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Natalie Novosel Fights To The Top

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This afternoon, Notre Dame senior Natalie Novosel and graduate student Devereaux Peters are at the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. for the 2012 WNBA Draft. Their Fighting Irish playing days are over, but the all-BIG EAST first team selections were each top-10 draft picks, with Peters being selected third by the Minnesota Lynx and Novosel going eighth to the Washington Mystics.

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Novosel was recently featured in an article by Andrew Lovell on ESPNW.com. Here's an excerpt from the nice story:

Natalie Novosel collected the loose ball at the top of the key, drove past the taller defender in front of her and set her sights on the basket.

It wouldn't be that easy. Another taller player stepped up, met Novosel in the air and challenged the layup. "Foul," Novosel said. "All ball," the defender shot back. In a move born of frustration, Novosel picked up the ball and fired it at the player's head.

You see, Novosel doesn't hate losing. She despises it. It's a trait her family realized early in her basketball career.

The perimeter defender? That was older sister Shannon, who stands 6-foot-1. The interior defender? That was 6-foot-5 twin brother Nate. And the above scenario -- with and without the hurling of the basketball -- played out thousands of times in the Novosels' backyard in Lexington, Ky.

Visit ESPNW.com to read the whole article, and get ready to cheer on the former Irish stars when the WNBA season starts in mid-May.

Inside Leprechaun Tryouts

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It's only mid-April, but on Friday evening, the Notre Dame cheerleading squad hosted a football pep rally in The Pit at the Joyce Center. Actually, there were several mini rallies as seven Notre Dame students tried out to be the shillelagh-holding, green-clad face of the Fighting Irish.

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Hundreds of students (and even a few Notre Dame Coaches Clinic participants) came out to the basketball practice facility in support of their friends and classmates trying out to be the next Notre Dame leprechaun.

Events like this that remind you of the passionate spirit of the Notre Dame student body. Homemade t-shirts, thunderstix, but mostly good, old-fashioned cheering made for a great atmosphere, and had everyone thinking about football season (which by the way, is 137 days away).

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The tryouts began with each of the seven leprechaun hopefuls leading the crowd through a mock pep rally for the Purdue game, the first home football contest on the 2012 schedule (Sept. 8, 3:30 pm ET, Notre Dame Stadium - mark your calendar).

Outgoing senior, or perhaps leprechaun emeritus Mike George emceed the event, putting the competitors on the spot and asking them to 'introduce' famous Notre Dame personalities as guest speakers - everyone from two-time Super Bowl champion Justin Tuck ('05) to women's basketball head coach Muffet McGraw.

George also presented each of the leprechauns with a scenario - the band has finished playing, the fans are waiting, the team has yet to arrive and the pep rally is broadcast nationally on NBC. How are you going to keep everyone entertained?

Afterwards, WNDU sports reporter Angelo Di Carlo grilled each student in a mock live interview, asking if the Irish can return to football dominance and why he or she should be selected as the 2012-13 leprechaun.

The Fighting Irish expect to light up the scoreboard this fall, so of course, the tryouts concluded with a push-up contest.

After the team of judges deliberated for a couple hours on Friday evening, junior Bryce Burton was selected as the new Gold Squad leprechaun for football and men's basketball. Burton was the Blue Squad leprechaun this past year, cheering for soccer and women's hoops.

Sophomore Johnny Romano will take Burton's place on the Blue Squad and junior Louis Ganser will cheer for the new Green Squad.

All in all, a great evening at The Pit, and a nice promotion for the leprechaun who helped cheer Coach McGraw's squad all the way to the national championship game in Denver. Check out an interview with Burton on WNDU.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

The Bald & The Beautiful

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Irish Strike Out Cancer (and Syracuse)

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It was all Orange this afternoon at Melissa Cook Stadium. And that's not to say Syracuse got a big victory. In fact, it was Notre Dame that emerged with a 4-3 win in the first game of a BIG EAST conference doubleheader.

Orange was the color of the afternoon because Syracuse was decked out in it from head to toe, but also because the Fighting Irish uniforms were accented with orange for leukemia awareness.

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Notre Dame held its second annual Strike Out Cancer event to help raise money for the South Bend Memorial Hospital Pediatric Hematology / Oncology Program.

Pediatric leukemia is a disease that has closely affected Irish softball, as head coach Deanna Gumpf's daughter, Tatum, was diagnosed in 2010. Now six years old, Tatum is on her way to a full recovery.

Among the activities at this afternoon's event were balloon animals, facepainting, and a silent auction.

2012-04-14_13-33-39_139.jpg Some of the items being auctioned off include two pre-game sideline passes and game tickets for Notre Dame football game against Michigan, replica commemorative Strike Out Cancer jerseys and game-worn commemorative helmets and gloves.

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After trailing for much of the game, the Fighting Irish tied the score in the bottom of the sixth on a solo home run from Katey Haus, before walking off with a win in the seventh when Kelsey Thornton scored from third on a wild pitch.

Notre Dame and Syracuse return to the field in a few minutes for the second game of the afternoon.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
Picture this: a 22-year old Springfield College graduate sells his Jeep, buys a motorcycle, straps a few possessions to the back of it and rides more than 1,600 miles from Massachusetts to Texas, in search of a coaching position.

Bob Wager's life sounds like a plot line from Friday Night Lights, and that's because twenty years ago, H.G Bissinger's book inspired him to make a life-changing journey to the mecca of high school football.

The Arlington Martin High School head coach spoke at the Notre Dame Coaches Clinic on Saturday morning, focusing on 'Winning the Turnover Battle.' Beyond the X's and O's and strategy of football, Wager's career is a very captivating story - from junior high coach, all the way up the ranks of Texas football from 1-A through 5-A.

Like those who presented before him, Coach Wager could not say enough about the impact his coaches had on his development as a person and football player.

Having lost his father at a young age, Wager specifically mentioned his high school head coach Barry Clawson, a mentor whom he keeps in touch with to this day. (Interestingly for me, Wager originally hails from Johnstown, N.Y., about 40 miles from my hometown and one of the high schools we used to compete against before changing conferences).

Coach Wager also described how honored he was to speak at Notre Dame and how blessed he felt to be able to make the trip with four of his assistant coaches - Clifton Odom, Casey Thompson, Tim Mays and Ronnie Jones.

Though he's not Coach Eric Taylor, watching his presentation featuring clips from drills and practices, turf fields and high school stadiums, it felt like Matt Saracen or Tim Riggins might appear at any moment.

For more on Wager's story, check out Corbett Smith's article from The Dallas Morning News.

The 2012 Notre Dame Coaches Clinic comes to an end later today with the football team's twelfth practice of the spring. To see photos and more on this year's clinic, check out the Coaches Clinic Facebook page.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Chuck In the Armor - 4.13.12

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On Super Bowl Sunday, Clint Eastwood declared "it's halftime in America," a rallying speech intended to get the public fired up about buying cars in Detroit.

It's just a little bit past halftime in the Notre Dame baseball season, and the Irish need something to get them fired up right now.  They've lost five in a row, seven of their last eight, and it seems nothing is going right.

I'm here to tell you that can all change this weekend. This isn't Pollyanna speak.  I don't wear  rose-colored glasses as I write this.  

The main thing Notre Dame is missing right now is confidence.

You can see it in every move they don't make, every step they don't take. Confident teams don't hesitate going after balls in the outfield. Confident teams don't hesitate running the bases.  Confident teams shrug off mistakes, rather than dwelling on them.

This is not a confident bunch right now.  The weekend sweep at Seton Hall left deep marks on the psyche of this team, and they are still thinking about things that happened a week ago.

They need to think about what happened a month ago.

They need to think back to that Sunday night at Alex Box Stadium when 10,000 people thought they were showing up for an Irish wake, and instead watched Notre Dame not just beat LSU, but whip them 7-1.  They need to remember they made errors in that game and bounced back with double plays. They need to remember they had enough speed to pressure a top 10 team into making mistakes on bunts.  They need to remember that when everyone expected them to fail, they delivered clutch two-out hits.

What has changed about that team? Injuries and illness to Trey Mancini and Charlie Markson? They're coming back.  No, the difference is this squad between then and now is only the pressure they put on themselves. That Notre Dame team took the field relaxed with no pretense.  Now it looks as though every at-bat, every pitch and every ground ball carries the weight of the world with it.

To a certain extent, the Irish need to adopt the Rhett Butler approach and frankly, not give a blank.  That's not playing with apathy... it's just not playing with pressure. It's playing loose, letting it rip, and if you make a mistake, forget about it and move on to the next pitch.

The last place team in the BIG EAST, the Cincinnati Bearcats, are coming to town.  They've lost seven one-run games and a pair of two-run games, so they've had their hearts not only broken, but picked apart like Play-Doh. Their marquee win came over Pittsburgh, the next-to-last team in the conference. Brian Cleary's 11-21 squad is having a tough season, and they're not going to play with any pressure on them.  

The Irish need to respond in kind. 

t's much too early to say this season is "Gone with the Wind." It's only halftime in South Bend.  Confidence can be built anew just like an American car, and the Irish can start rolling on the winning track again.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

2012 Coaches Clinic: The A-Team

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Earlier this morning, head coach Brian Kelly spoke with more than 630 guests for the 2012 Notre Dame Football Coaches Clinic at the Purcell Pavilion.

Coach Kelly addressed visitors from New York, California, Canada and everywhere in between. I had a chance to catch the last few minutes of Coach Kelly's presentation, where he talked specifically about the program's 'A-Team' philosophy.

To understand a bit more about 'The A-Team,' the Isban Auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex underwent a bit of a facelift during spring break. The minor renovation added several signs to the Gug, making it recognizable to all visitors that they have arrived at the home of Notre Dame football. Three of these signs focus on 'The A-Team,' a set of principles the Irish are focused on as they prepare for the 2012 season - accountability, appreciation and achievement.

536298_393613444001541_155703994459155_1440608_1435666757_n.jpg The first 'A' that Coach Kelly talked about was accountability. More specifically, peer accountability, players holding one another to high standards, and having the courage to tell teammates when they have failed to live up to those expectations. From on-field attitude, to work ethic in the classroom to character in the community, Coach Kelly and his staff expect a lot from their players, as they rightfully should at the University of Notre Dame. From top to bottom, senior captain to freshman walk-on, every member of the Irish football program is held accountable to these expectations.

531806_393613507334868_155703994459155_1440610_1831287763_n.jpg Coach Kelly also addressed appreciation, saying he did not want to sound as if he were giving a sermon, but that he expects his players to recognize all that they have here at Notre Dame. They have the God-given talent to play Division I football, the ability to earn a college education, and a chance to represent their university, community, family and friends. Players have to 'come to work everyday' with this in mind, never to lose sight of their opportunities.

530791_393617040667848_155703994459155_1440616_948723340_n.jpg The Irish head coach finished the 'A-Team' portion of his presentation by talking about achievement. The Notre Dame football program seeks to go 'beyond the call of duty,' striving for excellence in everything and every way. Coach Kelly stressed that both the head and the heart have to be committed to the team and doing everything necessary to succeed.

Coach Kelly also compared 'building a team' to 'building a program.' When you're building a team he said, you go out to get the best players you can find, and you will have a few great seasons. But when you're building a program and seeking to achieve sustained success, recruiting players has to be about much more than their rankings and football accolades. You have to determine if the student-athlete understands where he is going, if he's trustworthy, if he's committed to the challenge and if he exemplifies the character traits you want represented in your players.

Finally, Kelly said he and his assistant coaches "lay their cards on the table" when talking to recruits, explaining to them and their families what Notre Dame is all about. At the end, it often boils down to how a player answers the question - Can you picture yourself here at Notre Dame? Student-athletes and their families have to decide: Is Notre Dame the right fit? It's perfect for some. It's not for others. That's the way it works, at just about every college.

The 2012 Notre Dame Coaches Clinic continues throughout the day and into tomorrow at the Purcell Pavilion. Participants have a chance to hear presentations from all the Irish assistant coaches, as well as several featured guests, including Greg McMahon, the special teams coach for the New Orleans Saints, and Tim Murphy, head coach of the Harvard Crimson.

For more on this year's coaches clinic, check out the Notre Dame Football Camps Facebook page.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Strike Out Cancer

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This Saturday, April 14, the Notre Dame softball team is hosting its Second Annual Strike Out Cancer for Pediatric Leukemia event. The Fighting Irish host Syracuse for a BIG EAST conference doubleheader beginning at noon ET at Melissa Cook Stadium, but there will also be various events throughout the day.

A pre-game ceremony will honor Memorial Children's Hospital patients battling cancer. During the games, a silent auction will be held with items including 2 pre-game sideline passes and game tickets for the Notre Dame vs. Michigan football game on September 22nd. Other items include replica commemorative Strike Out Cancer jerseys (the Irish uniforms will feature orange, the 'color' associated with leukemia awareness), game worn commemorative helmets and gloves.

There will be balloon animals, face-painting and a dunk tank during the game, and after game one, a 'Chuck-a-duck' competition in the pitcher's circle. After the doubleheader, any fans in attendance can register for the on-field home run derby, with the winner receiving a flat screen television.

All proceeds benefit Memorial Children's Hospital Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Pediatric leukemia is a disease the Notre Dame softball team holds close to its heart. The Strike Out Cancer event was started last year in honor of Tatum Gumpf, head coach Deanna Gumpf's daugther who is battling cancer. Coach Gumpf's story was recently featured in the athletic department's 'Strong of Heart' book, which is available online and at the Hammes Bookstore.

For more information visit, UND.com. Come out on Saturday to support the cause, and the Irish, as they seek to improve upon their 4-1 BIG EAST start and 7-0 record at home.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Western Michigan

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Notre Dame returns to the Frank Eck Stadium diamond this evening, in a non-conference matchup against Western Michigan.

UND.com will stream the game live at 5:35 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. 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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Event Calendar

September 4
7:30 PM
vs USF
Notre Dame, Ind. (Alumni Stadium)

WatchND
September 4
4:00 PM
at Western Michigan
Kalamazoo, Mich. (WMU Soccer Complex)
September 4
4:00 PM
at Crusader Invitational
Valparaiso, Ind. (Sunset Hill Farm County Park)
September 4
7:00 PM
at Seton Hall
South Orange, N.J.

Live Video
September 5
7:30 PM
vs Texas
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
September 5
12:00 PM
vs Temple
South Orange, N.J.
September 5
5:30 PM
vs Hofstra
South Orange, N.J.
September 6
2:00 PM
vs UAB
Notre Dame, Ind. (Alumni Stadium)

ESPN3
September 6
12:00 PM
at Michigan State
East Lansing, Mich. (DeMartin Soccer Complex)

St. Joseph Health System Medifast Delta Canon Visit South Bend Mishawaka