGraw also led the program to its first and only national championship, a feat the team has its sights set on again this year.

The Irish are 9-1 this season against ranked opponents, and have tallied four wins against top 10 teams. They will be back at the XL Center on Saturday, Mar. 4 at 2 pm ET on ESPNU in the BIG EAST quarterfinals against a to-be-determined opponent.

Clear your schedule, grab your remote and get your popcorn ready for what should be an exciting night of Notre Dame basketball.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Following Flynt - Irish Lose Tough One at Arlotta

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It was a low-scoring affair on Sunday afternoon at Arlotta Stadium as the second-ranked Notre Dame men's lacrosse team fell to #20 Penn State, 4-3 in overtime.

The Irish struck early, when sophomore Westy Hopkins found junior Quinn Cully just over three minutes into the game for the first goal of the afternoon. Notre Dame extended its lead in the second quarter, when junior Ryan Foley scored his first of two goals.

Penn State fought back to tie it before the half, and the teams played through a scoreless third quarter until the Nittany Lions took a 3-2 lead midway through the final frame.

Foley netted a second score with 3:31 to play, tying the score and firing up the crowd on a blustery day in South Bend.

Neither team scored in the final minutes of regulation and the game headed into sudden-death overtime. It looked like a second extra period might be needed, but the Nittany Lions' Matthew Mackrides wrapped a shot around the left side of the goal with just two seconds left on the clock.

His second score of the game sealed the upset and dropped Notre Dame to 1-1 in the young season. The Irish loss snaps the program's 15-game February winning streak. Prior to this afternoon, Notre Dame had not lost in the month since 2002, when they dropped a 10-9 overtime game to, interestingly enough, Penn State.

Notre Dame will hit the road for a pair of games at Drexel and Hofstra, before returning home on Mar. 18 against Denver. That game begins at 1:00 pm ET and will be broadcast on ESPNU.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Men's Lacrosse vs. Penn State

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Second-ranked Notre Dame returns to the field today at 1:00 pm ET when it takes on #20 Penn State at Arlotta Stadium.

The game will be broadcast on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish look to improve to 2-0 in the young season.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - Irish Refuse to Lose On Senior Day

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After squandering a 12-point first half lead, and even falling behind for a bit in the second half, Notre Dame took control down the stretch, on the way to a 80-68 victory over South Florida on Senior Day at Purcell Pavilion.

The Irish will visit Connecticut on Monday night at 9 pm ET on ESPN2, but today's win clinches at least a share of the regular season BIG EAST title.

Committing 22 turnovers, Notre Dame did not play its best game, but the Irish hit 26-for-30 (86.7%) from the line and made several important free throws down the stretch to put the Bulls' upset hopes to rest.

Fittingly, it was senior guard Natalie Novosel who led third-ranked Notre Dame with a career-high 32 points in her final regular season home game. Fifth-year forward Devereaux Peters added 17, and had a career afternoon on the glass, pulling down 18 rebounds in the victory.

Though she has one more season left in an Irish uniform, junior guard Skylar Diggins also played as if it was her last collegiate home game. The South Bend native scored 18 points and dished out nine assists, coming back from a minor leg injury late in the second half to help lead Notre Dame to its 27th win of the season.

Notre Dame now improves to 27-2 overall and 14-1 in the conference, with one regular season game remaining.

After the game, the Class of 2012, including Novosel, Peters, Brittany Mallory and Fraderica Miller, as well as student managers Lucy Eckard and Nick Sigmund, was honored on the court. During the past four seasons, this group has compiled an impressive 109-24 record, but they hope to add another nine or ten victories to that resume before it's all said and done.

Monday will be an important night for both Irish basketball teams - the men play at 7 pm ET on ESPN at Georgetown, while the women tip off at 9 pm ET on ESPN2 against the UConn Huskies. Both teams are looking to vie for positioning in the upcoming BIG EAST tournaments, on their way to March Madness.

Stay tuned to UND.com for post-game coverage and highlights from today's game.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Women's Basketball vs. South Florida

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on South Florida at 2:00 p.m. (ET).

The game will be broadcast on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game too. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish go for a win on Senior Day.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Michigan State

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Notre Dame looks to make it two in a row as it seeks a win tonight over Michigan State.

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - Great Night at Compton

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Photo courtesy of @MGolicJR57

In front of a sellout crowd at Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame got an important 2-0 victory over Michigan State in its second-to-last game of the regular season.

After a scoreless first period, sophomore Jeff Costello netted his fourth goal of the season, giving the Fighting Irish a 1-0 lead, 2:31 into the second frame. Sophomore Shayne Taker and freshman Austin Wuthrich were credited with assists on the power play score.

Just before the midpoint of the final period, freshman Peter Schneider scored his first goal of the season, on an assist from junior Kevin Nugent. The insurance goal gave Notre Dame a 2-0 advantage, and sealed the team's first win since Feb 3. (The Irish had lost five straight since defeating Bowling Green, 2-1, three weeks ago.)

Sophomore Steven Summerhays stopped 25 shots, becoming the first Notre Dame goalie to record a shutout since Dec. 13, 2009, when Mike Johnson registered 38 saves against Michigan.

Kickoff in Dublin is months away, but for the second time in three days, several members of the Notre Dame football team were making headlines. On Saturdays in the fall, they may reach a celebrity status, playing in front of 80,795 and millions more on national television. But this week, the Irish football players themselves were the ones in the crowd, reminding us that at the end of the day, they're students and fans, just like the rest of us.

After being courtside at Purcell Pavilion for the men's basketball game on Wednesday, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Mike Golic Jr., Matt Mulvey and Mike Grieco were right against the glass cheering on their fellow student-athletes.

Sporting the same floppy hat that intimidated the Mountaineers earlier in the week, Lewis-Moore may have also earned himself a spot on the Notre Dame cheerleading squad. The senior defensive end raised a big yellow "Go Irish!" sign and rallied the Notre Dame student body throughout the evening.

Golic, Grieco and Mulvey, along with a few other football players, were into the game from the opening faceoff, even bringing along some homemade signs to show their support for the Irish icers.

A big win for Irish hockey, a great night at Compton, and an awesome reminder of what makes Notre Dame a special university.

The Fighting Irish will be back tomorrow night against the Spartans at 7:35 pm ET for the regular season finale. Catch the game on Comcast Channel 3, as Notre Dame looks to clinch home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Michigan State

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It's a hockey night in South Bend! Notre Dame is set to face Michigan State tonight at 8:35 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. It will also be televised on CBS Sports Network. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - Irish Close Out Rollercoaster Year

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It's been an eventful year for head coach Jeff Jackson's Notre Dame hockey squad. The icers began the 2011-12 campaign way back in mid-October. After a series at Minnesota-Duluth and a pair of home games against Ohio State, the Irish bid farewell to hockey in the Joyce Center.

They opened the state-of-the-art Compton Family Ice Arena on Oct. 21 against Rensselaer, winning the inaugural game 5-2, thanks in part to a hat trick from sophomore Anders Lee.

On Nov. 18, the dedication game at CFIA, #4 Notre Dame defeated third-ranked Boston College, 3-2, in an absolute classic. Sophomore Bryan Rust scored with 1.1 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Irish to victory and sending the sellout crowd into chaos.

Perfectly enough, NASCAR Media Group was in town that weekend to follow the hockey program for its one-hour feature, "Onward to Victory - Notre Dame Hockey," a special that first aired on Versus (now NBC Sports Network) on New Year's Eve.

On Jan. 7, Notre Dame won its first game at #5/#3 Minnesota since Nov. 1980 - a win that looked like a spark for the rest of the regular season - but the team has gone just 3-9-0 since that victory.

This weekend, the Fighting Irish will close out the schedule with a home series against Michigan State.

After dropping its last five contests, Notre Dame has fallen into a tie for eighth in the conference standings and out of the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll (The team is still ranked 18th in the USCHO.com poll). Still, the Irish are in the running for the final home-ice spot for next weekend's CCHA best-of-three first-round playoffs - and just remember, anything can happen in the postseason.

Michigan State, on the other hand, is fourth in the conference, and enters the weekend having won five of its last six games.

The Spartans hold a 59-38-11 series advantage, but the Irish are 7-0-3 in the last ten head-to-head matchups, and have not lost to MSU since Jan. 2008.

Notre Dame holds the tiebreaker advantage with Northern Michigan in the CCHA standings, so the Irish control their own destiny for the final home-ice spot.

The puck drops at 8:37 pm ET on Friday night and the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. Saturday's "Senior Night" game begins at 7:38 pm ET on Comcast Channel 3 in the South Bend area. We'll also have you covered with a live blog right here on Irish UNDerground.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Courtside with Notre Dame Basketball

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Natalie Novosel

Old-School Digger Phelps Has No Comment

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Following Flynt - The Ride Continues

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When the halftime buzzer sounded, it looked like Notre Dame's eight-game winning streak would hang in the balance until the closing minutes. Or so we thought....

The Irish used a 28-7 run over the first 9:59 of the second half to open up a 23-point lead, on the way to an big 71-44 victory. Notre Dame's defense held West Virginia to just 16 points in the half, setting a team record for the fewest points allowed in the second half of a BIG EAST contest (the previous mark was 18 against Pittsburgh in 2010).

Perhaps more impressively, the ninth straight victory set a program record for consecutive BIG EAST wins, besting the mark set during the 2000-01 season. The current 12-3 BIG EAST start also breaks a record from that season, which was head coach Mike Brey's first at Notre Dame.

Jerian Grant led all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. The sophomore also threw down a pair of impressive dunks that brought the Purcell Pavilion crowd to its feet.

Scott Martin contributed 15 points, while Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley scored 13 points apiece.

Pat Connaughton, the star of Saturday's comeback win, was held scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting. But the freshman's off-evening says a lot about this year's team. On any given night, any player might step up to lead the Irish offensively, and that's one of the things that makes the 2011-12 squad so special. The future right-handed pitcher was 0-for-2 from the field, but picked up five rebounds and dished out four assists.

Notre Dame continues to build its March resume, improving to 20-8 with the win. The Irish will now hit the road for a pair of games - returning to the hardwood on Saturday against St. John's at Madison Square Garden. Catch the game on ESPN2 beginning at noon ET. On Monday, they'll take on Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., before returning home next Friday, Mar. 2, for the final game of the regular season.

Stay tuned to UND.com for highlights and coverage from Coach Brey's post-game press conference.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. West Virginia

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this evening at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on West Virginia at 7:00 p.m. (ET).

The game will be broadcast on ESPN2, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation, as the Fighting Irish go for their ninth straight win.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

This Is How You Build a Program

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Irish Connection - Episode 37

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Be Inspired

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Student. Athlete. Irish.

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Baseball Season Is Around the Corner

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With 159 days between game seven of the World Series and opening day, it's a long, cruel winter without baseball. For fans of America's pastime, February and March are those months when you wait for the next day that brings us closer to the end. Today is one of those days.

Today, the pitchers and catchers of the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers reported to spring training in Arizona, which means every team has officially begun preparing for the season.

In celebration of the end of the winter and beginning of the spring, here's a look at the former Irish players who will look to impress during this preseason ...

Milwaukee Brewers infielder Craig Counsell ('92) will move from the field to the front office, retiring after 16 years in the major leagues. The 2001 NLCS MVP has become a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. Counsell ended his career with a spectacular fielding percentage of .985.

Reliever Brad Lidge ('98) will make his Washington Nationals debut this year after spending his first 10 seasons with the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. The two-time All-Star spent much of 2011 injured but posted a 1.40 ERA in his 25 appearances.

Relief pitcher Aaron Heilman ('01) signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners this offseason and will report to spring training. In his nine combined seasons with the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs, he has appeared in 477 games with a 4.40 ERA.

Milwaukee relief pitcher John Axford ('05) will return to the Brewers after a breakout 2011 campaign. The closer converted 43 consecutive save opportunities while posting a 1.95 ERA. At the conclusion of the season he was named the National League's reliever of the year and placed ninth in the Cy Young voting.

After spending some time in the minors last season, pitcher Jeff Manship ('06) will start spring training on the 40-man roster of the Minnesota Twins.

Coming off a big 2011 season, relief pitcher Jeff Samardzija ('06) will hope to build off that success into 2012. The right-hander's .297 ERA last season was second best among Cubs pitchers and his 88 innings pitched were the most for any of Chicago's relievers.

Also starting the season on a 40-man roster, pitcher David Phelps ('08) will look to make an impact for the New York Yankees. The 2010 Yankee minor league pitcher of the year has posted a 2.61 ERA in his four seasons in the minors.

After making his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox last season, pitcher Kyle Weiland ('08) will start the 2012 season with the Astros, who acquired the right-hander in an offseason trade.

Outfielder A.J. Pollock ('09) will play in spring training for the Diamondbacks. The former first-round pick hit .307 with eight home runs, 73 RBI and 36 stolen bases last year with AA Mobile.

- Craig Chval ('15)

Jack Cooley's Secret? No More Video Games

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cooleygames.jpg ESPN.com - Parents of the world, lend me your ears. You want to get your kid to study and do his homework and get good grades and get a college scholarship, or at least some grants, maybe. But it can be a battle. All the kid wants to do is play NBA2K12. Or Modern Warfare. Or, worse yet, World of Warcraft. You try to tell him: Homework first, video games second. In life, you have to do the work before you get the reward. But kids don't think that way, do they? How can you get your point across?

Don't worry, guys. Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley is here to help.

You may know Cooley as a longtime Irish reserve, a guy most frequently talked about because of his uncanny resemblance to former Notre Dame star Luke Harangody. Cooley was Mini-Gody; he contained the skeletal outline of The Gody without much basketball productivity built-in. At least, until this season. Cooley's 2012 has been a dream. He's averaging 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for a streaking Irish team. In ND's eight-game winning streak -- beginning with its upset win over Syracuse on Jan. 21 -- Cooley has posted six double-doubles, and his averages have jumped to 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. Cooley's efficiency numbers (offensive rating: 122.4; eFG%: 61.8) are stellar, and he's among the nation's top 10 players in offensive rebounding rate (17.2 percent). After years of being a Harangody body double, the source of countless unoriginal Twitter jokes, Cooley is having his own moment in the sun -- leading a once-left-for-dead Irish team to an 11-3 Big East record and a surefire spot in the NCAA tournament.

Why the sudden burst of improvement? Because, according to the man himself, he stopped playing video games. From the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton:

Hours upon hours of pixel fixation trained Jack Cooley in strategic retreat. And that rapture with all-consuming video games like "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" and "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" had basketball suffering from hand-eye subordination. Something had to give. So Cooley, Notre Dame's truculent road roller of a center, handed the games to a friend. There was one condition:Just don't give them back to me. Consider it among the most critical turnovers of his career.

"Never get 'SkyRim,'" Cooley advised, sounding vaguely somber. "You'll never stop playing it."

Phew. That quote makes me really glad I didn't buy SkyRim. I thought about it, and I read about how addicting it was, and I made a responsible, adult decision to wait until the offseason. I do not regret it.

But in all seriousness, as Cooley explains in the story, he really did have to refocus on the game of basketball, to become the sort of "waking up, eat, class, eat, basketball, eat, sleep" type of person. Clearly, the dedication has paid off. Who knew SkyRim was so insidious? And how many other college basketball players have we lost to its absorbing charms? Does this epidemic know no end?

Anyway, parents, print this story out -- or copy the link and send it to your kid's iPhone, so the email alert briefly jars him out of his game of Tiny Wings -- and show him what the power of fewer video games can do. Cooley isn't just a Big East player of the year candidate. He's also making parenting your video game-addled child 20 or 30 percent easier. Thank him later.

- Eamonn Brennan

Following Flynt - Historic Streak for Irish Hoops

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On Saturday night, Notre Dame orchestrated an incredible 20-point comeback against Villanova - winning its eighth straight game and 19th of the 2011-12 season.

The 74-70 overtime victory matched the Fighting Irish's longest BIG EAST winning streak in program history. The team also won eight consecutive league games in 2000-01, Mike Brey's first at the helm (Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, St. John's, West Virginia, Rutgers). But the similarities to the twelfth-year head coach's first season in South Bend don't stop there.

During that year, Brey's squad began BIG EAST play with an 11-3 mark - also a program-best, and the same record the 20th-ranked Irish have today.

Finally, with wins at Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia, and now, Villanova, Notre Dame has won its last four away games. The last time the Irish won that many consecutive games on the road? Yep, 2000-01, when they took five straight BIG EAST away contests (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, Virginia Tech).

With four games remaining, Notre Dame sits tied with Marquette for second place in the conference, 2.5 games behind Syracuse. The top four regular season teams will secure a double-bye to the quarterfinals for next month's BIG EAST Tournament, which will be held from March 6-10 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Notre Dame returns to the Purcell Pavilion on Wednesday against West Virginia at 7 pm ET on ESPN2. Rece Davis, Digger Phelps and Bob Knight will have the call. The Mountaineers are 7-7 in conference play and will be looking to avenge this month's 55-51 home loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

What You Love About Notre Dame

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ESPN.com - The reaction to what you love about Notre Dame has been strong, to say the least. Poems, love letters and all other sorts of crazy answers have come my way. And while there (thankfully) haven't been any feelings as strong as those of Al from Dadeville, you guys certainly embody the word "fanatic."

Onto to the love letters ...

John from Chicago writes: I love Notre Dame because blue and gold has been running through my ancestor's veins for more than 80 years. Being a fourth generation graduate of Notre Dame, I will do everything in my power to make sure my sons Knute and Ara have the same opportunities as were provided by my parents; to enjoy the fine education and loving family known as The University of Notre Dame. Yes Matt, you did read that correctly: I have two boys named Knute and Ara.

Shem from Twin Cities, Minn., writes: Great Question- I love Notre Dame because I grew up 30 minutes south of the campus. Going to the games in the fall with the leaves changing and the smell of bonfires. Sitting on those hard wooden benches cheering for N.D. With night taking over and the team willing themselves to win. The crowd jublient with a great play & heart broken in defeat. My family had season tickets for 30 years

Rich from Chicago writes: I love Notre Dame for the subway alumni, the fact that my grandmother when she was alive would try to watch the games and figure out who would hit the next home run (clueless but cute), the morals and virtue of the place, Touchdown Jesus, First Down Moses, the 100% graduation rate for athletes, the fact that people love or hate ND there is no middle ground. I love Notre Dame for the alumni network which recognizes the fact that when you graduate from ND you are part of the Notre Dame family, not a secular directional family limited to a certain geography but a family which transcends "college" and is more about "life". God, Country, Notre Dame! Go Irish!

Patrick from Bentonville, Ark., writes: I love Notre Dame because it brings me and my father closer. I look forward to traveling to South Bend every year with him to watch the Irish play. There's not much we have in common, but we can always talk Notre Dame football.

CO from Pa., writes: Oh Notre Dame, how I love thee so/Thy golden dome glistens like the sun on the snow/I only wish to see you win big one more time,for if you do that everything would be fine/I know that others have said we don't matter anymore,but they're just jealous of our tradition and lore/So we have faith in Brian Kelly, who's face is so red when our QB makes mistakes running the spread/Hail Notre Dame, our lady, our mother,because honestly I could love no other.Go Irish!

Mark from Burleson, Texas, writes: Notre Dame how I love thee, let me count the ways: I love thee for the excitement you give me every Saturday during the fall/I love thee for being the standard of excellence in college football/I love thee for the greatest fight song in all the land/I love thee for all your traditions, which truly are grand/I love thee for touchdown Jesus and all you great players/I love thee for the Basilica and hearing our prayers/I love thee for all the great coaches, symbols of success/I love thee for how your athletes never cease to impress/I love thee for your Golden Dome so pristine and bright/I love thee for Rockne who said "fight, fight, fight"/I love thee for all the Heismans, lined up side by side/I love thee for 'waking the echoes' and endless pride/I love thee for the championships, while wishing for more/I love thee always, no matter the final score/I love thee for not wavering from the goal you have set/I love thee for all the great memories and vow never to forget.

Brian from Minneapolis writes: I have been a fan through thick and thin/No one holds my heart as much as Brady Quinn/With all the championships it's hard to fight/Notre Dame is really tight/Heisman trophies line the halls/Tim Brown, Lujack I love them all/Rockne, Holtz, Parsegian, Leahy, and Devine/Coaches made this University very fine/Oh I love Notre Dame all the time/Skylar Diggins will you be my valentine??

George from Rochester, Mich., writes: I have loved Notre Dame for the better part of my life. I am 16 years old, live in rochester, michigan. None of my family has ever gone to Notre Dame, so I'm not really sure why I like them so much. I watch every football game every sunday, and when I can basketball for both men and women. My whole room is a mancave dedicated to Notre Dame memorablia, and I always sport irish clothing at least 3 times a week to school. I may not have the skills/smarts to get into ND, but one things for sure I will always support them good through bad. I want to be part of their traditions, I want to walk on that beautiful campus of theirs, I want to be part of notre dame. I know "Rudy" probably won't happen again, but if it ever does, that person will be me. God, Country, Notre Dame.

Phil from Beaver Falls, Pa., writes: I love Notre Dame as much as I love my girlfriend. There is no other team that love more than them. Having be from Steeler country it is hard to explain to people that I love them more than the Steelers. Don't get me wrong the Steelers are great, but college football is so much more emotional! The Steelers could lose 5 games and still make the playoffs, and possibly the Super Bowl. You can't say the same in college football. The first time I ever went to Notre Dame and I got to my seat I cried. I cried because this is a place I see every week and would imagine one day I would be in the bleachers. when that day came it was surreal. Matt, unless you're an ND fan you wouldn't understand. However I really don't expect to be on the blog, but I figured I would just express how much Notre Dame means to me.

Jacques from Boston writes: What do I love about Notre Dame? Not everything. I don't love that some people hate it. I don't love that some people, even some who sincerely love it, don't understand it. I don't love that some people don't even know where it is. But what I know, and love, is that Notre Dame matters; it's divisive, that is, people either hate it or love it. Whether the football team is good or not isn't relevant to its relevancy. I love that it's a mystery that's hard to understand, that it challenges you to try comprehending what it's about. Truthfully, I don't worry too much about who doesn't know where it is, because those to whom it matters will always know the way back and inevitably find that road home. Simply put, it becomes a part of you, a part of your family, something for which many would take a broken nose or black eye. Its campus is poetry, its tradition is tangible. More than anything, its identity is unshakable, and that identity is the hardest of all to understand much less put into words. So, my love letter to Notre Dame is really Notre Dame as a letter to everyone else, because, you see, once you glimpse what Notre Dame is really about, you've caught a flash of a deeper love than something related to sports; once you've seen it, you've seen what love can really mean.

Josh from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Oh, where to start.....i have not missed a game since I was 9 years old, Im now 27. I have missed numerous baseball games (both as a player and coach) because they interferred with Irish football. My wife cannot understand how i can put a sport ahead of all us, Isimply explain to her that I do not miss ND football for anything, that was proved during Sun Bowl with Miami when I chose to forgo dinner with her and the in laws because they couldnt wait until the game was over. I have taken off work or called in sick if I was scheduled to work during a game. The topper may be that during the 06 ND vs MSU game, the cops were called on my celebration of Lamberts INT. I love ND football so much, that for 13 weeks a year, my wife knows to check what time the game is before even mentioning anything to me.

- Matt Fortuna

Irish Come Out Swinging in BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge

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Still in the process of becoming a complete team, the Irish impressed with their 2-1 record at the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge this past weekend in Florida. The squad left feeling good about its offensive firepower, but questions lingered with regards to the starting rotation and bullpen.

Notre Dame defeated Illinois in the season opener on Friday in a 13-12 slugfest and beat Iowa 5-2 on Saturday behind a complete game from Adam Norton. On Sunday, the Irish failed to complete the sweep and fell 15-8 to Purdue.

"We swung the bat very well, and we expected to be a much better offensive team than a year ago," Irish coach Mik Aoki said. "We still have some questions with our bullpen, but, overall, I'm pleased our guys never gave in and competed hard for 27 innings."

Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the team's performance on offense. After serving as the squad's principal weakness in the 2011 campaign, the Irish offense came out swinging, scoring 26 runs and batting .379 over the course of the weekend. The run total could have been higher had the Irish not left 42 runners on base.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame nearly bested the tournament record for team batting average. St. John's still holds the record for single tournament batting average when they hit .387 in 2009. The 44 hits for the Irish also approached the Red Storm's record of 48 hits in 2011. Notre Dame drew 17 walks - the second-most ever in a single tournament - and did set a tournament record with 11 batters hit by a pitch.

The Irish registered 10 or more hits in each of the three games - a feat not accomplished by a Notre Dame team in its first three games of a campaign since 1993.

This surge was led by a potent middle of the lineup combination of Eric Jagielo, Trey Mancini, and Joe Hudson. The trio went a combined 20-for-36 with three home runs and 17 RBI on the weekend.

Hudson, who entered his junior season with just one home run in two seasons, jacked two on Friday against the Illini, including a go-ahead solo shot in the ninth inning to give the Irish a 13-12 lead. He was the first Irish player to ever hit multiple home runs in a season opener. In addition, the junior catcher reached base 13 times in 16 plate appearances.

Hudson was understandably named BIG EAST Player of the Week on Monday. He set tournament records with 11 total bases in the victory over Illinois, 16 total bases over the entire tournament and a tournament slugging percentage of 1.600.

Hudson also tied tournament records for home runs in a single game, home runs in a tournament and doubles in a single game. He batted .700 (7-for-10) with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. Hudson added three runs scored, three walks and three hit by pitches.

Hudson, who had just nine multi-hit and five multi-RBI games in 2010, has registered three and two, respectively, already in 2012. If his prowess at the plate was not enough, Hudson was dynamic behind the dish as well. He gunned down two of the three attempted stolen bases over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Jagielo went 7-for-13 during the three games and drove home four runs. His most clutch hit of the weekend occurred Saturday against Iowa in the top of the eighth inning, with the Irish down 2-1. With runners on first and second base, he laced a double to deep center field, scoring two runs to give the Irish a 3-2 advantage, which they would not relinquish.

Mancini picked up where he left off last season and recorded six hits in 13 at-bats and homered against the Fighting Illini.

"Those three are all hard-working, talented baseball players," Aoki said. "While they obviously won't hit at that kind of pace, you saw the potential for as powerful a 3-4-5 trio as there is in the BIG EAST."

However, faced with the task of replacing three starting pitchers, the Irish pitching rotation and bullpen remain in a state of flux. Yet, one bright spot was the performance of Adam Norton. After Friday's starter, Sean Fitzgerald, failed to escape the third inning, Norton delivered his first career complete game on Saturday. He limited Iowa to just two runs on seven hits (three of which never left the infield) and struck out four in nine innings.

Norton blanked the Hawkeyes over the final 7.1 innings of the contest. His complete game was the first for an Irish hurler in a season's opening week of the year since Tom Price on Mar. 5, 1994.

"[Norton] was just what the doctor ordered on Saturday," Aoki said. "He was efficient with his pitches and created a lot of bad contact early in counts for easy outs."

On Sunday, when the Irish took a 4-0 lead over the Boilermakers into the fifth inning, they looked poised for a weekend sweep. However, defensive errors and a bullpen that struggled to record outs led to nine runs for Purdue in the sixth, putting the Boilermakers ahead for good on their way to a 15-8 win.

"[The errors] were mental lapses as much as physical ones," Aoki said. "Our guys weren't in the right position and also did a poor job of communicating and taking care of the baseball."

Yet, considering that the team registered just one error in its first two games, Aoki believed Sunday's performance would be the exception rather than the rule for the season.

"[Sunday] was an aberration on defense," Aoki said. "Tommy Chase unfortunately had a rough day at shortstop, and the errors just went viral on the team."

The Irish return to the diamond at 12:05 p.m. ET on Sat., Feb. 25 at the Team USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C., when they face Hofstra for a three-game series.

- Matt Unger ('14)

McCarthy Excited for Chiefs Chance

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Vindy.com - As a member of the Denver Broncos last season, Mooney High graduate Kyle McCarthy was inevitably asked two questions.

How's Denver?

What's Tim Tebow like?

First question first.

"It was a crazy year," said McCarthy, who spoke by phone last week after signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. "A lot of ups and downs. It was obviously nice to get into the playoffs with the Broncos and win the AFC West.

"But my time there for now is finished and I'm just looking forward to the new opportunity in Kansas City. I learned a lot over the past two years in Denver and it's something I can take with me to another place and help me grow as a player."

And the second question?

"He's a great guy -- what you see on TV is what you get," McCarthy said of Tebow, whose success became arguably the NFL's biggest story last season. "It [the hype] was like something I never experienced.

"It was media attention on a whole new scale. Anything and everything that happened would be on TV within hours and it was pretty cool to see."

McCarthy, 25, signed with Denver as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame in 2010. He appeared in 12 games over the past two seasons, splitting time between the active roster and the practice squad.

A safety, he played in four of Denver's final five games last fall but was released just before the wild-card round. He had three tackles last season and four as a rookie.

A handful of teams showed interest in McCarthy after the season. He chose Kansas City because he liked head coach Romeo Crennel and his defensive system.

Crennel, the former Browns head coach, served as K.C.'s interim head coach for the final three games after Todd Haley was fired. Crennel was promoted to permanent head coach after the season.

"His track record speaks for itself; he's been one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL for a long time," McCarthy said of Crennel. "I've only met him one time but he made a good impression on me. He told me the best guys are going to play, the ones who can contribute to the success of the team."

McCarthy has no ties to Kansas City or its coaches, which he calls "exciting."

"I look at it as a new opportunity, a chance to make a new impression on the coaches," he said.

He hopes to spend a full season on the team's active roster and break into the starting lineup.

"That's everyone's goal in this league," he said. "It's something I believe will happen. If I didn't believe it would happen, I wouldn't waste my time or anyone else's time."

McCarthy spent last week in Youngstown before heading out to Los Angeles to train for the 2012 season.

When asked to compare the two cities, he chuckled and said. "It's completely 180 degrees different. I could never see myself living in L.A. and I could definitely see myself living in Youngstown, if that says anything."

- Joe Scalzo

Following Flynt - Good Weekend to Be Irish

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With the winter sports wrapping up and the spring seasons getting underway, it was a good weekend for the Notre Dame athletic department, as several programs picked up big wins and two captured BIG EAST championships. Here's a quick look at some of this weekend's top performances:

Baseball opened the season in Florida, winning its first two games in the Big Ten/BIG EAST Challenge. On Friday, the Irish won a 13-12 slugfest against Illinois, led by junior catcher Joe Hudson's 3-for-4, two home run, four RBI afternoon. Saturday was a different story, as junior Adam Norton went the distance on the mound. The righty held Iowa to just two runs over nine innings to register his first complete game victory.

The ninth-ranked men's lacrosse team kicked off Saturday afternoon with a 7-3 upset of #2 Duke. After falling behind 2-0, head coach Kevin Corrigan's squad scored seven straight goals to win its tenth straight season-opener. Senior midfielder Max Pfeifer and sophomore midfielder Jim Marlatt led the Fighting Irish with two goals apiece.

In the pool, the men's swimming & diving team earned its fifth BIG EAST title. The Irish totaled 887 points, topping two-time defending champion Louisville (859.5) and host school Pittsburgh (520). Junior Bill Bass was named the meet's Most Outstanding Swimmer, and head coach Tim Welsh was named Swimming Coach of the Year. Last week, freshman Nick Nemetz was named Diver of the Year and Caiming Xie was selected as Diving Coach of the Year, so Saturday's awards gave Notre Dame a sweep of the conference postseason trophies.

At about 10 pm ET on Saturday, it looked like the men's basketball team's seven-game winning streak was destined to end in Philadelphia. Head coach Mike Brey's Fighting Irish trailed Villanova by 16 points at halftime, but the Irish rallied, thanks in part to Pat Connaughton's big night behind the arc. The freshman knocked down seven three-pointers, leading the improbable comeback and 74-70 overtime win to keep the winning streak alive.

The women's lacrosse team kicked off a new era on Sunday afternoon with a 17-14 victory over Stanford. Sophomore Lindsay Powell netted five goals, while junior Jaimie Morrison chipped in four and senior tri-captain Maggie Tamasitis tallied six assists, to lift new head coach Christine Halfpenny to a win in her first game with the Irish.

In the Big Apple, the men's track & field team hoisted its fifth BIG EAST Championship trophy, totaling 131 points at New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory, to hold off second-place Connecticut (103 points). The Irish were led by Kevin Schipper's third consecutive BIG EAST Indoor pole vault title, and Patrick Feeney (400m) and Jeremy Rae's (Mile) victories on the track.

The fourth-ranked women's basketball team will look to finish off a strong weekend for the Notre Dame athletic program at 2 pm ET this afternoon on ESPN against #16 Louisville.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Irish Believing Their Way to Victory

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ESPN.com - After his team beat Syracuse, handing the Orange their first loss of the season, Mike Brey challenged his players to believe in the unbelievable - that Notre Dame, a team without its best scorer and relying on a freshman and sophomore in the backcourt, wasn't just a fluke; that the Irish were something special.

And those crazy kids bought it.

They looked around the room, at a ragtag group that counted just two guys with any significant experience; that in November lost by 20 to Gonzaga and in December by 7 to Maryland, and they gobbled the bait like greedy guppies.

Sometimes seeing is not believing.

Sometimes you believe and then you see.

The Irish have risen from their early wake to storm to a second-place spot in the Big East, using that Syracuse victory as a catapult to what is now an eight-game win streak after Notre Dame rallied to beat Villanova, 74-70 in overtime.

Notre Dame was picked to finish ninth in the league. And that was before Tim Abromaitis blew out his knee. Yet with the Big East tournament a little more than two weeks away, the Irish are sitting extremely pretty at 11-3, tied with Marquette but owning the tiebreaker after a 76-59 spanking of the Golden Eagles on Feb. 4.

"We do believe we're special, we really do,'' said Pat Connaughton, a freshman who throws 94-mph fastballs for the Irish baseball team and drained seven 3-pointers for the hoops squad against Villanova.

And in this particular Big East season, a little self-confidence can go a long way. On Saturday, the Irish needed to come from a 16-point halftime deficit and a first-half hole that once ballooned as large as 20 to beat a team that has won just four league games this season and was down two starters.

Earlier in the day, Louisville, which took Syracuse to the brink on Monday and is 7-1 in its past eight games, needed overtime to dispatch DePaul, a team that has won just twice in 2012.

Toss aside Syracuse at the top and the difference between 2 and 16 is as thin and flimsy as a Jay Wright pocket square.

Connecticut last season became the first team to win five games in five nights to capture the league tournament.

Who'd take the odds that lightning couldn't strike again this year?

"Confidence is the difference-maker in this league,'' Brey said. "It's razor-thin stuff.''

No one would call Notre Dame a great team. The Irish's margin of victory is a flimsy 4.6 points. They don't rebound particularly well. Their players are not more talented than Villanova's. If anything, the Wildcats hold the advantage in beefy player resumes.

Yet there was Notre Dame, down 20, getting smoked on the boards, shooting terribly and looking like it was up 20. No hung heads, no grimaces or pouting.

Maybe, in part, at least, is because the Irish figure they've been playing with house money all season. Abromaitis was supposed to be the guy. The senior averaged 15.4 points a year ago and would, with Jack Cooley, give Notre Dame a formidable inside-outside presence.

When he was injured, there wasn't so much dejection as there was rampant confusion.

"We practiced with him all summer and all fall,'' Connaughton said. "And then when we had to play without him, we were like, 'Oh, am I supposed to shoot this?''

Brey had been through it before, forced to regroup after losing Luke Harangody two years ago, which helped him at least to keep his head on straight.

His players relied on him, but more they relied on each other. These guys genuinely like one another, Connaughton said, and that comfort helped fuel a trust on the court.

It was evident against the Wildcats. While the inexperienced Cats were blowing their lead, jacking up bad shots and making few of them - Villanova made all of just four field goals in the second half before Maurice Sutton somehow tipped in a fifth at the regulation buzzer to force overtime - the Irish were passing and searching, giving up one OK look for a better one. They used a late 13-4 run to send the game into overtime.

And then, with the Irish up 68-65 in the final minute of overtime, Scott Martin found Connaughton, who sunk his seventh from beyond the arc to cement the victory.

Notre Dame made 25 field goals in the game.

The Irish dished out assists on 17 of them.

"It's not just the margin for error that's so small; it's the margin for success,'' Wright said. "If you look at their numbers, they're not that impressive, but what is impressive is how they execute. They know their roles extremely well and they know who they are and who makes the plays. They believe in what they're doing.''

And these days believing is carrying the day.

"Jeremy Lin and the Irish,'' Brey laughed. "Believe it."

- Dana O'Neil

Following Flynt - Irish Lax Wins Season Opener

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After the Notre Dame men's lacrosse team knocked off #2 Duke, 7-3 on Saturday, the 20th-ranked women's team closed out the great weekend at Arlotta Stadium - opening its season with a 17-14 victory over preseason #6 Stanford.

Sophomore Lindsay Powell led the Fighting Irish with five scores, including two in the second half. Junior Jaimie Morrison added four goals, while senior tri-captain Megan Sullivan netted three scores. Fellow senior tri-captain Maggie Tamasitis contributed six assists in the victory.

It's a great start to a new era for the Fighting Irish, as head coach Christine Halfpenny wins the first game of her tenure in South Bend. Halfpenny was hired this past July after spending the past five seasons as head coach at the College of William & Mary.

Meanwhile, Stanford, which lost previously to Northwestern and Ohio State, drops to a disappointing 0-3 to start the season. After a 12-7 halftime deficit, the Cardinal fought back and came within two goals of tying the score. Amy Bokker's team actually outscored the Fighting Irish, 7-5 in the second half, but it was not enough to overcome Notre Dame's scoring assault.

Notre Dame will be back in action on Saturday at noon ET against Duquesne. Hopefully that game will also be played at Arlotta Stadium, but we'll have to wait and see what happens with the February weather in South Bend. Stay tuned to UND.com for a complete story and highlights of the great season-opening victory for new head coach Christine Halfpenny's Fighting Irish squad.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Women's Lacrosse vs. Stanford

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2:05 pm: Notre Dame scores with just 1.6 seconds to play and it's going to be a 17-14 victory for Coach Halfpenny in her first game. Jaimie Morrison scores her fourth of the afternoon and it's assist #6 for Maggie Tamasitis.

2:03 pm: Under a minute to play, Stanford cuts the lead to just two goals. Rachel Ozer scores to make it 16-14.

2:01 pm: Maybe I spoke too soon. Anna Boeri scores again for Stanford, assisted by Emily Newstrom. There's 2:10 remaining in this one, and it's 16-13 in favor of Notre Dame.

1:59 pm: Under three minutes to play and it's looking good for Coach Halfpenny's team. Lindsay Powell nets her fifth score of the game to give Notre Dame a 16-12 lead. That one might be the insurance goal the Irish needed to close this one out.

1:53 pm: A free position shot for Stanford, and Anna Kim scores another goal for the Cardinal. It cuts the Notre Dame lead to three goals, with 5:45 remaining at Arlotta Stadium.

1:46 pm: Lindsay Powell puts it in the back of the net for her fourth goal of the game. Huge score for Notre Dame, pushing the lead back to four goals with 8:36 left.

1:45 pm: Now it's a two-minute power play for the Fighting Irish after a Cardinal yellow card. Stanford returns to full-strength, but Notre Dame gets a free position opportunity - but it's a nice save by Munoz. Under 10 minutes to play in the game and it's a 14-11 lead for Notre Dame.

1:40 pm: Rachel Hinds scores her first of the game - a very important goal for Stanford, as it cuts the deficit to just three goals. Should be an eventful rest of the game.

1:39 pm: Notre Dame gets called for a yellow card, but kills the two-minute penalty, despite a couple of close opportunities for Stanford. Great sequence for the Irish defense. We're past the midway point in the second half, and it's a 14-10 game in favor of the home squad.

1:30 pm: After a great save for Notre Dame goalie Ellie Hilling on a free position shot, the Irish take it on the attack, but are unable to score. Stanford comes back on the offensive end and gets another free position opportunity after a foul. This time, it's Kyle Fraser, who cuts the deficit to four. Notre Dame leading, 14-10 with 17:24 remaining.

1:26 pm: The Boeri sisters strike again for Stanford. Anna Boeri scores on an assist from her sister, Emilie. Teams trading goals here in the second half and Notre Dame still holds a five-goal lead.

1:22 pm: Megan Sullivan with another great shot for Notre Dame. It's the senior tri-captain's third score of the game, and she extends the lead to 14-8 with 22:12 to play.

1:16 pm: Stanford responds quickly with a free position shot goal of its own. This time, it's Hannah Farr for the Cardinal. 13-8 advantage for Notre Dame.

1:14 pm: The Irish strike to extend their lead to 13-7. Jaimie Morrison scores her third goal of the game on the free position shot. Exactly the start Notre Dame was looking for here in the second half.

12:59 pm: Notre Dame slows things down in the closing minutes of the half, but Lyndsey Munoz steps up with a few nice saves, and we go to halftime with a 12-7 score.

Lindsay Powell leads the Irish with three goals, while Jaimie Morrison, Megan Sullivan, McKenzie Brown and Jenny Granger have two apiece. Maggie Tamasitis has five assists, to go along with one score for Coach Halfpenny's team.

12:54 pm: Stanford's Emilie Boeri scores her second of the game with 3:40 to play in the half. It's a 12-7 lead for Notre Dame.

12:51 pm: Yet again, Notre Dame responds after a Stanford score. Jenny Granger scores her second of the game, and it's Maggie Tamasitis with her fifth assist of the afternoon.

12:50 pm: Another two-minute penalty for Stanford, but it's the Cardinal who score - Emilie Boeri with the goal on an assist from her sister, Anna, cutting the deficit to five.

12:44 pm: Stanford strikes back quickly on a free position shot. It's Catherine Swanson for the Cardinal. Notre Dame still leads it, 11-5.

12:42 pm: Great find from Maggie Tamasitis...she passes it to Jaimie Morrison who nets it for the 11th Notre Dame goal of the game.

12:38 pm: Another Notre Dame goal...McKenzie Brown scores again - assisted by tri-captain Maggie Tamasitis. 10-4 Irish.

12:36 pm: Anna Kim strikes back for the Cardinal. An unassisted score, her second goal of the game. Still, the Fighting Irish have a 9-4 lead.

12:34 pm: With just 11 seconds left on the power play, Notre Dame strikes for its eighth goal of the game - Lindsay Powell assisted by Jenny Granger. That's the third goal of the day for the sophomore from Honeoye Falls, N.Y.

Just seconds later - McKenzie Brown scores her first of the season. This time, it's Jaimie Morrison with the assist.

It's 9-3 Notre Dame with 12:43 left in the first half.

12:31 pm: Two-minute penalty for Stanford. We'll see if Notre Dame can capitalize on it.

12:24 pm: Stanford gets a free position shot, but the Irish get a save...The Cardinal retain possession however, and Emily Newstrom scores on an assist from Hannah Farr. 7-3 Irish.

12:19 pm: Lindsay Powell strikes on her second goal of the game. It's 6-2 Notre Dame, but not for long...Maggie Tamasitis finds Megan Sullivan for another goal. It's a 7-2 lead for Coach Halfpenny's squad and Stanford calls a timeout with 20:01 left in the first half.

12:16 pm: Lot of scoring early on here at Arlotta Stadium. The Irish have been responding to each Stanford goal. After a Cardinal turnover just after the draw, Megan Sullivan takes it down on the offensive end and passes to Lindsay Powell who finds the back of the net.

On the very next play, Jaimie Morrison strikes for Notre Dame. Five shots and five goals so far for the Fighting Irish.

12:14 pm: Anna Kim scores on a free position shot for Stanford. Irish hold on to the early lead, 3-2.

12:11 pm: Maggie Tamasitis responds quickly for Notre Dame. 3-1 Irish.

12:10 pm: Anna Boeri scores and Stanford cuts the deficit to one.

12:08 pm: The Cardinal turn the ball over and Notre Dame comes down on the attack. After a Stanford foul, Megan Sullivan scores on a free position shot, and it's 2-0. Great start for the Irish.

12:03 pm: It's the first goal of the season for Notre Dame - Jenny Granger strikes first on an assist from Maggie Tamasitis. The Irish lead 1-0 with 26:44 left in the half.

11:54 am: The Fighting Irish starting lineups are introduced to the tune of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," and we're just about ready to go.

11:30 am: We're about a half hour away from the start of the 2012 Notre Damen women's lacrosse season. It's a new era in South Bend, as Christine Halfpenny coaches her first game on the Fighting Irish sideline.

Her 20th-ranked squad will take on the #6 Stanford Cardinal and like yesterday's men's game against Duke, the women will open the season at Arlotta Stadium. It's 30 degrees and sunny, and there's not a snowflake in sight.

The game begins at noon ET, and you can catch the broadcast live on UND.com. Stay tuned right here to Irish UNDerground for more coverage from the season opener.

Live Blog: Men's Lacrosse vs. Duke (Final)

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Final: After falling behind 2-0, Notre Dame got seven straight goals from five different scorers to win its season opener against #2 Duke, 7-3. Max Pfeifer and Jim Marlatt scored two goals apiece to fuel the Fighting Irish, but it was an impressive defensive performance that contributed to the upset.

The victory makes it 15 straight in February for Notre Dame, who has not lost in the month since a 10-9 setback against Penn State in 2002.

It's certainly a great way to start the season for the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish, but they have to be a bit concerned by injuries to senior tri-captain Nicholas Beattie and sophomore midfielder Liam O'Connor.

Notre Dame will be back in action next Sunday at 1:00 pm ET vs. Penn State. With any luck, that game will also be played in Arlotta Stadium, but South Bend winters can quickly change.

We'll be back tomorrow at noon ET for the women's opener against Stanford. You can follow along here on Irish UNDerground and catch the live stream only at UND.com.

4th Quarter: As we start the fourth quarter, it's an announced attendance of 2,053 - a great crowd here in the season opener. Duke's junior midfielder Jake Tripucka - son of Notre Dame basketball great, Kelly Tripucka ('81) - made a couple of shots at the Irish goal, but could not cut the deficit for the Blue Devils.

With 5:59 left in the game, Jim Marlatt scored his second goal of the game (assisted by Ryan Foley) - making it a 6-2 game in favor of Notre Dame.

Sophomore Liam O'Connor went down after a helmet-to-helmet collision with a Duke player, leaving the game with 4:25 left.

Senior midfielder Max Pfeifer put the icing on the cake for Notre Dame with 1:05 to play. Scoring his second goal of the game and sealing the Irish victory.

CJ Costabile scored with 17 seconds left, but it was too little, too late for Duke.

3rd Quarter: Duke had several chances early in the quarter, but Notre Dame stayed in control - holding onto its two goal lead, before Max Pfeifer connected on another Irish score, making it 5-2 with 5:10 to play in the third.

After a Duke turnover, Notre Dame took it the other way, looking for the last shot of the quarter, but the Irish also turned the ball over. Still, after five unanswered goals, it's a 5-2 advantage for Coach Corrigan's squad as we head to the fourth quarter.

2nd Quarter: The Irish controlled the second quarter face-off and got a quick shot on goal, but Wigrizer made another save for Duke.

After assisting the lone goal in the first period, Jordan Wolf connected on an unassisted shot with 10:42 to play in the half, giving the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.

Notre Dame cut the deficit to 2-1 just over a minute later when tri-captain Nicholas Beattie scored the first goal of the season, but the Irish lost the senior to an apparent knee injury on the play.

Duke had multiple chances in the second quarter, but could not extend the lead. Sophomore Westy Hopkins tied the game for Notre Dame with just under four minutes to play in the half. His goal was assisted by senior tri-captain Max Pfeifer.

Less than forty seconds later, Ryan Mix struck for Notre Dame, while Jim Marlatt scored another Irish goal with 2:15 to play in the half. After being kept in check by Duke goalie Dan Wigrizer for much of the game, the Notre Dame offense seemed to figure things out late in the second quarter - scoring three goals in less than two minutes to take a 4-2 halftime lead.

1st Quarter: This is my fifth winter in South Bend, and for Feb. 18, this weather is nothing short of spectacular. It's Junior Parents Weekend and there's a great crowd on hand this afternoon.

Duke won the opening face-off and the Blue Devils' offense controlled the game for nearly three minutes, before getting a goal at the 12:14 mark, as Josh Dionne struck on an assist from Jordan Wolf.

Notre Dame's offense - like a football team with a great running game - controlled the ball for much of the quarter. Despite several good looks at the goal, the Irish could not get it past goalie Dan Wigrizer, who made seven saves. At the end of the first, the Blue Devils lead, 1-0.

Pregame: Only about 15 minutes until the 2012 lacrosse season kicks off for head coach Kevin Corrigan's ninth-ranked Notre Dame squad. The Fighting Irish will take on #2 Duke, the team that ended their playoff run in each of the past two seasons. In 2010, the Blue Devils won their first national title, defeating the Irish 6-5 in overtime at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. Last year, the teams met in the NCAA quarterfinals - Duke won 7-5.

It feels more like football season than mid-February this afternoon, and thanks to some great weather, the Irish will be opening the season in Arlotta Stadium, rather than the Loftus Sports Center, the usual location of these early season contests.

It's Duke's first trip to South Bend, and it should be a good one this afternoon. Catch it beginning at 1 pm ET on ESPN3/ESPNU.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Student. Athlete. Irish.

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Scodro Shines as Irish Senior

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5633896.jpeg Golfweek.com - In Jim Kubinski's eight years as head coach at Notre Dame, never has his team been able to practice outdoors before March - the Indiana winters were too harsh. That changed this year, however, when the Irish teed it up three times last week at Knollwood Country Club, Kubinski's home club, despite a few patches of snow, frozen turf, 38-degree temperatures and layers of thermal underwear.

For many Notre Dame players, those rounds represented their first exposure to outdoor golf in months. They had been limited to the team's extravagant indoor practice facility - complete with hitting bays and an extensive short-game area - so bundling up for the elements still was a welcome reprieve.

Yet not every Irish player's practice has been restricted to artificial turf and X-out golf balls. For tri-captain Max Scodro, those rounds at Knollwood were merely the extension of an active offseason geared toward polishing off one of the program's finest careers.

In December, when many of his teammates headed home for the holidays, Scodro teed it up in Arizona at the Patriot All-America Invitational, a top amateur event where he tied for 44th. Afterward, the Chicago native stayed an extra week in the desert, playing a few casual rounds with his parents, who own a second home in Scottsdale. With a lenient class schedule during his final semester on campus - no classes on Friday - Scodro twice has flown to sunny Scottsdale to play on the long weekend, a college golfer's dream setup. In five rounds at the Tom Fazio-designed Mirabel Golf Club, he hasn't shot worse than 70, including two 63s and a 65.

Though Scodro was unable to repeat that kind of performance at The Match Play event held earlier this week near Orlando, he still won two matches to help lead the Irish to their first team title of the season. That the victory came here, on the Watson Course at Reunion Resort, only added to the good vibes surrounding the Irish program; the Big East Conference championship will be held on this track in late April. Said Scodro, No. 72 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings: "It's reassuring to see our guys with this much confidence in February."

In short, they simply are following their leader. Scodro, the Big East's reigning Player of the Year, led the Irish in scoring in each of their five fall events, with three top-10 finishes and no result outside the top 25. "Boring golf," he said. Told later of this analysis, Kubinski laughed and said: "Well, he's playing solid every week."

Scodro's career is fascinating to chart. Kubinski remembers attending an AJGA event outside Chicago in 2006, Scodro's sophomore year of high school. The hometown kid was laughing and smiling, and he had a fluid action. "My first thought was, 'Who is this kid? He's going to be good,' " Kubinski said.

And Scodro has been, winning an event during his freshman season, losing in a playoff at the Big East Championship the next season and, last year, at Innisbrook, capturing the individual conference title. Along the way, he has developed a delicate touch around the greens and an appreciation (and aptitude) for the simple shots. Kubinski recalled a pivotal moment from the 2009 Fighting Irish Gridiron Classic, at which Scodro secured a victory for the home team by sticking a seemingly impossible flop shot on the 18th to tap-in range. "He'd hit the dramatic shots, like that, but couldn't execute basic chips," Kubinski said.

Scodro is more well-rounded now, though that simply may be the natural evolution of his game under instructor Jeff Mory, who transformed Scodro from an "inside-out slinger" to an upright, powerful, complete ballstriker who primarily plays a cut.

Said Scodro: "Now my game is in great position to take it to the next level."

The Irish certainly hope that means the NCAA Championship, and beyond.

Twins Nate and Natalie Novosel Share Basketball Bond

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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Nate and Natalie Novosel weren't separated at birth, but they were born two minutes apart. And boy, are they alike.

Nate is the second-leading basketball scorer at a prestigious university. His team hopes to play in the NCAA Tournament next month.

Natalie is the second-leading scorer at a prestigious university. Her team is definitely headed to NCAAs.

Nate is at the University of Rochester, while Natalie attends Notre Dame, 513 miles away in South Bend, Ind. They were born in Lexington, Ky., on Nov. 22, 1989.

"I'm older, and I hold that over her," Nate says with a laugh.

They are close in age, and closer in spirit.

"We moved crosstown (in Lexington, Ky.) when the kids were small, and thought they'd finally have a chance to have their own rooms," says their mom, Jaine (it's pronounced Janey). "One day when they were about 4, I was downstairs and didn't hear any noise. So I went up to check. The first thing I saw was Natalie's mattress sticking upright out of Nate's door. They had moved all of her furniture into his room."

They're no longer roommates, but they do share a bond so deep that they don't need modern technology to prove it.

"We don't text or email every day, because we're so busy," Nate says. "But when we do, it's so natural, and we can talk for hours."

Nate is a 6-foot-5 senior forward for UR (15-7, including 11-0 at home). He averages 12 points and 4.3 rebounds and recently was named to the Capital One Academic All-District team. He carries a 3.75 grade-point average with a double major of economics and political science, and is a teaching assistant in both areas of study.

He spent last summer as an intern for Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) on Capitol Hill.

He's also 14th in career scoring at UR with 1,149 points.

Natalie is a 5-foot-11 senior guard for Notre Dame, ranked No. 4 nationally at 25-2. She averages 14.6 points and 3.6 rebounds.

Last year, the anthropology major led the Fighting Irish in scoring (15.1 ppg) after averaging just 5 points as a sophomore. She scored in double figures 33 times and hit a scorching 41.3 percent from 3-point range for a Notre Dame team that lost to Texas A&M in the national championship game.

She is one of the elite women's players in the game, and should be one of the top picks in the WNBA draft this April.

The twins are most alike by how driven they are. Nobody outworks Nate or Natalie.

"Our parents (Nick and Jaine) never said, 'You have to do this, this and this,' " Nate says. "But they always made sure we were doing something. To have a goal in mind."

They are most different in temperament.

"Natalie is very carefree, and that's a great attribute for her," Nate says. "I tend to be too serious sometimes. She's a good complement to my seriousness."

Natalie says Nate is simply "a great guy."

"He is the most loyal person you'll ever meet," she says. "He's so trustworthy. You can tell him anything, and he'll always have something to say to help you out."

Their mom agrees with those scouting reports.

"Natalie is a clown in familiar situations, but she has to warm up to things," Jaine says. "Nate considers things more carefully. I'd like to see him laugh more and let his emotions go more easily."

She couldn't be prouder of her twins.

"They have an amazing relationship,'' she says. "They don't need a lot of contact. But they're always there for each other, with a text or phone call."

And their competitive fires still burn, hundreds of miles apart. The other night, Natalie texted Nate after a game.

"I just got 21," she wrote. "What did you get?"

Nate wrote back: "21."

It's hard to believe now, but Natalie was the outsider in this basketball family growing up. Nate and older sister Shannon, a former 6-foot-1 center for Division I Evansville, towered over Natalie and always beat her on a 400 square-foot concrete slab in the backyard.

"I'd lose every game and get so mad," Natalie says.

Nate laughs at the memories.

"We had some great backyard brawls," says Nate, a standout swimmer for eight years before focusing on basketball in high school. "We went to town, just the three of us."

She threw more tantrums than free throws, but in the end, her siblings turned Natalie into a competitive force. And by the time she was a senior at Lexington Catholic, teammates had nicknamed her "Nasty" for her fierce determination.

Their dad played basketball at Kent State, and his three children all inherited the hoops gene, each surpassing 1,000 points in stellar high school careers.

Natalie was recruited by numerous Division I schools and took Nate on her recruiting trip to South Bend. He urged Natalie to sign, telling her, "You can be a star here."

She wasn't, at first, but last season was a breakout year for Natalie and she's only improved this season.

Their dad is an account manager for a small electronics company. Their mom was an architect who became a stay-at-home mom after the twins arrived.

Nick and Jaine try to make as many games in Rochester and South Bend as possible, often combining trips.

Two weeks ago, they drove up to Rochester for a UR game, motored on to Youngstown, Ohio, to spend the night with relatives, then drove to South Bend to see a Notre Dame game the next day.

"I think we've had one open weekend since January," Jaine says.

"It's nuts. But we love it, and we know it's ending soon."

The devoted parents won't be able to witness each child's final home game. "Senior Day" at UR is Saturday, Feb. 25, when the Yellowjackets host Emory. And "Senior Day" at Notre Dame is also Feb. 25, when the Irish host South Florida.

"It's sad," Jaine says. "Nick is going to fly up to see Nathan's last home game, and I'm going to drive to South Bend."

Nate's basketball career is quickly drawing to a close. UR probably has to win its final three games just to have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Either way, he's done after this year.

"It's been great, but it's time to think about my career,'' says Nate, who would like to run for public office some day.

He has accepted Teach for America's offer to teach elementary school in Washington, D.C., a two-year commitment that begins this summer.

"I think it makes a lot of sense for me with my interests in public service and politics," he says.

He may not be alone in the nation's capital. Natalie has been projected to be the eighth pick in the WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics.

"I would love to play there and be with Nathan again," she says.

This time, she promises not to move all of her furniture into his room.

- Jim Mandelaro

The Season Starts

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After what seems like years of practice in Loftus, we are officially starting the 2012 season.

As I sit here in the airport waiting to board our flight, preseason seems like a distant memory. These past five weeks couldn't have gone any more smoothly. We pushed our limits and we found out what we were made of and what we wanted to accomplish this year ... the national championship!

We also made some interesting connections in regards to our very distinct personalities. For example, we related the players of the team to movies that most represent them as a person. We concluded that the movie that represents Kasey O'Connor is Little Giants, Amy Buntin is Ol' Yeller, The Sandlot represents Kelsey Thorton, Laura Winter represents Star Wars and Emilee Koerner is representative of 50 First Dates.

However, there are some things we still haven't figured out such as our songs for our walk out and spotlight. These are big decisions that can make or break a career. Luckily, there is time before our home opener so we have some time.

Despite getting outside on a couple of the warmer days, the team is so excited to play some ball and enjoy the warm weather. San Diego natives Kristina Wright, Laura Winter and Katey Haus could not be more thrilled that they are home. Kristina tweeted from her airplane window seat, "I can see the lights! I love San Diego!" While Laura Winter admits, "I am excited to be home!"

On our trip, we will be having dinner at the Winter's and the menu item is ... tacos! We could not be more grateful to our families who help out the team every way they can. On a another note, many of the girls will be seeing their families for the first time since going back to school.

Speaking for myself, I cannot wait to see my mom! Our parents are our number one fans and are more than willingly to sign autographs after each game. They are the best!

We open the season facing Boise State, San Diego State, San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and Oregon State. We are one the only teams left in the nation that has not started its season. Many colleges started playing last weekend. Despite that fact, we can not be more excited to be here in San Diego and start the season off right!

Go Irish!

- Cassidy Whidden ('15)

Following Flynt - Irish, Blue Devils Renew Rivalry

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On Saturday, the #9 Notre Dame men's lacrosse team will kick off its season against the second-ranked Duke Blue Devils at Arlotta Stadium. The game begins at 1 pm ET and it will be broadcast on ESPNU/ESPN3. Thanks to some unseasonably nice weather (read: lack of snow), the Fighting Irish will get a chance to play in their state-of-the-art outdoor stadium, rather than the Loftus Sports Center, the usual location of early season contests.

This will be the 10th meeting between the Fighting Irish and the Blue Devils, a series Duke leads, 6-3. With both programs perennially considered among the nation's best, it has become one of college lacrosse's newest and most exciting rivalries. The 2012 campaign marks the third straight year in which Notre Dame opens its season against Duke, and it will be their fifth meeting since the start of 2010.

Two years ago, head coach Kevin Corrigan's team won 11-7 in Durham, N.C., while last season, they downed the Blue Devils, 12-7 in the 2011 Sunshine Classic in Jacksonville, Fla. Unfortunately for the Irish however, the recent story has been much different in the postseason.

The 2010 national championship at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md. was one of the most thrilling college lacrosse games in recent years, a matchup between two programs seeking their first national title. A low-scoring contest, Notre Dame and Duke were tied at five at the end of regulation, before the Blue Devils' C.J. Costabile broke the hearts of Irish lacrosse fans everywhere. The sophomore won the opening overtime face-off, sprinted down field and scored the title-clinching goal, just five seconds into the extra period.

Last season, Duke and Notre Dame met in the NCAA quarterfinals at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Once again the Blue Devils had the Irish's number, winning 7-5 and advancing to play Maryland.

When Notre Dame takes the field this weekend, it will look to continue its history of success in early season games. The Irish are 24-7 all-time in season-openers and have won 14 straight games in February.

At the end of the day however, Saturday is just one game in a long season - a season that Coach Corrigan and his players hope culminates in a Memorial Day victory celebration.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Cool In the Clutch

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For some reason against Rutgers, the student section in the Joyce Center didn't have the same electricity and fire it usually does. I don't think we deserve a ton of credit by any means, but I do think the student body is part of the reason why the Irish are so hard to take down at home.

Notre Dame has just one loss at home this season, and it came when students were home over winter break. The Leprechaun Legion has typically been at Notre Dame home games in big numbers and with frenetic passion that gets the JACC rocking.

Tonight, for some reason, we seemed subdued. Maybe it was the odd timing of the game - Wednesday games typically get a lot fewer students than weekend contests. Maybe it was just a rough part of the semester; I know a lot of people have tests and papers due right now. But the student section was definitely smaller than usual, and quieter too.

It didn't help that the Irish started off cold offensively. It took the team nearly six minutes to make their first field goal. By that point, the crowd seemed to be on its last legs. It's not that the Irish were playing poorly - in fact, the team was winning at that point, 8-3. But it was hard for the students to get invested in the game, to put the same emotion into the normal cheers that normally get everyone fired up.

Well, there one big exception Wednesday night. Every time one Irish player made a big play - and it happened pretty often - the student section regained some of that passion and intensity, and screamed at the top of its lungs,

"Coooooool!"

Junior forward Jack Cooley was able to bring some life to an Irish crowd that desperately needed a spark, and played a determined game that was the story of Wednesday's game.

Cooley got knocked down and took some big hits, drawing plenty of fouls from a tough Rutgers team. But he refused to stay down and delivered one of his biggest games yet. His 22 points and 18 rebounds led the Irish on a night of gritty, hard-nosed basketball.

His passion was evident from the opening tip. When he made big plays, it was impossible not to feed off of his energy. Cooley played with intensity and showed a lot of desire, all night long.

The student section came alive for Cooley's big moments, and he fueled the Irish runs that made a close game into a rout. The game ended in a 71-53 win for Notre Dame, and extended the Irish's winning streak to seven games. It was the kind of solid, gritty win which defines quality teams.

Despite a subpar effort from the student section - c'mon guys, we can do better than that - the Irish played a great game and came away with a win. And a lot of the credit goes to their stud big man, who is incredibly, definitively, and undeniably, cool.

- Tom McGuire ('14)

Top 10 Thursday: Leaders

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In this week's "Top 10 Thursday," ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf counts down the best leaders in men's college basketball.

Medcalf lists Notre Dame senior forward Scott Martin third, behind Michigan State's Draymond Green and Butler's Ronald Nored.

"These are the 'locker room guys.' Some of them fill up the stat sheets. Others don't. But if you're a coach, you want these guys on your roster because of their undeniable leadership skills," Medcalf writes.

Here's the snippet on Martin, who has helped guide the Fighting Irish to seven straight wins and a 10-3 record in the BIG EAST Conference:

3. Scott Martin (Notre Dame) -- The Fighting Irish had every reason to make excuses. In November, the program lost its best player when Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL and was lost for the season. But as the team's co-captain and only other senior, Martin stepped up to lead Notre Dame to a surprising stretch of success. The Fighting Irish are nationally ranked, despite losing five out of eight games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 17. Martin leads a balanced Notre Dame team that's managed to climb the Big East standings with a feisty defense and an absence of egos. This crew could have fallen apart once it lost Abromaitis. But Martin has helped Mike Brey put the Fighting Irish in a position to make a lot of noise in March.

For Medcalf's complete list, click here.

Domer Dens

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We've all heard the stories or seen the photos - ultimate Notre Dame fans who have collected dozens, if not hundreds of hats, shirts, helmets, jerseys, footballs, posters, pennants and other memorabilia - entire rooms dedicated to a passion for the Fighting Irish.

Today, UND.com and Fighting Irish Digital Media bring one of those rooms to life, launching the first episode in a new series - "Domer Dens." This pilot feature takes you inside the home of Dick Wilson, a South Bend resident, and a lifelong fan whose basement holds a collection of incredibly interesting Notre Dame artifacts.

With a pair of original wall lockers, shoes signed by Gerry Faust, a blackboard from the locker room, bricks from the old stadium and a jacket worn by Ara Parseghian, among many other items, Wilson's basement might seem more like a Notre Dame museum than a fan's home.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Chiang On the Brink of History

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5745119.jpeg Junior Jenny Chiang continued her dominance off the 3-meter springboard last Saturday when she took home the gold medal for the Irish for the third straight season. Chiang totaled 320.90 points over the course of six dives to win the title.

Chiang became the first-ever Irish diver to win three titles off the 3-meter board at the conference meet. In fact, she is only the seventh athlete - and second diver - in program history to win three titles in the same events at the BIG EAST Championships. Meghan Perry-Eaton won the 1-meter title from 2003-05.

Looking towards next season, only Kelly Hecking has won four titles in the same event (the 100 back from 1999-2002) at the conference stage. Chiang is truly on the brink of Irish history as she tries to become the first Irish diver to win four titles in the same event.

Additionally, not only did Chiang prolong her own streak of consecutive 3-meter BIG EAST titles, but with her victory, the Notre Dame diving program has now won the last five 3-meter titles at the league meet.

The dominance of Irish diving program traces back to veteran coach Caiming Xie, who is a six-time BIG EAST Diving Coach of the Year. Caiming, who is in his 16th year at the University, has led four Irish divers to the NCAAs, including four-time participant Heather Mattingly and three-time participant Meghan Perry-Eaton. Under Caiming's tutelage, Chiang hopes to become the fifth member of that select group.

- Andrew Bartolini ('13)

Following Flynt - Halfpenny, Irish Excited for 2012

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As the winter winds down (fingers crossed), the spring sports slate picks up this weekend. The baseball and softball teams hit the road, while the men's and women's lacrosse teams play home games at Arlotta Stadium. I recently spoke with new women's head coach Christine Halfpenny to talk about her experience at Notre Dame so far and the upcoming season for her Irish squad.

This past summer, Christine Halfpenny was introduced as the second coach in the history of Notre Dame women's lacrosse. Since arriving in South Bend in August, she has been overwhelmed by the ease of the transition, despite having moved from Virginia with her husband and two young sons.

Like so many others who arrive at this university, Coach Halfpenny has been struck by the outpouring of support from the Notre Dame family. "The first week out here one of my fellow coaches looked at me and said 'You know, I just did this move, and honest to God, people will tell you this, but take them up on it - Everything is just an ask away.' And it's been the truth. From fellow coaches to the administrators to people in the community, this is an incredible place that is unbelievably welcoming."

A Step Forward

A Latham, N.Y. native*, Halfpenny graduated from Virginia Tech in 1999. She made coaching stops at Brown, back at her alma mater, and at Duke, before becoming a head coach for the first time in 2007, when she took over the William & Mary Tribe.

(*It was nice to meet someone who, like myself, calls the New York Capital Region home. There aren't too many of us out here at Notre Dame.)

While in Williamsburg, Va., Halfpenny led the Tribe to four straight 10-win seasons and two Colonial Athletic Association regular season titles.

She was attracted to Notre Dame for the same reasons that bring many to this university. "I think the combination of academics that are offered to the top student-athletes in the country and the unbelievable tradition and excellence of the athletic program," she says.

As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Halfpenny experienced the big-time atmosphere of Hokie football, a characteristic of Notre Dame that also contributed to her interest in the university.

"[While at Virginia Tech], I was drawn into that community so heavily, and the idea of having an opportunity to get back to a community that, every Saturday, you know what's going to happen - you're rooting for that hometown football team, Notre Dame."

Following Flynt - Seven Straight

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It was a slow start with some ugly first half statistics, but Notre Dame turned things around after the break, getting another huge performance from junior forward Jack Cooley to secure a seventh consecutive victory. Tonight's 71-53 win over Rutgers improves the Irish to 18-8 overall and 10-3 in the BIG EAST Conference.

Notre Dame clinged to a 33-28 halftime lead, thanks only to 6-for-13 shooting beyond the arc and 11-for-14 from the charity stripe.

The Irish shot just 8-for-27 from the floor in the first half, and prior to Eric Atkins' layup with 11:57 left in the game, Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant were the only Notre Dame players who had made a field goal from inside the arc.

Rutgers committed 26 team fouls, sending Notre Dame to the line for 32 free throws, where the Irish converted 75% of those shots - certainly a contributing factor to tonight's big win.

Cooley followed up his BIG EAST Player of the Week performance with another monster evening. He scored 22 points and pulled down 18 boards for his third straight double-double and his ninth of the season. Jerian Grant (11 points), Pat Connaughton (10) and Eric Atkins (10) also finished in double digits.

Not only does the seventh straight victory help Notre Dame keep pace with Marquette for second place in the conference, but it avenges the team's most recent loss - a 65-58 defeat at the hands of the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, N.J. on Jan. 16.

Since that loss, Notre Dame has defeated #1 Syracuse and won key road games at Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, while also beating #15 Marquette, DePaul and of course, Rutgers here tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.

When fifth-year guard Tim Abromaitis was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Black Friday, it looked like a black eye and major setback for Notre Dame's season. Many thought head coach Mike Brey's team would struggle to make the NIT, let alone the Big Dance.

Two months ago, no one in America thought the Irish would be ranked in mid-February. Now, however, Notre Dame is poised to be watching on Selection Sunday and this team has the confidence to play with anyone in the country - and with four regular season games remaining, there is perhaps no better attitude a team can have.

Stay tuned to UND.com for tonight's highlights and post-game press conference.

Let's hope this improbable run continues on Saturday in Philadelphia. The Irish will meet Villanova at 9 pm ET on ESPNU, before returning home next Wednesday, Feb. 22 for another game with West Virginia.

In my years of watching Notre Dame basketball, Coach Brey has had some better squads, but none have been as enjoyable to watch and as fun to root for as this 2011-12 team.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. Rutgers

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this evening at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on Rutgers at 7:00 p.m. (ET).

The game will be broadcast on ESPNU, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

It wasn't always pretty, but the #4 Notre Dame women's basketball team played well enough to secure its 25th win of the season - a 66-47 victory over the Providence Friars on Tuesday evening at the Purcell Pavilion.

Providence scored 14 points in the first 6:04 of tonight's game, but the Irish held the Friars to just 33 points over the final 33:56.

Despite piling up 20 turnovers and shooting just 65% from the free throw line, Notre Dame pulled away in the second half, leading by as much as 22 points with under three minutes to play.

Skylar Diggins scored 19 points and dished out seven assists, while Devereaux Peters also chipped in 19 and pulled down 11 rebounds.

It's the 21st double-digit win of the season for head coach Muffet McGraw's team, which improved to 12-1 in the BIG EAST Conference and 25-2 overall.

After a quiet weekend, the Irish will travel to Louisville on Monday, Feb. 20, before returning home against South Florida on Sat, Feb. 25 for the final home game of the season. They'll close out the regular season on Mon, Feb. 27 in Hartford against the second-ranked Connecticut Huskies in a nationally televised contest on ESPN2.

Stay tuned to UND.com for highlights and video from tonight's post-game press conference. We'll be back tomorrow night at 7 pm ET when the men's basketball team looks to avenge its most recent loss - a 65-58 defeat at the hands of Rutgers on Jan. 16. That game will be televised on ESPNU, but we'll have complete live blog coverage right here on Irish UNDerground too.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Hear It From a Student - Our House

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I've been a Notre Dame student for two years now. In those two years, I have been to a lot of basketball games, and seen an incredible variety of events. I've seen blowouts and crazy endings. I've seen the team cruise to victory in preseason wins, and I stormed the court after a win over the number one team in the country. I've seen dunks, blocks, and a seemingly unending stream of threes.

You know what I have yet to see in person? A loss.

The Irish have only lost one game when playing in the Joyce Center in the past two years, and that loss (a 53-67 loss to Connecticut in January) came over winter break, when the student body was on vacation. When they've been playing with the Leprechaun Legion behind them, the Irish have been invincible.

There are moments when the team makes a strong sequence of plays that the Joyce Center erupts. Even though a game may be tight until the end, we've almost come to expect the Irish to suddenly make some clutch shots and take the momentum. When that happens, the atmosphere in South Bend becomes electric.

The team's last game against DePaul was a perfect example. The game was tied at 68-68 with just over six and a half minutes left in the second half. After a foul on DePaul's Donovan Kirk, the Demons' bench drew a technical foul. The Irish fans, who had been getting frustrated with the officiating, came to life with a call that went their way. Jerian Grant knocked down the two free throws, and Jack Cooley quickly followed with a layup. When Alex Dragicevich hit a three to give the Irish a seven point lead, the place went nuts. The players were pumped. The fans were screaming at the top of their lungs. And after that point, DePaul never got within more than three points.

Moments like that - when the team and the fans come together as one - are one of the things I love most about sports. The adrenaline rush is something that is hard to beat. And the whole student body (well, all of us who managed to wake up early enough for a noon game) shared in that electric feeling at once. Moments like that are pretty special, and Notre Dame basketball seems to be having them a lot lately.

With the 84-76 win, the Irish moved to 17-8 and 9-3 in Big East play. They keep on defying the odds and giving their fans an incredible season to watch. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen such a phenomenal effort this year.

And despite a tough performance from a resilient DePaul team, I have still only seen Irish wins at the Joyce Center. It's great to be an Irish fan.

- Tom McGuire ('14)

Journeys With Jack

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UND.com's Jack Nolan takes Irish fans inside the men's basketball program ...

Hard to believe that just under a month ago the men's basketball team walked off the floor at the RAC in New Jersey with a 3-3 Big East record after losing a 65-58 decision to Rutgers. The future did not look very bright for the Irish with top-ranked Syracuse coming to town. Mike Brey decided to go all-in, telling his team that the Syracuse game was not just a big conference game, but it could turn out to be the greatest moment in his players' sporting careers.

Brey's players did what was necessary to make their coach's statement come true, and they have continued to get better every game since their upset of the nation's top-ranked team. Since my first blog posted last week the Irish have recorded two more wins to run their Big East winning streak to six games, the longest active winning streak in the conference.

During their six-game winning streak, this Irish have gone from thinking they could win every game, to knowing they could win every game, to expecting to win every game.

It is never easy to win a game at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown. Last Wednesday, the underdog Irish had led for most of the game when West Virginia went on a 13-2 run to take a 43-40 lead with 4:38 left, the first lead change of the second half. The West Virginia crowd was going nuts and the Mountaineers were clearly energized when Brey called a necessary timeout. Most of the time in a situation like this against an underdog at home, the home team proceeds to take control of the game on the way to recording a hard fought win.

But when the Irish broke their huddle, from my broadcasting vantage point - next to the visitor's bench - I did not see any concern, any fear, any stress in the eyes of the players ... just a calm confidence that they would come back and win the game. This is, of course, the message and poise that Brey tries to instill in his players during timeouts in situations like these, and I think Brey would be the first to agree that his team already had this demeanor when it came off the floor at the beginning of the timeout.

Moments later, Eric Atkins hit a three to tie the game. Jerian Grant then came up with a steal and hit a ridiculously deep three, and, after a Jack Cooley rebound, Scott Martin knocked down another three to give the Irish a six-point lead with 58 seconds left. Oh, and before these three straight three-point bombs, the Irish were just 2-for-18 from three-point land on the night.

This Irish team again found a way to make the big plays and a way to find the range to make the big shots for another big upset win on the road.

Saturday's game with DePaul marked the first time Notre Dame had been a heavy favorite in a Big East game all season. The Blue Demons had only won two conference games this year (one a road win at Rutgers) so your typical Notre Dame fan was expecting a blowout win for the now red-hot Irish.

This was new territory for the young Notre Dame team: dealing with being the hunted rather than the hunter, dealing with the pressure of being expected to win a conference game against a team that could temper the taste of a sour season with a win against a longtime traditional rival.

It may be hard to believe, but bad basketball teams can be made up of good players. DePaul is loaded with extremely talented young players who have not yet learned how to play well together for 40 minutes, but they are getting there. This year's DePaul team got off to a 9-3 start, its best since the 1999-2000 season, and played well against the Irish.

The game was close, with DePaul grabbing a seven-point lead midway through the first half. The Irish did come back to retake the lead late in the first half before the half ended tied at 34-34. Knowing DePaul was just 2-9 in Big East play coming in, Irish fans grumbled a bit throughout the first half and as the teams headed to the lockeroom at halftime.

Things got more tense in the second half when DePaul went on a 9-0 run to take a one-point lead at the 8:39 mark. Yes, the Blue Demons' trap was baited for the Irish in this classic trap game, but the Irish would not take the bait. Led by Jack Cooley (career-high tying 22 points) and Jerian Grant (career high 22 points) down the stretch, the Irish broke a 68-68 tie with a 7-0 run of their own (including a huge three from Alex Dragicevich) and went on to win again 84-76, a very good win for any team in this situation in a Big East game.

One of the great things about this Notre Dame run is the fact that not just one or two players are leading the Irish to victory each night. Instead, a different player or two steps up his or their games each night to make the difference in the always tough Big East.

That said, this past week, Jack Cooley led the way with two monster efforts. Against West Virginia and DePaul, Cooley made 81 percent of his shots while averaging 21.5 points and 13 rebounds. He also blocked five shots and did not turn the ball over one while recording his seventh and eighth double-doubles of his career, all coming this season. Congratulations to Jack Cooley on winning the Big East Player of the Week award for the first time!

This is the fourth straight week a Notre Dame player has been honored by the Big East, so folks are starting to notice this Irish team, as are the media members and coaches who vote in the two weekly polls. Notre Dame is ranked 23rd in the AP Poll this week and 25th in the Coaches Poll, deserved rankings indeed.

Rutgers comes town Wednesday night, with a young athletic lineup that has the distinction of handing Notre Dame its last loss. They will not be intimidated by an Irish team on a six-game winning streak, and they will pack the same quickness that bothered the Irish on Jan. 16 in Piscataway.

But I also know that unlike that night in New Jersey, Brey's Fighting Irish expect to win Wednesday night. And they expect a little help from the Irish faithful in Purcell Pavilion, who have now rooted on the Irish to 32 wins in their last 33 home games.

Go Irish!

- Jack Nolan (@NDjackNolan)

Live Blog: Irish Look To Bounce Back vs. Friars

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8:47 pm, Irish 66-47, Final: Whitney Holloway hits her first of two free throws in the closing minutes, Providence gets a couple of late baskets and the Irish walk away with a 19-point victory. Stay tuned to UND.com and Irish UNDerground for post-game coverage.

8:41 pm, Irish 65-43, 2:41 2nd half: Mallory finds a cutting Diggins...She's fouled and makes the first of two shots. Providence responds with a layup from Teya Wright, before Diggins makes an excellent pass to Miller for a layup as the shot clock winds down.

Miller makes one of two free throws to give the Irish a 20-point lead...McBride scores a layup and the Irish call a 30-second timeout. This one is all but over.

8:32 pm, Irish 59-41, 7:13 2nd half: After the under-8 media timeout, Peters hits one of two free throws. Providence gets called for a shot clock violation on the following possession. Fraderica Miller goes down hard for the Irish. She got blindsided and might've been poked in the eye. Slow to get up, but she walks off on her own. A flagrant gets called on Providence, and Novosel goes to shoot the free throws, where she hits the second of two shots.

8:21 pm, Irish 55-38, 10:53 2nd half: Diggins hits Notre Dame's first three-pointer of the game and it's a 17-point Irish lead. Sky and Dev lead the team with 18 points each.

Daily Dish - 2.14.12

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Junior men's basketball forward Jack Cooley (Glenview, Ill.) has been named the BIG EAST Player of the Week after registering back-to-back double-doubles for Notre Dame in wins last week against West Virginia and DePaul. He averaged 21.5 points and 13.0 rebounds to earn his first career player-of-the-week honor. Cooley, who is averaging 11.5 points and 8.8 rebounds this season, had previously been named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on four occasions ... In Notre Dame's 55-51 win over the Mountaineers in Morgantown, Cooley played 33 minutes and scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds ... Against the Blue Demons, he matched his career best with 22 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds ... In addition, he equaled his career high with four blocked shots ... He leads the Irish with eight double-doubles that includes six in BIG EAST play.

Jay Bilas' "Bilas Index" this week on ESPN.com has Notre Dame rated 45th nationally. The Irish men's team made the polls this week for the first time this season--23rd by AP and 25th by ESPN/USA Today. CBSSports.com's Top 25 (and one) poll had the Irish rated 18th this week. SI.com's Seth Davis lists the Irish 21st this week. Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Bracketology this week projects Notre Dame as a #7 NCAA seed playing #10 Purdue in Greensboro. Another projected bracket on CBSSports.com by Jerry Palm (before the DePaul game) had the Irish at a #8 NCAA seed playing #9 Illinois in Louisville.

The Notre Dame Bengal Bouts--the University's 82nd club boxing event--continues with quarterfinals Feb. 22 (6 p.m.), semifinals Feb. 28 (6 p.m.) and finals March 3 (7 p.m.). All proceeds benefit the Holy Cross Missions of Bangladesh.

The Notre Dame men's golf team advanced into the semifinals at The Match Play, earning wins over Loyola Chicago and Villanova Monday at the Reunion Resort Watson Course in Orlando, Fla. The Irish took down the Ramblers 5.5-0.5 in the opening roundbefore defeating the Wildcats 4.0-2.0 in quarterfinal action. Seniors Chris Walker (The Woodlands, Texas) and Tom Usher (Baildon, England) as well as sophomore Niall Platt (Santa Barbara, Calif.) and freshman Tyler Wingo (Fairfax, Va.) paced the Irish through their opening two matches, winning each of their respective contests to notch the maximum two points on the day...

Fencing Around the World

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Since the start of the new year, several current, former and future Irish fencers have been in action around the globe, with many looking to qualify for the London Olympics this summer. Here's a look at some of their finishes over the last couple months ...

On Jan. 28 Race Imboden, who will be joining the Irish next year, teamed up with senior Gerek Meinhardt at the Men's Paris Foil World Cup to help lead the United States to a sixth place finish. Individually, Imboden added 26 points to his Olympic résumé by earning a bronze, while Meinhardt's 61st place netted two points.

Imboden's medal marks the first time an American man placed in the Paris World Cup's foil event. He defeated Frenchman Guillaume Pita, fellow American Michael Dudey, Italian Edoardo Luperi, and German Peter Joppich on his way to claiming co-bronze medals with fellow American and club teammate Alex Massialis.

At the Women's Epee World Cup in Doha, Qatar, senior Courtney Hurley joined former Irish fencers Kelley Hurley and Ewa Nelip at the Grand Prix on Saturday. Courtney's 48th place was good for two points toward her Olympic standings. She is the top-ranked women's epeeist in the nation.

Another No. 1, former Irish sabreuse Mariel Zagunis defended her 2011 Orleans Saber Grand Prix with a victory on Saturday. She came out on top of the table of 64, solidifying her ranking and moving into the top spot of the Adjusted Olympic Rankings.

Also competing on Saturday was high school senior Lee Kiefer, who has signed her letter of intent to fence for Notre Dame next year. The foilist placed 17th at the Tauberbischofsheim Foil World Cup in Germany, earning four points for her finish.

For each team that qualifies for the Olympics, coaches will choose four fencers to comprise the squad. Points earned in Olympic qualifiers determine who will compete, and the cutoff for qualifying is March 31.

Other Irish athletes in action this year included 2011 graduate Avery Zuck, who placed 58th in the Plovdiv Saber Grand Prix in Bulgaria on Feb. 5, and freshmen Ashley Severson and Channing Foster. In the Dijon Junior Epee World Cup, Severson and Foster placed fifth and 90th, respectively, at the Jan. 8 tournament. Severson also placed 12th at the Vigor Challenge on Feb. 5.

- Craig Chval ('15)
It was a big weekend in the pool for Notre Dame freshman Nick Nemetz. The Ann Arbor, Mich. native took home a pair of titles at the BIG EAST Conference Diving Championships, winning the 1-meter and 3-meter events at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool.

Nemetz won his first career collegiate title on Friday evening, by posting a 325.15 in the 3-meter event. He became the third consecutive Irish diver to win the event, following on the heels of Nathan Geary in 2011 and Wes Villafor in 2010. Nemetz also became the first freshman diver in Notre Dame history to win a league title.

But Friday was just the beginning. Nemetz followed up his impressive 3-meter performance by winning the 1-meter event on Saturday. He scored 322.30 points and became the second Notre Dame diver to sweep the pair of events at the BIG EAST Championships (a feat that Villafor accomplished in 2010).

Irish diving coach Caiming Xie was also named BIG EAST Men's Diving Coach of the Year.

The event resumes on Wednesday, when the swimmers hit the pool in the Steel City. With 129 points, the Notre Dame men's team currently holds a comfortable lead over second-place Pittsburgh (72 points) and third-place West Virginia (46 points).

- Josh Flynt ('11)

She Got Game: Skylar Diggins Knows What She Wants

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Notre Dame women's basketball junior point guard Skylar Diggins was recently featured in The New York Times. Here's a look at her interview with Andrew Goldman.

As a high-school basketball player in South Bend, Ind., you were considered a phenom in the vein of LeBron James. But LeBron made $4 million in his first season in the N.B.A. The top W.N.B.A. salary is about $105,000. Does this depress you?
If it's about money, you shouldn't play.

But men's college basketball stars can envision making a fortune afterward. Your dream path isn't as clear.
Do you think we don't know that we don't make a lot in the league? We can't sit on the edge of the bench waving a towel and get paid $400,000, so we have to make sure we come up with a strong Plan B. Right now I'm in business-management entrepreneurship in one of the country's top undergrad business programs. This summer, if everything goes right, I'll be interning with espnW. Eventually maybe I'll get into sports commentating.

The N.C.A.A. makes a fortune. It also requires athletes to sign away their likenesses in perpetuity without pay. Does this bother you?
When I see these people walking around with my jersey on, I'm like, Where does that money go? But I'm living the life. As high as the tuition is, I probably wouldn't be able to go here as a regular student. So anything that's good for Notre Dame is good for me and our program.

You frequently change your hairstyle at halftime, depending on the kind of game you're having. What's that about?
If I had a bad first half, I'll come back after halftime, and you'll see a bun or a fan ponytail. When my hair goes up, that means it's time to get down and dirty -- I must have been messing around in the first half, and I'm just a wild child now.

I never saw the bun as a predatory hairstyle.
Maybe not to you. Maybe not to anybody else. But I know what it means.

People generalize that women are the more empathetic sex. Ever felt bad after stealing the ball?
Never. I'm not very good with mercy.

You took Notre Dame's loss to Texas A&M in last year's national championship game particularly hard. What do you think about when you replay that game in your head?
I think of 15:52. That's how much time was on the clock when we were up by 7 and they made their comeback. I should have had better game management. I'm the point guard, that's my job. It could be 100 factors, but to this day, I won't let anybody else tell me that. I know. Because I was out there playing.

You were criticized in the press for leaving the court before the traditional postgame handshake.
I don't regret that. I have relationships with those A&M girls, I told them congratulations. I just didn't stay after for the confetti dropping and them diving on each other. Do you know what it's like to lose a national championship game?

I certainly do not. When people see a young talent like yours, they envision an overbearing stage parent. How much were you pushed by your stepfather, who coached you in different capacities through high school?
It was kind of the other way around. I knew he had the keys to the gym, and I would drag him out of bed early, I mean early, and I would be at the gym for six hours every day. He once asked me: "Are you sure this is what you want to do? Are you willing to put the work in?" I said, "Yes." And from then on we have had a very, very close bond.

Your mother ran an incredibly strict house.
My mom, she doesn't play.

I heard there was a permanent ban on the word "can't." And that she'd insist on getting the license plates and cellphone numbers of any suitors. She also demanded you sign a contract prohibiting anyone else from driving your car.
I signed it when I was a sophomore. It was typed. No joke, it might still be in my glove compartment. And if my mom doesn't like a guy, he's not going to make it very far.

Considering Notre Dame is in your hometown, I'm surprised you didn't decide to take off to Stanford.
If I went to Stanford, I promise you, my mom would have moved there.

INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.

- Andrew Goldman

Following Flynt - Mountaineers Stun Irish at Purcell

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It started as a great afternoon. A celebration of cancer survivors, and those fighting the illness. Over $204,000 were raised for breast cancer research. Cathy Richardson in the house to sing "Here Come The Irish." The sellout crowd was electric.

But at the end of the day, the Irish were stunned, falling to the West Virginia Mountaineers, 65-63 on their home floor. It's the first loss for Notre Dame since Nov. 20, and it snaps the 20-game home winning streak for Coach Muffet McGraw's team.

Skylar Diggins led the way with 32 points and Natalie Novosel contributed 16, but Notre Dame got little from anyone else offensively. The Irish shot just 64% from the line, and several missed free throws down the stretch cost them an opportunity to put the Mountaineers away.

After forwards Natalie Achonwa and Devereaux Peters fouled out, Notre Dame had a difficult time containing West Virginia center Asya Bussie, who made three key baskets in the closing minutes. The junior finished with 22 points to lead the Mountaineers to the upset road victory.

Combining for 45 personal fouls and 38 turnovers, neither team played particularly well. Notre Dame shot 40.7% from the field, slightly higher than West Virginia's 38.5%. It was a sloppy game from both teams, but in the end, West Virginia stepped up when it mattered most, closing the game on a 8-1 run and making key shots both from the field and at the free throw line.

Notre Dame (24-2, 11-1 BIG EAST) will look to bounce back on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm ET vs. Providence at the Purcell Pavilion. Follow the action right here on UNDerground, as the Irish gear up for the home stretch of the regular season and seek to start a new home winning streak.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
5:41 pm, Mountaineers 65-63, Final: Brooke Hampton makes both free throws. Novosel takes it up the court and gets a good look at the hoop, but it's short and the buzzer sounds. The faithful Irish crowd leaves absolutely stunned. The loss certainly puts a damper on an otherwise great afternoon at the Purcell Pavilion.

5:39 pm, Tied 63-63, 0:05 2nd half: Diggins holds for most of the shot clock and drives to the hoop with just a few seconds to play. She misses the shot, and West Virginia comes up with the rebound. Diggins commits a foul and the Mountaineers will have a chance to take the lead with just 4.6 seconds to play.

5:37 pm, Tied at 63, 0:35 2nd half: On the next possession, Caldwell commits her fifth foul. Diggins goes to the line, but only makes one of two. After the ball's knocked out of bounds a couple of times on the West Virginia possession, Asya Bussie makes a tough, tough jumper as the shot clock winds down. We're tied at 63 with 35 seconds to play, and the Irish call a timeout.

5:35 pm, Irish 62-61, 1:48 2nd half: Novosel makes two free throws, and the lead is back to three. The Irish put the full court press on the Mountaineers, forcing a jump ball. West Virginia retains possession, but the Irish get another jump ball and will take it the other way.

Kayla McBride makes a layup and the crowd goes wild. Bussie responds with a layup however, and on the next possession is fouled by Devereaux Peters. She makes the layup, but misses the free throw. Bad news for the Irish - Peters has fouled out.

5:28 pm, Irish 58-57, 3:39 2nd half: Bussie makes one of two free throws for the Mountaineers, before Taylor Palmer hits a jumper from the elbow. Achonwa is called for a foul in the paint, and West Virginia will go to the line. Bussie converts both shots and we're tied at 55.

Novosel responds with a huge three from the wing and the crowd comes alive. Ayana Dunning hits a long two for West Virginia, before a kick violation brings us to the under-4 timeout.

During the break, it is announced that $204,682 were raised for breast cancer research in today's Pink Zone game. Great job, Irish fans. 5:21 pm, Irish 55-50, 5:55 2nd half: Caldwell makes both free throws following the timeout, and the crowd is quieted. It's not often the Irish have just a five-point lead this late in the game. Bussie makes two more free throws and Notre Dame's lead is down to three.

Achonwa makes a nice fake in the paint and drives to the hoop for an easy layup, forcing the Mountaineers to call a timeout.

5:15 pm, Irish 53-46, 7:56 2nd half: Diggins converts one of two free throws, and Peters makes a layup to push the lead back to seven. Crowd comes alive chanting for a defensive stop and the Irish respond, forcing West Virginia to take a three as the shot clock winds down. Diggins comes up with the board and gets fouled, where she makes both free throws.

Bussie makes a jumper from the top of the key, before a Notre Dame foul brings us to the media timeout.

5:08 pm: Almost at the midpoint of the second half, Skylar Diggins leads the Irish with 28 points on 10-for-15 from the field. Novosel has chipped in 11 for Notre Dame, but no other players have contributed much from an offensive standpoint. It's been a sloppy game so far, with the teams combining for a whopping 37 turnovers and 35 personal fouls.

5:07 pm, Irish 48-44, 10:49 2nd half: Caldwell hits a short jumper for the Mountaineers, and Notre Dame turns the ball over on the ensuing possession. After a couple of turnovers by each team, Diggins is fouled and makes both shots for the Irish.

After another Mountaineer foul, Diggins makes both free throws, to give Notre Dame an 11-point lead. Novosel's called for a foul and Jessica Harlee goes to the line, where she makes both shots.

The Irish miss on their possession, but Fraderica Miller draws an offensive foul. Unfortunately, Notre Dame turns the ball over and Harlee makes a layup for West Virginia. Akilah Bethel hits a three and suddenly the lead is down to four.

4:54 pm, Irish 44-35, 15:13 2nd half Second half underway here at Purcell. Notre Dame strikes first when Skylar Diggins takes it strong to the hoop for a fast break layup. Natalie Novosel picks up a steal for the Irish and is quickly fouled. Ayana Dunning knocks down a long two for West Virginia. The Mountaineers hit a tough three from the wing, and we're tied again.

Diggins drives to the hoop and makes a layup, but misses the opportunity to convert an and-1. On the next possession however, the Irish outlet it to Diggins who makes another layup and gets fouled again. She misses the free throw, but the Irish get the rebound. Diggins dishes it to Peters who gets fouled, and Notre Dame heads back to the line. The fifth-year senior converts both free throws, and it's a six-point lead - the largest of the game.

Diggins makes one of two free throws on the next trip, before Kayla McBride hits a tough reverse layup on the assist from Mallory. Just like that, it's a nine-point lead for Notre Dame and West Virginia calls for a timeout.

Following Flynt - Six In A Row

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It took the crowd (and the team) a little while to get going this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion, but the Notre Dame men's basketball team won its sixth straight game, a 84-76 victory over the DePaul Blue Demons.

After a 34-34 halftime tie, the Irish outscored DePaul 50-42 in the second half to improve to 9-3 in the BIG EAST and 17-8 overall. A team once left for dead, at this point it is probably safe to say Notre Dame controls its own postseason destiny. With six games to play, the Irish are tied with Marquette for second place in the conference, behind #2 Syracuse.

Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant led the Fighting Irish with 22 points apiece. Cooley also grabbed 14 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season. He blocked four shots and drew a key offensive foul in the closing minutes.

Eric Atkins also finished in double figures for Notre Dame, tallying 14 points.

The Irish have not lost since Jan. 16 in Piscataway, N.J. against Rutgers. Interestingly enough, they will look for a seventh straight win on Wednesday against, who else? The Scarlet Knights.

The game begins at 7 pm ET and will be broadcast on ESPNU. Follow the live blog right here on Irish UNDerground and stay tuned to UND.com for highlights from today's contest and post-game presser.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. DePaul

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on DePaul at 12:00 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - Irish Drop Series Opener at Home

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After splitting a pair of games with Bowling Green at home last weekend, #9/#9 Notre Dame returned to the Compton Family Ice Arena this evening where it took on #5/#6 Ferris State in a CCHA matchup.

Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, they will have to look for a road victory tomorrow night to salvage the home-and-home series, as they fell to the Bulldogs, 3-0 in front of the sellout home crowd.

After a scoreless first, Ferris State got a pair of goals from junior left wing Kyle Bonis in the second period. In the third period, senior center Derek Graham netted a score for the first-place Bulldogs, who improved to 19-8-4 overall, and 13-6-4-1 in the conference.

The loss drops the Irish to 16-12-3 overall and 11-9-3 in the CCHA. The teams split a pair of games in December, so the Bulldogs lead the season series 2-1.

Just five games remain on the regular season schedule. Notre Dame travels to Oxford, Ohio for two games with Miami next weekend, before closing out February with a home series against Michigan State.

But first, head coach Jeff Jackson's squad will seek to split the weekend with Ferris State tomorrow in Big Rapids, Mich. The puck drops a 7:08 pm ET at Ewigleben Arena and you can catch the action live on Comcast Channel 3 in the South Bend area. Matt Shepard, Sean Ritchlin and Rob Otto will have the call.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

ICON 35: Inside Irish Hockey's Workout Routine

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Justin Tuck, Brick Strong

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Not that you needed another reason to like the former Irish DE #44, but check out this recent ESPN feature as Rachel Nichols examines the friendship between the Giants defensive end (Notre Dame '05) and a young fan who died following a battle with leukemia.

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Ferris State

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It's a hockey night in South Bend! Notre Dame is set to face Ferris State tonight at 7:05 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Following Flynt - McCarthy to Sign With Chiefs

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Former Irish safety Kyle McCarthy ('09) announced this morning via Twitter than he will be signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Youngstown, Ohio native has spent the past two seasons with the Denver Broncos, along with fellow Notre Dame graduates David Bruton ('09) and Brady Quinn ('07).

While at Notre Dame, McCarthy started all 25 games during his senior and fifth-year seasons. During his final season with the Irish, he led the team in tackles (101) and interceptions (five).

Screen shot 2012-02-10 at 1.47.50 PM.png

Judging by McCarthy's Twitter background and profile picture, the future Kansas City Chief's heart, like that of so many other alums, will always be with Notre Dame.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Coach Kelly Announces Staff Updates

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Head coach Brian Kelly met with members of the media this morning to announce updates to his football coaching staff for the 2012 season. Here's a complete look at the staff:

Bob Diaco - Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Kerry Cooks - Co-Defensive Coordinator/Cornerbacks
Chuck Martin - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Tony Alford - Running Backs and Slot Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator
Scott Booker - Tight Ends/Special Teams Coordinator
Mike Denbrock - Outside Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator
Bob Elliott - Safeties
Mike Elston - Defensive Line
Harry Hiestand - Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator
Josh Reardon - Graduate Assistant for Defense
Pat Welsh - Graduate Assistant for Offense
Bill Brechin - Intern for Offense
David Grimes - Intern for Defense

As announced in January, Harry Hiestand and Bob Elliott are the newest faces on the Notre Dame coaching staff. Hiestand arrives from Tennessee, while Elliott spent the past two seasons coaching at Iowa State.

After two years as an intern with the Irish football program, Scott Booker was promoted to a full-time assistant coach position in early January.

Graduate assistants Josh Reardon and Pat Welsh join the Irish from Holy Cross (Mass.) and Grand Valley State, respectively.

Bill Brechin returns for his third season with the offensive coaching staff, while David Grimes ('09), who worked as an intern for player development during the 2011 season, will assist the defensive staff in 2012. Grimes was a wide receiver for the Fighting Irish from 2005-08, and served as tri-captain (along with David Bruton and Maurice Crum Jr.) during his senior season.

Check back to UND.com later in the day for a full release as well as video from this morning's press conference.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Training for the Tour de France?

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Hear It From a Student - Shattering Expectations

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martindunk.jpg Things were looking rough with just over two minutes to go in the second half last night as the men's hoops squad struggled to get some momentum going on the road against a tough West Virginia team. Notre Dame was 2-for-18 from three-point range, and it seemed like a young Irish team was going to have a rough loss in Morgantown.

It could have been one of those difficult losses that conventional wisdom says every young team has to undergo as a "learning experience" when you play in a incredibly tough conference like the Big East.

Bang. Eric Atkins drains a three pointer.

Bang. Jerian Grant, who before was just 1-of-6 from three-point range, calmly strokes a trey with 25 seconds on the shot clock.

Bang. Scott Martin buries a three.

Suddenly, Notre Dame had a six-point lead with less than a minute remaining, and the team never looked back. The Irish defeated the Mountaineers, 55-49, and once again went against the script and shattered expectations.

This season's team is going on the road and beating tough teams at the end of games. That's something you expect from a team of veteran starters, guys who have been playing together for years. But this team is starting two sophomores and a freshman, and every member of the starting lineup could return next year.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Making it to the NCAA tournament seemed like a pipe dream. Now, the student body is debating how high we should be ranked in next week's top 25.

What could have been a down year has turned into a showcase for Mike Brey's ability to reload and retool his team. The Irish have grown as a team, using Brey's burn offense to slow down the clock and make big plays with little time left on the shot clock. They've dictated the pace and tempo of games, and managed to hang with the best in the Big East.

Somehow, Notre Dame is 8-3 in the Big East. Somehow, this team seems like a safe bet to make it to the NCAA tournament. Somehow, Brey has done it again.

A team that wasn't supposed to come together and be good until next year or the year after that (by the way, imagine how good this team will be with more time to develop) is ready to compete - and not just to compete, but to win - right now.

As a fan, I can't believe what I'm watching. This mixture of defense, chemistry, and clutch shooting has been absolutely unbelievable.

I am loving every second of this season, and I am going to follow these players as far as they can take us. The way this team has been playing lately, I wouldn't be surprised if this ride lasts all the way into March Madness.

And once you make it there, anything can happen, right?

- Tom McGuire ('14)

Hear It From a Student - Lefty Fest

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5975535.jpeg

When Charles "Lefty" Smith came to South Bend in 1968 as the first varsity hockey coach, his process to build a program was much more difficult than people in the modern era can realize.

"It was very exciting when they first came to town, actually he and (assistant coach) Tim McNeill both had to start many things here," described Lefty's son Michael Smith. "No one knew how to manage an ice rink at all. They had to teach the Zamboni drivers how to drive the Zamboni around the rink. They had to show them how to lay the concrete floor."

"So they had to go through all the rink management, the coaching, and then they had to do public skating and promote that because they had to bring skating to South Bend. They had to launch a figure skating club. They launched the Irish Youth Hockey League, and then they also had to run P.E. classes."

Lefty worked at the University for more than 43 years before his retirement several weeks ago. He coached the hockey team for 19 years, earning WCHA Coach of the Year honors in 1973.

The Monogram Club dedicated last weekend to memorializing Smith's life, legacy, and impact in the wake of his passing Jan. 3 at the age of 81. More than 40 of his former players came to Notre Dame in support of his family and to participate in the weekend's events, which centered around the weekend series against Bowling Green.

"I think everybody knows what he meant to the program as far as the history of the program," head coach Jeff Jackson said. "I'm just grateful that our staff and our team will have the opportunity to spend some time with the Smith family since we didn't have that opportunity when he passed away because we were on the road."

The program that Lefty started in 1968 has recently reached new heights, competing in the Frozen Four twice in the last four years. In October the team moved from the Joyce Center to the brand-new Compton Family Ice Arena.

The man who led the genesis of the modern hockey program may have built his teams at the Joyce Center, but his name has since been immortalized on the ice of Compton. Since the opening matchup against RPI, the Irish have played all home games on Lefty Smith Rink.

"My mom passed away about 26 months ago, she was able to see the recognition that it would be named for him and it was just - she was thrilled for him. We were all thrilled and honored. It was a huge thing," Lefty's daughter, Cheryl Ake, said. "He ate, breathed and lived Notre Dame. So for him to have something named after him on this campus is a huge thing for him and for us as a family."

The rink was named after Lefty Smith because of a donation made by the family of John Boler, who wanted to memorialize the former coach and family friend.

"My dad and myself and my sister - we had been talking forever about wanting to do something for Lefty," said John's son, Matt Boler. "He made an impact on so many people in so many different ways beyond hockey. He's just really a tremendous man. Our view is - and mine in particular as an alum of the University - those are the kind of guys the university should celebrate."

Lefty's seven children were on the ice to drop the puck on Friday night, and a video commemorated Lefty's legacy during the first intermission. The next game, the Boler family was honored before the game, and all Lefty's former players who came to South Bend for the weekend came on the ice for the intermission.

The weekend was reminiscent of one of the reunions Lefty would hold while he was coach. Like those reunions, Saturday featured an alumni game for the former players who returned to campus.

"One of the key things for him was always camaraderie that he had with his former players. It was very tight, very close," Michael said. "In his era of the 19 years he was here, he would have a reunion. And those guys would bring their families back and everything for the reunion. Very often with reunions you see the guy alone, but they brought the families along, so it's all about the families for them and the memories that they had together with them."

"It was part of the tradition to have an alumni hockey game and then having a dinner on the last night. My dad always was the final speaker of the night to wish them well and thank them for coming and being a part of his life. So it's something really unique and special for all of us."

The events gave the Irish players the chance to meet with Smith's family, especially at Saturday night's reception at O'Brien's, the CFIA restaurant. Former players mingled with current athletes to cap the weekend.

"It's great for the program," said sophomore forward T.J. Tynan. "Obviously Lefty built the program from the ground up, and it's great to get to meet his family and all the guys that played for him and just get to know the guys that made history here at Notre Dame."

All the current Notre Dame players now compete in the upper echelon of the sport in a premier arena, much in thanks to the foundation Lefty laid and the generosity of people like the Bolers.

"Now it's an opportunity for us to have an absolutely state-of-the-art facility - great for the players and recruiting, and really wonderful for the fans," Michael said. "When Dad had the chance to really see it and they asked him to come over and paint his name on the ice, he had tears in his eyes."

Although "Lefty Fest" was only one weekend, the iconic coach will be remembered long after those two days. Future generations of Irish players will skate on the rink that bears his name and, more importantly, for the program that he built.

- Craig Chval ('15)

Journeys With Jack

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5975546.jpeg UND.com's Jack Nolan takes Irish fans inside the men's basketball program ...

I first started announcing Notre Dame men's basketball games in 1982. During the past 30 years I have had the pleasure of describing to Irish fans the exploits of many outstanding Notre Dame teams, but no Irish team during the past three decades has consistently exceeded my expectations more than this year's squad.

When the team walked off the floor after losing at Gonzaga by 20 points in November, no one - and I mean no one - could have expected them to go on to beat five ranked teams by the first weekend in February. But that is exactly what has happened. (And as I write this, Notre Dame and Ohio State are the only teams in the nation to beat five ranked teams this season. The Buckeyes are ranked third in both of this week's polls. The Irish are still not ranked in either polls!)

This is probably just fine with a Notre Dame team that likes to "stay under the radar." However, attention is starting to be paid to the team's efforts as Mike Brey's squad did receive enough votes to rank 26th in both polls this week.

An argument can be made that Brey is turning in the best coaching job of his career with a team that lost a John Wooden Award candidate in Tim Abromaitis the day after Thanksgiving. That says a lot when you consider that Brey is the reigning National Coach of the Year (the only Notre Dame men's basketball coach to win the award) and also picked up his third BIG EAST Coach of Year Award last season - an award voted on by the coaches he competes against every night in conference play.

This year's team is winning by controlling the tempo on both ends of the floor and by imposing its will on the opposition. It is not an easy way to win. Brey's constant focus on pushing his players to get better every day, to always deliver a complete effort while also making sure the players remain confident on both ends of the floor makes winning this way possible. His ability to know what buttons to push and when to push those buttons has been extremely impressive.

A few examples: In the days leading up to the BIG EAST opener against No. 22 Pittsburgh, Brey added a catch-and-shoot three-point drill to practice. Against the Panthers, Alex Dragicevich scored a career-high 22 points including a career-high four three-pointers in the second half when the Irish broke open a close game to build a 17-point lead before cruising to a 72-59 win.

Brey and his staff, a staff he often praises, have come up with some great game plans this season. After a tough loss at Cincinnati during a five-day road trip after the Pitt win, the team regrouped and worked on a game plan to control No. 10 Louisville's attacking transition offense, in particular point guard Peyton Siva. The Irish ended up winning in double overtime, handing Louisville what was only its fourth loss ever at the Yum Center. Even more, Siva was held to four points during regulation.

No. 1 Syracuse came to Notre Dame with the Irish on a two-game losing streak. During the days leading up to the game, Brey resurrected an old three-point shooting drill in which the team splits in two groups and competes against each other. The Irish shot 50% from three-point land against the Orange in the game, which included six three-pointers from four different players in the first half as Notre Dame built an 18-point lead on the way to beating the nation's top ranked team.

The following week on the road at Seton Hall, Brey sensed something was out of whack with the team's end of shoot-around free throw drill, so he changed it. Brey made the team march up and down the floor to each basket for four different repetitions of the shooting drill until the team made 80 percent of its free throws. That night the Irish hit 24 of 32 free throws on the way to handing the Pirates their first home loss of the season.

It is just a coincidence that the three drills cited have involved offense, because this year's Notre Dame team has raised the most eyebrows by winning with defense. Brey's Notre Dame's teams have always had an offensive identity, and that has led some observers to assume Brey does not spend a whole lot of time working with his team on the defensive end of the floor.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hear It From a Student - The Sixth Man

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If there is anything these last two men's hoops home games may prove, there's a reason everyone is talking about the Irish home court advantage. When the student section is filled, the lights go out, and the intro video starts playing, I always get full body chills.

But as magnificent as the sixth man has been in the last two weeks, these games have proven even more than home court advantage.

I have confessed before that I am extremely partial to Notre Dame basketball. More so - blasphemously - than I am to Notre Dame football. There is hope for the underdog of basketball in a way that there is none for the underdog of football.

This year's basketball team was the definition of the underdog - young and inexperienced with a heavy weight on Tim Abromaitis, who was supposed to put up 20 points per game. When Abro fell to a season-ending ACL injury, it seemed like the final blow to an already shaky Irish team.

Yet here we are, in February, looking at a group of young and inexperienced boys who are playing like men. They have a chemistry that is something to behold. They have a drive and a passion that is fun to watch. That is the thing about college basketball: a season can take a turn for the better. Starting out a football season 0-2 is a death sentence. A basketball team can take a stumble in the beginning and then take down the nation's No. 1 team.

This team always had my love, but now they have earned my respect. It deserves a full student section, it deserves a spot in the polls, it deserves the March Madness that is now looming. And as that sixth man, we absolutely need to be behind it 100 percent for every game for the rest of the season.

- Lauren Chval ('13)
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On Wednesday, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will look to add to its growing NCAA Tournament resume. Head coach Mike Brey's squad will try for its fifth consecutive win and third straight victory away from the Purcell Pavilion when it travels 437 miles east to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. As many others have learned however, leaving Morgantown, W. Va. with a 'W' is no easy task.

The Mountaineers' home arena, the WVU Coliseum opened in 1970 (two years after the Joyce Center) and has developed a reputation as one of the toughest venues in college basketball. The raucous environment is due in part to the dedicated and passionate West Virginia fans, who made headlines in Feb. 2010, when the profanity and foul chants from the university's student section were loud enough to be heard on television.

Later that month, in a game against rival Pittsburgh, the students threw "T-shirts, plastic bottles and other debris onto the court."

Since the start of the 2006-07 season, the Mountaineers' men's basketball team has compiled a 78-11 record on its home floor (.876 winning percentage). Meanwhile, Notre Dame leads the all-time series 25-12, but has lost its last three trips to the WVU Coliseum. The Irish last won at West Virginia in 2005, when Colin Falls ('07) had five three-pointers and 19 points, lifting Notre Dame to a 70-57 victory.

With a 9 pm ET start, the fans in Morgantown will have plenty of time to get rowdy for the nationally televised game (ESPNU). Notre Dame is 15-8 overall and 7-3 in the BIG EAST (4th place), while West Virginia is 16-8 this season and 6-5 in the conference (8th place). That being said, it's a pivotal game for both teams as they gear up for the home stretch of the regular season and make their statement for a ticket to the Big Dance in March.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Student. Athlete. Irish.

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"Notre Dame sacking Michigan"
Photo Credit: AP

Eli Manning took home MVP honors in the New York Giants' Super Bowl XLVI victory over the New England Patriots, but former Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck ('05) was the subject of much post-game publicity, and rightfully so.

The Kellyton, Ala. native had an impact on the game from the first defensive snap, pressuring Tom Brady in the end zone and forcing him to throw the ball away. The ensuing intentional grounding penalty resulted in a safety and gave the Giants an early 2-0 lead.

Tuck also sacked Brady twice, including an important play on the game's final possession that forced the Patriots to convert a 4th-and-16, just to keep their slim hopes alive.

Hundreds, if not thousands of fans tweeted that Tuck should earn MVP honors, and although the Giants' quarterback was ultimately awarded the recognition, the defensive end's impact on the game did not go unnoticed.

Here's a look at some of the coverage surrounding the Giants' defensive captain and former Irish standout:

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"Tucking is the new Tebowing"
2:48 pm, Irish 90-70, Final: Despite being outscored 39-34 in the second half, Notre Dame coasts to its 23rd win of the season. Led by Natalie Novosel's 21 points, five players finish in double-figures, and Skylar Diggins notches a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.

The Irish finish 9-for-15 from beyond the arc, and shoot 58.3% for the game. Brittany Mallory contributes 14 points, and knocks down four 3-pt field goals, while Natalie Achonwa scores 16 on 6-of-8 shooting from the field.

It's Notre Dame's 20th victory in a row, and eighth straight by at least 15 points. It's also their 20th double-digit win of the season and eighth over a ranked opponent. The Irish will travel to Syracuse for a game on Monday night, before returning to Purcell Pavilion next Sunday at 3:30 pm ET against West Virginia.

2:43 pm, Irish 89-65, 2:09 2nd half: Achonwa hits both free throws and comes down with a rebound on the other end. After a DePaul layup, Markisha Wright puts back an Achonwa miss and the fans cheer for the Big Mac basket!

2:40 pm, Irish 85-63, 3:01 2nd half: McBride hits a mid-range jumper from the corner, and Achonwa gets a block on the next possession. Brittany Hrykno makes a jumper from the paint, and fouls Achonwa on Notre Dame's possession, as we go to the final media timeout of the game.

2:36 pm, Irish 83-61, 5:06 2nd half: After the crowd goes quiet, Novosel hits a fadeaway jumper and the Irish get a steal. Novosel goes up for the layup, but gets fouled. She hits both free throws to push the lead back to 26. DePaul's Kelsey Reynolds hits a short jumper on the next Blue Demons possession. The crowd is getting a little restless, as DePaul has outscored Notre Dame 30-27 in the half. Coach McGraw calls a timeout after a layup from Harry. With so many dominating home victories, a lot of these fans aren't used to seeing Notre Dame struggle. Still, the Irish are on their way to their 23rd victory of the year.

2:29 pm, Irish 79-55, 7:56 2nd half: Achonwa continues to have a great afternoon, hitting a short jumper, but DePaul uses a 13-2 run to cut the lead to 24. Peters responds with a layup, before Jasmine Penny hits a jumper for the Blue Demons. A bit of a sloppy second half for Notre Dame so far, but the Irish are clearly in control today, with a 79-55 lead at the under-8 media timeout. The Band of the Fighting Irish blasts Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" during the break.

2:21 pm, Irish 75-45, 11:59 2nd half: Turner hits another three for Notre Dame. After consecutive turnovers by Notre Dame, DePaul's Anna Martin gets a fast break layup three-point play. A couple of sloppy possessions for the Irish, but the lead is still 30 points.

2:14 pm, Irish 72-38, 15:04 2nd half: McBride hits a short jumper from the paint, Novosel gets a steal, Peters puts back her own rebound, gets fouled and converts the three-point play, and the Irish lead climbs to 36 points. DePaul responds with a short jumper from Harry. Markisha Wright gets a steal on the next possession, but Notre Dame throws it away, and that takes us to our first media timeout of the half.

2:07 pm, Irish 65-33, 17:53 2nd half: Wow. Mallory drains threes on back-to-back possessions and the Irish lead is 32. The fifth-year guard has 14 points and is a perfect 4-for-4 from long range. DePaul calls a timeout.

2:04 pm, Irish 58-31, 18:42 2nd half: Diggins drives to the hoop and makes a nice layup for the first bucket of the half.

1:51 pm: Great first half offensively for Notre Dame. The Irish shot 71.9% from the field, including 6-for-7 from 3-point range. The Natalies are the stars of the game so far. Senior Natalie Novosel has 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting and sophomore Natalie Achonwa is 5-for-5 with 12 points. The Irish have made 23 field goals, and have gotten assists on 18 of those scores (Diggins leads with 8).

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Bowling Green

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The Irish icers finish their weekend twindip with Bowling Green tonight at 7:05 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. Marquette

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on #15 Marquette at 1:00 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Live Chat - Hockey vs. Bowling Green

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Notre Dame returns to the Compton Family Ice Arena for a two-game set this weekend against Bowling Green. Tonight's action begins at 7:05 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

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This weekend at the Loftus Sports Center, the Notre Dame track & field team will host the 25th annual Meyo Invitational. The Meyo Invitational is known around the country as one of the premier track meets of the indoor season, and this year is no exception.

The meet kicks off today with the long jump at 4 pm, before the 60m hurdlers hit the track at 5 pm. Other highlights from tonight's competition include the 5,000m, distance medley relay, men's pole vault and women's high jump.

The action resumes at 10 am on Saturday morning, beginning with the 3,000m run. The women's triple jump is the first field event for Day 2, and it is scheduled to begin at 11 am.

There will be countless exciting races throughout the weekend, but the meet's biggest draws are a pair of distance events on Saturday afternoon - the Meyo Mile and the Ryan Shay men's 3,000m run.

If you can only make it to a couple of events, these are the two to watch, as each attracts some of the nation's best collegiate distance runners. Head on over to Loftus right after the conclusion of the men's basketball game against Marquette to catch the mile at 3 pm, and stick around for the 3,000m at 4:25 pm.

Three Notre Dame runners - J.P. Malette, Jeremy Rae and Jordan Carlson - highlight the field in the men's Meyo event, which also includes competitors from Arkansas, Iowa, Windsor (ON), Butler, Tulsa, Michigan State and Kent State.

The women's race features Notre Dame's Alexa Aragon and Kelly Curran, as well as 13 other runners from schools across the Midwest.

The four-minute mile was once thought to be an unattainable mark, until 1954, when England's Roger Bannister became the first to break the barrier. While the sub-four minute mile is not held on the same pedestal that it once was, it is nevertheless, an outstanding accomplishment for any runner and for running fans, there are few things more exciting than seeing a sub-four mile in person.

If past history is any indication, don't be surprised to see one or more runners achieve this feat on Saturday.

One of the most memorable races in recent history came in 2003, when Notre Dame's Luke Watson won the Meyo Mile in a school-record time of 3:57.83. Watson's victory highlighted an event in which the top five runners all finished under four minutes.

Two years later, four runners broke the four-minute mark, including two Notre Dame athletes, sophomore Kurt Benninger, and Watson, running as an unattached competitor.

At last year's meet, Rae, then a sophomore, won the Meyo Mile in 3:59.62. Michigan's Kevin Sullivan holds the meet record, an impressive 3:55.90 mark set in 1995.

Ten years after Sullivan's record-breaking performance, Lindsey Gallo, also a Michigan Wolverine, ran a 4:37.97 in the women's Meyo Mile.

The other main event is named in honor of 2001 Notre Dame graduate Ryan Shay, who tragically passed away in 2007 following a massive heart attack while running the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in New York City.

Shay is the most decorated athlete in Notre Dame track & field history. In addition to his 2001 NCAA title in the 10,000m, Shay was a nine-time All-American and nine-time BIG EAST champion.

Last year, Terefe Ejigu of Eastern Michigan won the 3,000m race (equivalent to 1.86 miles) in 8:08.58. The junior will look to defend his title on Saturday at 4:25 pm against 24 other runners, including Notre Dame's Joe Miller and Kelly Lynch.

Of course, there will be no shortage of excitement in the various sprint events either, and those events may be even more compelling if you are also a Notre Dame football fan.

After competing in last weekend's Indiana Relays, sophomore Bennett Jackson and freshmen Josh Atkinson and George Atkinson III will each make their first home appearance on the track squad. Jackson will run in heat 6 of the 60m hurdles, which begin at approximately 5:25 pm this evening.

All three will compete in the 60m dash at 6:10 pm today. Josh Atkinson is set for heat 1, while his brother George will be in heat 3. Jackson is scheduled for heat 6.

The Atkinson brothers will also hit the track tomorrow at 2:05 pm for the 200m dash. Look for Josh in section 6 and George in section 8.

To fans of traditional team sports, track & field might not seem like the most exciting spectator activity. However, the Meyo Invitational attracts some of the sport's best talent from around the country, and I can promise you that if you are in the South Bend area this weekend, the trip to Loftus Center will be well worth it.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Memorable Against Marquette

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Buzzer Beater 3's Never Get Old

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Yahoo.com - When Notre Dame upset top-ranked Syracuse earlier this month, coach Mike Brey admits he still wasn't certain the Irish had enough firepower to overcome the season-ending injury star Tim Abromaitis suffered in late November.

Only after Notre Dame followed that performance up by winning at then-surging Seton Hall was Brey truly impressed.

"I told our guys before that game, 'A normal team would lose on Wednesday and everyone would give you a free pass,'" Brey said. "I said, 'If you're starting to show signs of maybe being special, that's one you get. Because you're not supposed to get that one.' I was really proud of them afterward. They really delivered there."

Notre Dame continued to make its coach proud on Sunday, winning 50-48 at Connecticut to improve to 6-3 in the Big East. That's quite an accomplishment for a team left for dead entering conference play after suffering non-league losses to Georgia, Maryland and Indiana among others.

Thanks to a stingy defense, a slow-paced but efficient offense and the development of first-time starters Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley, Notre Dame has emerged as the Big East's most pleasant surprise and a legitmate NCAA tournament hopeful. I spoke with Brey on Monday about how he explains his team's improvement, what role Abromaitis has played in the surge and whether he thinks this is his best coaching job.

Considering how the team struggled after Abromaitis got hurt, are even you a little surprised to be 6-3 in the Big East?

MB: If you would have told me we'd eventually be 6-3 in the league in the locker room after the Gonzaga game (a 73-53 loss), I'd have fallen off the stool into the shower, believe me. I really got on the guys that day about their mental and physical toughness and told them, 'If Ben Hansbrough was in this locker room, he'd strangle all of you.' But it's what's so neat about our sport. It's a long season and teams have a chance to get better.

When did you start to see signs of improvement from this group?

MB: For us, once we got to exam week in mid-December, we had obviously digested we don't have Abro. We also had a lot of other guys miss games for sickness, illness, or they were nicked up, but by then we finally had a nucleus that could practice together, play together and get reps. Even though we didn't play great against Indiana in the game coming off exams, we looked more like we'd been together a little bit. I think it's a great example of a group getting to play together and younger guys getting repititons, you get better. And then when you can get a few wins against Pittsburgh and Louisville, we started feeling like we had a shot.

Your recent surge reminds me a bit of how well your team played two years ago after it lost Luke Harangody to injury. Do you see similarities there too?

MB: This current group could really relate to that since many of them were on the team. So I used that one right away two days after Abromaitis. I told them, 'We are so far off the radar because we've had our butts kicked and we don't have Abro. We are done in everybody's mind.' I said, 'That's a great climate to develop in because we have nothing to lose.' I want them to continue to play that way even though we've put some things in the bank right now.

You guys have won by slowing down the tempo, scoring at the end of the shot clock and relying on your defense. Would you have done that no matter what this season, or did your plans change when Abromaitis went down?

MB: We were going to play quicker. We did last year, obviously, except at Pittsburgh when we used the "burn" the whole game. Last year's team could score and we just attacked all the time. We felt the same way with Abro, but like when 'Gody went down, which is when we first started using "burning" as our offensive philosophy, we thought for us to survive, we really have to control the tempo, not have as many possessions and become a good half-court team. What's really helped us is like two years ago when we had Ben (Hansbrough) and Tory Jackson who could come off a ball screen and make a play at the end of the shot clock, we have (Eric) Atkins and (Jerian) Grant who can do the same thing.

Did having a pair of guards who can create off the dribble like that make you more confident you could succeed slowing down the tempo?

MB: Yes. We haven't had a pair of guards like this in the history of our program. The speed and quickness and ability to defend and get their hands on the ball. I was so excited when we got them. I didn't know we'd be turning the keys of the car over to them this soon. With Abro down, we turned it over to them at times before Christmas, but I did feel like two years ago we had two guys who could make plays at the end of the clock. So I felt confident we could run that clock down and we've gotten very confident in making plays with single digits on the clock. Our guys really believe in it and they've gotten very good at it.

It seems like the development of Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley has been a huge key to your success this season. Did you expect them to improve like this?

MB: I really expected them to step forward because they came off the bench on a great team last year. They were a big part of 27 wins. I think Eric has found how to score and run the team. He's really got a feel for the balance of that. That was a work in progress in November and December. Jack was a role guy off the bench and did a great job the last two years, but I thought we could get more out of him starting. He's very underrated because he doesn't look smooth when he moves. His feet and hands around the basket are excellent and I don't think there's another player in the country who can put a chest on another physical post player the way he does. He has gotten very confident. At times he can't believe what he's doing, and I want him never to come down to earth.

Has Tim been able to take a leadership role with this team even while he's not playing?

MB: Very much a leadership role. He has been big brother to a lot of young guys. He knows how to talk to a Pat Connaughton and a Alex Dragicevich who are playing his position. He knows when to grab Eric Atkins. There's things I don't even know he's done. And I check in with him every day in practice. He comes in from his rehab while the guys are getting loose and warming up, and I'll sit down with him and get a state of the union. We had a tough practice the other day and I came up to him and said, 'Anybody quit?' He was like, 'Nope, coach, they're all good.' So I said, 'OK, keep me posted.' So he's been great. I know it's tough on him, but he never shows any woe-is-me. He's just enjoying the run as best he can.

Where is Tim in his process of deciding whether to apply for a sixth year at Notre Dame next season?

MB: I think in the next couple weeks, we need to talk about that. We put the paperwork in for Scott Martin to apply for a sixth year back in November, and that's running its course. We hope to have an answer before the end of the season. Tim's is a separate case. What I told him was, 'You need to get through your surgery, get into your rehab and let the smoke clear a little bit.' If he wants to come back, we certainly want to put in the paperwork for that and see how that goes. But I think it has to be his decision. He's been here five years and he has two degrees. Maybe we put him in law school.

I know every coach has a different philosophy on this. Do you allow yourself to try to figure out how many wins you'll need to feel secure about making the NCAA tournament?

MB: I do. I've been in this league long enough that I try to figure out what would 9-9 do if it's the right 9-9? Right now, we've got a lot of right ones in that left column. I think 9-9 would certainly have us in the discussion, especially if you look at the strength of our repeat opponents. We have Connecticut twice, West Virginia twice and Rutgers twice. But my feeling is if we win 10 league games, I think we're a very strong candidate.

It's probably hard to self-evaluate, but do you think this is one of your better coaching jobs since coming to Notre Dame?

MB: I'm having a lot of fun. One of the things I mentioned to our team when we came back from Louisville was we have the assistant coaches in the country. I really believe the rhythm that our staff has been in the last two seasons, I am so pleased with. We really have great teachers and this is a team that needs teaching. We said that especially when Abro went down. It's what I like to do, it's how I've been trained. So I'm enjoying the journey. I'm not fighting for my job. I'm just enjoying the challenge and journey with this group, and that probably helps me be a more confident teacher.

Better be careful, or your going to lose an assistant coach talking like that.

MB: All three of them are ready to be head coaches, and I wouldn't be shocked if I lose one or two to a head coaching job this spring. I'm already thinking, 'How do I replace them?'

Hockey Lays Groundwork for Future

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ESPN.com - Jack Swarbrick remembers camping outside the Joyce Center with three of his college buddies his sophomore year of college, hoping to nab top-row, center-ice season tickets for 1973-74 Notre Dame hockey season.

In the middle of the night, Swarbrick recalled, a car pulled up, its headlights temporarily blinding him. Legendary Fighting Irish football coach Ara Parseghian stepped out of the vehicle, wondering what the students were up to.

Told they were waiting in line for hockey tickets, a confused Parseghian stopped and reminded Swarbrick and his gang that they could just show up in the morning to purchase tickets.

"But it was a great atmosphere," Swarbrick, now Notre Dame's athletic director, said with a smile nearly 40 years later. "Even then [it] had a real community feel to it. So it was a little different from the campus events, and just a real fun environment."

Swarbrick told the story from O'Brien's, a 250-seat premium club area overlooking the main rink of the two-sheet, $50 million Compton Family Ice Arena, which opened this past October after 19 months of construction. The Irish were in the middle of a 3-1 win over Central Collegiate Hockey Association rival Michigan before a "White Out" crowd of 5,022, the building's fifth sellout in its first 10 games.

It's part of Notre Dame's ambitious plan to improve its facilities and increase its national profile. The timing can be seen as either fortuitous or an example of incredible foresight. The Irish are in the midst of their best run of seasons in school history and are coming off a Frozen Four appearance, their second in the last four seasons. All five of their NCAA tournament appearances have come in the last eight seasons.

Those not in attendance that night for the Michigan game could have watched the contest live on NBC Sports Network, which airs 16 college hockey games this year and will televise Irish home games beginning in the 2013-14 season. That's when the program will leave the CCHA for Hockey East, bringing along a television deal that will give it, as Swarbrick said during the October announcement, "unprecedented level of national exposure."

The realignment dominoes that began to fall throughout college hockey following the creation of a Big Ten hockey conference -- made possible by the September 2010 announcement that Penn State would start a Division I program -- rendered the CCHA on the verge of extinction, leaving Notre Dame with a choice of joining the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference or Hockey East, a New England-based conference that is the home of seven national title winners since 1993.

"We all talked about expanding the footprint of Hockey East and taking it from a regional to a national-level conference," said Boston University athletic director Mike Lynch, one of four people on the committee that considered Notre Dame for admission into Hockey East. "We've had our share of national titles here, but it was still clear that Hockey East was a regional affiliation. And I think bringing Notre Dame into the mix creates more of a national profile for everyone in the league."

Kelly Chats With ESPN & CBS On Signing Day

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"It's a 40-year decision."

Signing Day: By The Numbers

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With 13 national letters of intent signed today, as well as three early enrollees and one USC transfer arriving in South Bend last month, the Notre Dame football team has added 17 student-athletes for the 2012 season.

These include: DB Nick Baratti, WR Chris Brown, LS Scott Daly, DL Sheldon Day, WR Justin Ferguson, OL Mark Harrell, DL Jarron Jones, QB Gunner Kiel, RB Will Mahone, LB Romeo Okwara, DB C.J. Prosise, RB KeiVarae Russell, DB Tee Shepard, DB Elijah Shumate, OL Ronnie Stanley, DB John Turner and transfer RB Amir Carlisle.

In total, there are eight defensive players (five defensive backs, two defensive linemen and one linebacker), eight offensive players (three running backs, two wide receivers, two offensive linemen and one quarterback) and one specialist (long snapper).

Looking at the bios from UND.com's Signing Day Central, here's a "by the numbers" look at the Class of 2012 (including Carlisle). Keep in mind that many of these bios focus on a student-athlete's junior and senior seasons, and may not include every statistic from their high school careers.

Receptions: 280
Receiving Yards: 4,662
Receiving TDs: 68
Rushing Yards: 13,356
Rushing TDs: 180
Passing Yards: 9,320
Passing TDs: 67
Kick Return TDs: 14
Punt Return TDs: 1
Defensive Interceptions: 43
INT TDs: 5
Forced Fumbles: 9
Fumble Recoveries: 10
Fumble TDs: 4
Tackles: 732
Tackles for Loss: 58
Sacks: 52
QB Pressures: 18
Pass Breakups: 32
Blocked FGs: 4
Basketball players: 4
Track athletes: 5
Tae Kwon Do Black Belts: 1

Most of these future Notre Dame student-athletes will arrive on campus in June, but you can get your first glimpse of Kiel, Day, Shepard and Carlisle on April 21 in the team's annual Blue-Gold Game.

There are only 79 days until the spring game, and 212 until the real fun begins in Dublin, Ireland. Get excited...

- Josh Flynt ('11)

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