2. Speaking of senior classes, the current men's basketball group (Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, Luke Zeller, Zach Hillesland) finished its four years with a gaudy 62-8 (.885) record in home games played at the Joyce Center. That included two unbeaten seasons - 18-0 in 2006-07 and 17-0 in 2007-08. Throw out BIG EAST games in those four years, and they were 35-1 (.972) in non-conference action at home - including four NIT wins, with the lone loss coming at the hands of Michigan way back on Dec. 3, 2005 (their freshman season).
3. If the coach of the Iowa State women's basketball team that played on ESPN last night in the NCAA Championships women's basketball regional final against Stanford looked familiar, there's a reason. That was Bill Fennelly, who spent a couple of years as an Irish women's hoops assistant, hired way back in July 1986 by former Irish head coach Mary DiStanislao and later serving on the first staff for current Irish head coach Muffet McGraw in 1987-88. He's now the dean of women's basketball coaches in the Big 12 Conference, after 15 seasons at Iowa State.
4. Why is life so tough in the BIG EAST Conference? If you believe the Hoop Scoop ratings in the April issue of Basketball Times, the BIG EAST has five of the top 12 men's basketball coaches in the country - Rick Pitino (#1), Jim Calhoun (#4), Bob Huggins (#10), Jim Boeheim (#11) and Jamie Dixon (#12). After that come Jay Wright (#22), John Thompson III (#25) and Mike Brey (#36). Irish assistants on the Hoop Scoop assistant rankings include Sean Kearney (#57) and Anthony Solomon (#78).
5. Saturday night he was competing for Notre Dame in the NCAA Hockey Championships. Less than 72 hours later, Christian Hanson is a Toronto Maple Leaf. Hanson has signed a two-year contract reportedly worth $787,000 as a base salary, plus an $87,500 signing bonus for each year. He is expected to practice with the Leafs Wednesday, and then suit up for games at Philadelphia on Friday and in Toronto Saturday against Montreal. He's expected to have a chance to play right away for the rebuilding Leafs.
6. Irish men's basketball players Luke Zeller and Tom Kopko were in the Times Square area after their team shootaround this afternoon - and whom did they run into on the street but Joe Paterno. The Penn State football coach recognized the logos on their jackets and the threesome ended up chatting on the street corner.
7. Watch ESPNU tomorrow night (Wednesday) for the McDonald's High School All-America Basketball Game from Miami where Irish freshman-to-be Skylar Diggins will be playing (she also won the three-point shooting contest at that event). Then, on Saturday, Diggins will be in St. Louis, site of the NCAA Women's Final Four, to play in the WBCA High School All-America Game (4:30 p.m. CDT). That one will be shown on a delayed basis at 5:00 p.m. EDT Sunday on ESPNU.
2. Leftover NFL personnel note from last week - former Irish safety Glenn Earl (from Naperville, Ill.) has signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears. Earl played three seasons with the Houston Texans, then missed '07 and '08 with a foot injury. The Bears' new secondary coach is Jon Hoke, who previously coached Earl as Houston's defensive back coach. Hoke in January replaced Steven Wilks on the Bear staff (and Wilks is a former Notre Dame assistant coach).
3. In case you missed it, Notre Dame has jumped to 12th place in the NACDA Cup all-sports standings. Already included are winter sports results for swimming, fencing and indoor track and field. Yet to come for Notre Dame will be points from NCAA appearances in women's basketball and hockey. The next update is due April 9.
4. One of six featured athletes or coaches this week (March 30 edition) in the Sports Illustrated "Faces in the Crowd" segment is incoming Irish women's basketball player Skylar Diggins. Wrote SI, "Skylar, a senior point guard at Washington High, was named Gatorade National Girls Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 29.0 points and leading the Panthers to a 26-1 record, including a runner-up finish in the state Class 4A tournament. The 5' 10" Skylar has signed with Notre Dame."
5. Even though Notre Dame's women's basketball squad had already been eliminated from the NCAA Championships, Irish coach Muffet McGraw directed her players to come to the Joyce Center last Tuesday night and watch the second-round Texas A&M-Minnesota game anyway. "I wanted them to remember that feeling so that we never put ourselves in that position again. That's going to be with me until next March. That's when we can avenge it. Until then, it's going to continue to haunt me," said McGraw in this morning's South Bend Tribune.
6. How familiar is Notre Dame's basketball team with New York and Madison Square Garden (current Irish seniors have played eight games there)? Said Irish point guard Tory Jackson in the Tribune, "We don't have to ask for directions. We know everything we've been there so much."
7. Birthday greetings to Irish football coach Charlie Weis.
8. Among guests at football practice today were 32 high-talent prospective students from Central and South America. They toured the Irish locker room and visited with Irish coach Charlie Weis at practice.
9. Look for a future cover story in Sporting News on Notre Dame football - and keep your eyes on espn.com for a Notre Dame football piece, and another on SI.com (the Sports Illustrated site).
The Irish practiced for an hour at 11:00 a.m. today before heading out for a 1:30 p.m. flight to the East Coast (on a 33-degree day in South Bend that featured blowing, wet snow flurries). The Notre Dame party had dinner at the ESPN Zone, right across Times Square from the NIT Marriott Marquis headquarters hotel.
On Monday, there's a midday media session for players and coaches of all four teams, then a mid-afternoon practice for the Irish.
Back to the NCAA Championships, few teams know the Final Four participants better than the Irish - who played four games against the quartet that will face off next weekend in Detroit (0-2 vs. Connecticut, 0-1 vs. both Villanova and North Carolina). Before Michigan State's victory today against Louisville, the Cardinals had put together the longest win streak in the country at 13 - with the other end of that streak being Notre Dame's 33-point win over Louisville back on Feb. 12.
2. Many of the Irish hockey players gathered around the lobby of the Grand Rapids Amway Grand Hotel later last night with family and friends, frustrated after a regional semifinal loss in which not much of anything went right for Notre Dame. But, it's a tribute to Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson and his players - particularly the current seniors - that the frustration level was so high. Not so long ago, the Irish would have been happy simply to be in the NCAA Championships - after all, the '09 berth marked only the fourth time in history (and third straight year - two of those as #1 seeds) Notre Dame has participated. However, Jackson and his teams in an amazingly short period of time, thanks to their successes the last three years, have raised the bar significantly beyond receiving an NCAA invitation. And that's a good thing for the future of hockey at Notre Dame.
2. Bemidji State may not have been mentioned in the same sentence with all the #1 NCAA hockey seeds, but the Beavers wasted no time Saturday night letting Notre Dame and everyone else know they meant business. They put up a goal in the first two minutes and from the opening faceoff displayed a physical slant to their game - adding a second tally at the 8:57 mark of the first period. It remained 2-0 through the end of the period, with the Irish outshooting Bemidji State 11-7 in the first 20 minutes. Then the Beavers made it 3-0 inside the seven-minute mark of the second period (though the PA announcer credited the exchange to Irish players with the same numbers). It may be unfair to call Grand Rapids' Van Andel Arena a "House of Horrors" - but the current crop of Irish players haven't seen many things go their way in their two visits here as a #1 seed ('07 and '09). The Irish trailed 3-0 after two, despite a 22-15 advantage in shots. Then 49 seconds into the third period, a short-handed marker made it 4-0. "House of Horrors," indeed. At 13:58, Notre Dame's Dan Kissel cut it to 4-1 then the Irish missed on a power-play opportunity that ended under the 11-minute juncture. An empty-netter extended the advantage to 5-1 at 3:27, sending Jordan Pearce back into the nets. The final was 5-1 (35-19 edge in shots for the Irish), leaving #1 overall seed Boston University as the lone #1 seed to survive the regional semifinals. It marked the first time all year the Irish lost a game by as many as four goals (two previous three-goal defeats). And that ended the campaign for the Irish who, until tonight, had had as successful a season as Notre Dame hockey had ever enjoyed.
Wander the concourses of Van Andel Arena and you'll find flyers for the 2010 Frozen Four that's headed to Detroit's Ford Field - with record-breaking attendance figures expected based on the size of the venue. Specifics are still being finalized, but NCAA officials will place the rink in the middle of the football field (similar to the 2009 NCAA Men's Final Four next week), meaning crowds of at least 60,000 are likely. The setup for basketball can accommodate as many as 78,000 fans. That's not unique in the state of Michigan, considering a Michigan-Michigan State outdoor hockey game at Spartan Stadium a few years back drew more than 74,000 spectators.
3. You wanted upsets? The first day of the NCAA Championships in hockey had way more than its share. Both the #1 seeds that played Friday lost - Michigan and Denver. One of the #2 seeds, Yale, also lost. And, the other #2 seed, Minnesota-Duluth, needed OT to advance. So, tonight's regional finals feature #4 Air Force vs. #3 Vermont in the East Regional (Bridgeport) and #2 Minnesota-Duluth vs. #4 Miami (Ohio) in the West Regional (Minneapolis). Number-one seed Boston University romped past Ohio State 8-3 tonight.
4. Sophomore Cole Johnson allowed just two earned runs in his first career complete game victory to lead the Irish past Pittsburgh, 5-4, in BIG EAST baseball action from Friday afternoon. He was the first opposing pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game at Trees Field since May 13, 2006.
Johnson kept the high-powered Pittsburgh attack grounded for much of the afternoon. The Panthers entered the contest hitting .321 as a team and averaging 8.5 runs per game. In fact, Pittsburgh was even more impressive over its first four home games, plating nearly 10 runs a game, but Johnson was in control from the opening pitch. The right-handed hurler, who improved to 3-0 on the season, scattered seven hits, issued just two walks and struck out four. Johnson became the first Notre Dame pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game since David Phelps went the distance against Villanova on May 23, 2007.
With Notre Dame holding a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Panthers took advantage of a pair of Irish errors, plated two unearned runs and had the tying run in scoring position, but Johnson escaped the jam with the Irish still clinging to a one run lead, 5-4, and proceeded to retire the final seven Panthers of the game.
5. Former Irish golfer Mark Baldwin came oh-so-close to making the cut in his first-ever Nationwide Tour event. Playing Thursday and Friday at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in Broussard, La., Baldwin opened with an impressive two-under par 69 (despite a weather-delayed round that was pushed into early Friday morning), and then birdied the first hole of his second round to get to three-under par. He followed with 12 consecutive pars before a bogey on No. 14 dropped him back to two-under, which turned out to be the cutline for the top 60 players plus ties. There he stayed until his final hole, when on No. 18, his errant drive cost him a penalty stroke and led to a double-bogey, dropping him two shots below the cutline.
Still, it was an impressive Nationwide Tour debut for the gregarious Baldwin, who carded an even-par 142 (69-73) during his two days in Louisiana, finishing ahead of several former PGA Tour players, including Brandt Jobe, Jim McGovern and Robert Damron, and tied with former PGA Tour player/current CBS-TV analyst Bobby Clampett.
A late note -- turns out things were even more agonizing for Baldwin. The second round of the Nationwide event was delayed by darkness, so some players didn't finish until this (Saturday) morning ... By the time the remaining players finished, the cutline dropped to one-under, meaning Mark missed by one stroke after his double bogey on the last!
6. Van Andel Arena, site of Notre Dame's '08 NCAA regional hockey appearance, seats 10,834 fans for hockey and arena football, with its primary tenants being the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins (an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings) and the Arena Football League's Grand Rapids Rampage.
In an interesting twist (and yet another example of the far-reaching Notre Dame family), Griffins general manager Bob McNamara is a 1983 Notre Dame graduate (bachelor's degree in economics) and was a goaltender for the Irish from 1979-83, appearing in 85 games and serving as the backup netminder for Notre Dame's 1982 CCHA runner-up squad.
McNamara subsequently signed with the NHL's Buffalo Sabres and played for the Sabres' AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. He later played for the Milwaukee Admirals and Peoria Rivermen of the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL) before beginning his front office career as assistant general manager with the Cleveland Lumberjacks. He assumed his current post in Grand Rapids in 1996 when the franchise was added to the IHL, earning the IHL General Manager of the Year honor for getting the expansion franchise off the ground. He has since guided the Griffins through the end of the IHL era and into their current membership in the AHL (and affiliation with the Red Wings). McNamara and the Griffins' front office staff left a warm welcome note for the Irish upon arriving in their locker room at Van Andel Arena on Saturday.
7. Notre Dame men's basketball scrimmaged for an hour in The Pit this afternoon and then conducted interviews for the final time before heading to NYC. The Irish had Thursday and Friday off.
2. Who's hot for Irish teams right now?
3. Former Irish assistant football coach Barry Alvarez (now athletics director at Wisconsin), in town to speak at the Notre Dame football coaches' clinic, stopped by the Notre Dame athletic administration offices today to say hello to some old friends.
2. How noteworthy was the Irish win over Kentucky? It ended an overall 10-game losing streak by the Irish against the Wildcats (last Irish win: 1990 at the Joyce Center in Rick Pitino's first season) - and it marked the first time Notre Dame ever has beaten Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville in the same year.
3. Mike Brey gave his Irish two days off. Practice resumes Saturday and the Irish fly to New York Sunday. There are press conferences at midday Monday at the Marriott Marquis for all four teams - and a joint dinner Monday night at The Boathouse in Central Park.
4. A busy weekend ahead for Notre Dame football, with 400 visitors slated to come in for the coaches' clinic. The three featured speakers all have local connections - Tommy Tuberville (former Auburn coach traveled with Charlie Weis on Far East military tour last summer), Barry Alvarez (Irish defensive coordinator on '88 Irish national title team) and Bill Doba (former Mishawaka High School coach). Weis and Tuberville were slated to have dinner tonight.
5. The new seven-team Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league opens this weekend, with former Irish standout Brittany Bock playing for the Los Angeles Sol against the Washington Freedom in the league's inaugural game Sunday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. (6 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel). In all, 10 former Irish players are listed on '09 WPS rosters, including all four draftees from the 2008 squad (Bock, Kerri Hanks, Carrie Dew and Elise Weber) that went 26-1 and reached the NCAA national championship game.
6. Following the NIT game last night, all first-time monogram winners from 2008 fall sports were honored in the Joyce Center Monogram Room. Beginning last spring, the Monogram Club now holds more formal receptions and ceremonies to announce and present its monogram awards.
7. The Irish have been to the NIT semifinals five previous times and only once ('68) lost in the semifinals. All four times Notre Dame advanced to the title game ('73, '84, '92 and '00) the Irish lost.
2.. The Notre Dame promotions and marketing staffers pulled out all the stops for the final basketball game in the current Joyce Center - the Notre Dame-Kentucky NIT contest tonight. They took out a full-page full-color ad in the South Bend Tribune today. They created a video web site at www.notredamevskentucky.com that was sent via e-mail to all season-ticket holders. Using the theme "Party Like It's 1968" in reference to the date the Joyce Center (then the ACC) opened, they blitzed season-ticket holders, University faculty and staff and students and athletic staff with e-mails from Mike Brey and Jack Swarbrick, inviting them to be part of the last game at the current version of the arena. The first 1,000 fans will receive blue t-shirts that read "JACC - The End of an Era - But the LEGEND Lives On - December 7, 1968-March 25, 2009."
3. Incoming Notre Dame women's basketball player (and South Bend native) Skylar Diggins is Indiana's Miss Basketball. She will be the third player on the 2009-10 Irish roster to hold that title in her home state - joining Lindsay Schrader in Illinois (2005) and Kellie Watson in Michigan (2008). She also is the first future Irish women's basketball player to earn Indiana's Miss Basketball designation since 1982, when Trena Keys earned the honor while attending Marion (Ind.) High School. Coincidentally, Keys is slated to be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on April 25 during ceremonies at the Primos Banquet Hall in Indianapolis (the Hall of Fame itself is located in New Castle).
2. Notre Dame softball coach Deanna Gumpf earned her 300th career victory last Sunday with the 5-4 win vs. St. John's (via two seventh-inning home runs).
3. Since the Notre Dame-Kentucky NIT game on Wednesday qualifies as the final Note Dame basketball game ever to be played in the current version of the Joyce Center, here are all the ranked teams the Irish men have beaten since the building opened (teams who have lost here on multiple occasions include UCLA 9 times, Marquette 5, Indiana 4, Connecticut 3, Kansas 2, Pittsburgh 2, Syracuse 2, Boston College 2, St. John's 2, Missouri 2, DePaul 2, Maryland 2, San Francisco 2):
Victories by Notre Dame Men Over Ranked Opponents at the Joyce Center
Included in those 49 wins are victories over six #1s (twice UCLA and once each San Francisco, North Carolina, Marquette and DePaul), four #2s, one #3, four #4s, four #5s, three #6s, two #7s, two #8s, three #9s, one #10, one #11, one #12, one #13, one #14, two #15s, five #16s, two #19s, one #20, two #21s, one #22, one #23 and one #25. Rankings are based on either AP or the coaches' poll, whichever rank was higher. The overall Irish record in the Joyce Center versus ranked opponents is 49-68 (two wins for Johnny Dee, 26 for Digger Phelps, six for John MacLeod, two for Matt Doherty, 13 for Mike Brey). Anyone out there present in the Joyce Center for all 49 wins?
4. After Kentucky's win at Creighton, the Notre Dame ticket office sold more than 600 tickets online Monday night for the Notre Dame-Kentucky Wednesday NIT game. And the Notre Dame athletics department, coach Mike Brey, along with ABRO Industries and Tim Demarais, have combined to ensure that all Notre Dame/Saint Mary's/Holy Cross students will be admitted free to the game.
5. Former Notre Dame men's golf standout Mark Baldwin fired a six-under par 66 to earn medalist honors at one of two Monday afternoon qualifiers for the Nationwide Tour's Chitimacha Louisiana Open, which tees off Thursday at the Le Triomphe Golf and Country Club in Broussard, La. The Laconia, N.H., native will be making his first appearance on the Nationwide Tour, the developmental circuit for the PGA Tour.
Baldwin was a three-time all-BIG EAST Conference selection during his four seasons at Notre Dame (2002-03 to 2005-06), becoming one of only three players in Irish history to earn three all-conference citations (along with Cole Isban and Chris Dayton, the latter doing so in the old Midwestern Collegiate Conference). In addition, Baldwin was the 2005 BIG EAST Championship medalist and helped the Irish win three consecutive conference titles and make three NCAA regional appearances (both from 2003-05) during his career.
6. NBC Sports is looking into the possibility of utilizing a "stadium-cam" that would be suspended over the Notre Dame Stadium field for Irish home games beginning this fall.
2. The NCAA Championships in women's basketball continue for two more days here at Notre Dame - but without the Irish team that did not advance out of the first round. Practices and press conferences happen this afternoon at the Joyce Center for Minnesota and Texas A&M. Considering about 5,000 fans (presumably mostly Notre Dame rooters) bought all-session tickets, how many of them will show up Tuesday night at the Joyce Center for the second-round contest? ... The Texas A&M-Minnesota game will be the 13th NCAA Women's Basketball Championships game to be played at the Joyce Center. Eight of the previous 12 have involved Notre Dame. Six of those eight have featured Irish wins - with both losses to Minnesota (1994 and 2009). . . . Notre Dame's attendance figure Sunday of 6,395 was third highest of the 16 first-round sites - surpassed only by College Park, Md. (10,847) and Storrs, Conn. (8,548).
3. The biggest game today involving Notre Dame men's basketball doesn't even involve Notre Dame. It's tonight in Omaha where Creighton plays host to Kentucky (7:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN). If #1 seed Creighton wins, Notre Dame would head to Omaha for an NIT third-round matchup at 7:00 p.m. EDT Wednesday on ESPN2 (Notre Dame has not played in Omaha since a 77-75 OT loss in 1990, and the Irish have beaten Creighton only twice in 14 attempts in Omaha, in 1968 and 1987). If #4 seed Kentucky wins, the Wildcats would head for the Joyce Center to play in that same slot Wednesday (in what would be the final basketball game at the current version of the Joyce Center). If it happens, it would be Kentucky's 13th appearance in South Bend and its sixth at the Joyce Center (Notre Dame's only win of those previous five came in 1990). Either way, the Irish will play Wednesday for a spot in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden (next Tuesday).
4. Based on Notre Dame's extremely-limited ticket allotment for the 2009 NCAA Midwest Hockey Regional in Grand Rapids. Mich., this weekend, only Notre Dame season-ticket and pack-holders have the opportunity to purchase tickets through the Notre Dame Ticket Office. All other Irish fans interested in seeing games in Grand Rapids this weekend are encouraged to purchase tickets directly through the Van Andel Arena box office (all-session passes available today and Tuesday, single-session tickets available starting Wednesday).
The Irish hockey team will play Saturday, March 28 at 7:30 p.m. EDT vs. Bemidji State. If the Irish advance they will play Sunday at 8:00 p.m. EDT vs. the winner of Northeastern vs. Cornell (that game is Saturday at 4:00 p.m. EDT). Tickets are $65 each and include admittance to the two Saturday games as well as Sunday's regional final. Service charges apply to all orders. If you are a Notre Dame season-ticket or pack-holder, call the Notre Dame ticket office at 574.631.7356 or visit the Gate 1 ticket office located on the second floor of the Joyce Center. All orders must be placed by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets will be available for pickup Wednesday through Friday 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. at the Gate 1 ticket office, and Saturday starting at 3:30 p.m. at the Notre Dame will call located next to the Van Andel Arena's main box office.
All-session tickets are available to the general public now through Van Andel Arena. Single day tickets will go on sale on Wednesday, March 25, and can be ordered by calling the Van Andel box office at 800/745-3000 or by visiting www.vanandelarena.com. Prices are $35 each.
5. Don't ignore the amazing ongoing success of the Notre Dame fencing program. For example, since the NACDA Cup standings began in 1993-94, the Irish have finished fourth or better in the NCAA Fencing Championships every year - first three times, second seven times, third four times and fourth twice. That means fencing has produced 1,066 combined NACDA Cup points, second at Notre Dame only to women's soccer at 1,087.5. And, that's despite the fact that fencing was not part of the NACDA Cup program the first two years, and then in two other years fencing received only 50 percent of the points most other sports earned (based on limited institutional participation nationally). FYI - the next NACDA Cup scoring update (and first involving any winter sports) happens on Thursday (Notre Dame finished the fall season 14th).
Notre Dame's NCAA regional assignment for '09 (as the #2 overall seed, behind #1 overall seed Boston University, with Denver #3 and Michigan #4) is reminiscent of the '07 NCAAs. Both times the Irish went to Grand Rapids as a #1 seed. Two years ago, the favored Irish put themselves in a tough spot by needing two overtimes on a Friday night to defeat #4 seed Alabama-Huntsville. That arguably depleted the energy level for Saturday's regional final that went 2-1 to a Michigan State team that went on to win the NCAA title. This time the opening Irish opponent is Bemidji State, which received an automatic berth as champion of College Hockey America by virtue of a 3-2 OT win over Robert Morris back on March 14 in the championship game of the CHA Championships. The four-team CHA also includes Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville ... Irish coach Jeff Jackson did a live phone interview with ESPN2 announcers during the selection show.
The complete dates, sites, times and pairings of this year's championship are:
East Regional, March 27-28
West Regional, March 27-28
Midwest Regional, March 28-29
Northeast Regional, March 28-29
Men's Frozen Four, April 9 and 11
That means if the national seeds hold and all four #1 seeds advance, it would be Boston University vs. Michigan and then Notre Dame vs. Denver at the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals. Of the 16 teams in the field, Notre Dame and Boston University tied for most victories to date with 31 each, while the Irish have the fewest defeats at five.
2. Another record was reset Saturday at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships as Irish sophomore Samantha Maxwell went 2:09.62 in the 200 breaststroke to etch the Notre Dame standard in the event. The swim placed her in 11th place and gave the Irish enough points (19) for a 31st-place finish at the championships hosted by Texas A&M. It was the second time in as many days that Maxwell set an Irish record after breaking the 100 breaststroke mark on Saturday. Natalie Stitt, who was making her NCAA debut, was 32nd off the one-meter board with a 245.30 points.
3. Great atmosphere at the Joyce Center for the NCAA women's basketball games (four competing pep bands will do that). Even most of the Notre Dame fans showed up to watch the first game between Texas A&M and Evansville. With 9:58 left in the Texas A&M-Evansville game, the warm-up-clad Notre Dame women's team received a huge ovation during a timeout as it entered the arena to catch the end of the first game of the doubleheader. With A&M holding a 24-point lead at that juncture, there wasn't much question who the Notre Dame-Minnesota winner would play on Tuesday night. Then the same thing happened at 4:03 as the Irish went back to their locker room. First-game final was 80-45 for Texas A&M.
Among observers for the Notre Dame-Minnesota game were University president Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., and Irish men's hoops coach Mike Brey (and wife Tish). After a couple of days off, Brey's team returned to practice at 7:00 p.m. today in The Pit. Also in the Joyce Center was Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi, a Notre Dame graduate.
Minnesota took control quickly and convincingly against the Irish -- scoring 25 points in the first 10 minutes and causing Muffet McGraw to call a timeout at 33-19 inside the seven-minute mark. It wasn't hard to figure why the Gophers held a 42-30 halftime edge. Minnesota shot 62.5 percent from the field in the opening half (15 of 24), while the Irish were at 34.5 percent (10 of 29). The Gophers hit 10 of 14 free throws and led 21-12 in rebounding - and had six players score five or more points.
Five straight points by Melissa Lechlitner cut the Gopher lead to 50-46 and prompted a Minnesota timeout at the 14:34 mark with the pro-Irish crowd on its feet and roaring. Erica Solomon's two free throws at 10:14 got the Irish closer at 55-53, but the Gophers responded with three huge threes and then built it back to 67-56. Minnesota ended up winning 79-71. That ended a streak of 12 of the last 13 years in which the Irish had won at least one NCAA game.
Muffet McGraw was disappointed with her team's defense against a very physical Gopher approach and, at one point, described her team as "soft." Minnesota coach Pam Borton talked about her team being "more aggressive."
4. The Irish finished second overall at the 2009 NCAA Fencing Championships, held on the campus of Penn State. Notre Dame finished with 182 wins, while Penn State claimed the championship with 195. Over the championship's final two days, the Irish were able to catch and subsequently pass rival Ohio State, which finished third with 166 points.
In women's foil, Hayley Reese earned the silver medal for the Irish, while teammates Courtney Hurley and Ewa Nelip finished tied for third in women's epee. All told, coach Janusz Bednarski's squad featured 10 All-Americans -- including foil silver medalists Reese and Gerek Meinhardt. Meinhardt was Notre Dame's first men's foil silver medalist since Ozren Debic in 2000, while Reese was Notre Dame's first women's foil silver medalist since Alicja Kryczalo in 2005.
In women's epee pool play, Hurley and Nelip helped narrow the gap with Penn State, earning an impressive sweep (4-0) versus the Nittany Lions as both Hurley and Nelip took out Penn State's Nina Westman and Anastasia Ferdman. Hurley's win over Westman was a 4-3 overtime bout, while her spirited defeat of Ferdman also came in overtime, 5-4. Nelip also beat Ferdman and then disposed of Westman in overtime, 4-3, to complete the sweep. Hurley finished pool play in second with 21 wins, including eight on Sunday.
Nelip finished pool play as the fourth seed with 17 wins, including six on Sunday.
In the subsequent semifinal bouts, both Hurley and Nelip held late leads but neither could advance to the finals as Hurley was beaten, 15-13, by Penn State's Ferdman and Nelip was defeated, 15-13, by Harvard's Noam Mills. The epee duo ended tied for third to garner first team All-America status.
In women's foil, sophomore Hayley Reese advanced to the semifinals as she finished pool play with 19 wins, including seven on Sunday, and a plus-48 touch indicator, good for fourth place. In the semifinals, she upset top-seeded Oksana Dmytruk of Ohio State, 13-11, to advance to the gold-medal bout versus Penn State's Doris Willette.
In the finals, Reese and Willette failed to score any touches until Reese landed one with just 25 seconds remaining in the first period. Reese then took a 2-0 lead into the first break. Willette scored the next two to tie the bout and the duo traded touches until Willette pulled ahead, 6-5, entering the second break. Willette went on to win, 15-5.
Also competing in women's foil, Adrienne Nott recorded 14 wins, including six on Sunday, to finish in ninth place, garnering third-team All-America honors in the process. Nott has earned All-America honors in all four of her seasons with the Irish. She is just the 18th fencer in program history (and seventh women's sabreist) to do so and the first to accomplish the feat since Valerie Providenza in 2007.
Eileen Hassett had a strong second day, vaulting into sixth place behind eight wins in Sunday's three rounds. With the sixth-place finish, Hassett earned second-team All-America honors for the second consecutive year. All told, she posted 15 wins at the Championship and recorded a +22 indicator margin. Sarah Borrmann added seven wins on Sunday for a two-day total of 12, with a +2 indicator margin. She finished 13th, just three touches scored shy of earning All-America accolades.
Notre Dame's 2009 Fencing All-Americans (Finish/Team):
Top-Five Team Standings (Final Point Total):
5. Both the Irish baseball and softball teams opened their BIG EAST seasons this weekend - baseball by dropping two of three at home to Seton Hall (the Pirates scored 15 two-out runs in winning the last two games), softball by splitting a doubleheader at home against St. John's. Notre Dame pulled out the second game in softball against St. John's with back-to-back seventh-inning home runs (Katie Fleury and Brianna Jorgensborg) for a 5-4 win. Meanwhile Notre Dame women's lacrosse moved to 8-1 with a 20-4 victory over California (with the third-rated Irish men at 6-0, the two Irish lacrosse squads are a combined 14-1).
6. Wherever it's played and whomever the opponent, Notre Dame's third-round NIT game will be at 7:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN2.
7. So it's still uncertain when the last college basketball game will be played in the current version of the Joyce Center. It could be Tuesday in the Texas A&M-Minnesota NCAA second-round women's basketball matchup. Or, if Kentucky wins at Creighton Monday night in the men's NIT, it would become the Notre Dame-Kentucky NIT game on Wednesday.
2. Today marked the second straight day of football practice outside (when was the last time that happened in March in South Bend?), as the Irish for a second straight day worked out in shorts. Today marked the first day of player availability for media interviews, so fans can check for that on und.com today. George Smith and ESPN were here again today, so there will be more coverage of Irish spring practice tonight on SportsCenter (Charlie Weis is the Sunday Conversation tomorrow night on SportsCenter).
3. Congrats to former Irish men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery, now head coach at Siena, who kept us up until 1:20 a.m. today to see the finish of his team's double-overtime, come-from-behind NCAA first-round upset of Ohio State in Dayton, on a three-point shot with 2.2 seconds left. McCaffery's wife is the former Margaret Nowlin, who was a former Irish women's basketball captain (1992) and later a Notre Dame assistant coach. Among those watching the upset from courtside was Mike Bobinski, a former Notre Dame ticket manager who is now the athletics director at Xavier and is a current member of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee.
4. The Irish moved past rival Ohio State Saturday to take over second place at the 2009 NCAA Fencing Championships on the campus of Penn State. Penn State leads with 156 points, while the Irish, with 140 points, sit 16 points adrift of the Nittany Lions. Ohio State is in third with 139 points.
The women's epee contingent led the Irish on day three as sophomore Ewa Nelip and freshman Courtney Hurley combined to post a 24-4 mark. Nelip went 11-3 while Hurley recorded an impressive 13 wins against just one loss, good for first place on the individual leader board. Nelip's 11 wins put her in fourth. The duo will fence in rounds 5-7 tomorrow as each looks to book a place in the semifinals in their quest to capture NCAA gold.
Hayley Reese and Adrienne Nott also reached the 20-win plateau on day one of women's foil competition as the teammates combined to post a 20-8 mark. Reese went 12-2 on the day, putting her in third through the first four rounds, while Nott finished with an 8-6 record, placing her in ninth. With a top-12 finish, Nott would earn the fourth All-America honor of her career.
Eileen Hassett and Sarah Borrmann combined for 12 sabre wins on the day, with Hassett earning seven of those wins and Borrmann chipping in with five. The Irish duo earned a split (2-2) with Penn State's Monica Aksamit and Caitlin Thompson, with Hassett winning the final bout versus Thompson, 5-3. Hassett stands in 11th, while Borrmann is 16th.
The 2009 NCAA Fencing Championships come to a close tomorrow, with women's rounds 5-7 and the medal rounds. Pool play opens at 9:30 a.m., while the gold medal bouts will take place at 2:00 p.m. The gold medal bouts will be streamed live via the NCAA's website at http://www.ncaa.com/sports/c-fenc/ncaa-c-fenc-body.html.
5. One of the better lines at the NCAA women's hoops press conferences today at the Joyce Center came from Texas A&M coach Gary Blair, whose team is staying at the Waterford Estates Lodge north of campus. Blair said he was thrilled to be staying in the Mike Golic Suite (named after the former Irish football captain who does promotional work for the property). Said Blair of Notre Dame's homecourt situation, "This will be harder for us here. We are not the favorite here. When you're on somebody else's field, throw the seeds out. Notre Dame is the favorite, because they have the home site and we have the seed. Would I rather be in College Station right now as the seventh seed? You're right."
Meanwhile, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said this about the home court: "It's a little bit easier here. It's much easier for the freshmen, and the upperclassmen are taking it in stride and trying to instruct the freshmen as best they can. I think that it's the comfort level: being in our own locker room, having our fans here, and staying in our own beds. Everything is like a home game, and I think that's a good thing for us."
The four women's teams took turns on hour-long Joyce Center arena workouts today, starting with Texas A&M at noon and ending with Minnesota, which finished at 4:15 p.m. The teams had press conferences in the Monogram Room from 11:20 a.m. through 2:50 p.m. The Monogram Room has been turned into a combination media workroom, interview room and buffet.
ESPN set up lights and cameras in the middle of the lower arena seats to tape interviews for a "star watch" mini-feature on a player from each of the four teams.
When the Irish women play Sunday, the individual back in Bristol responsible for telling the ESPN director when the action heats up or when timeouts are coming is '05 Notre Dame graduate Kenny Storin (his father Matt was formerly associate vice president for news and information at Notre Dame).
6. Several hundred tickets have been sold for a potential Notre Dame NIT third-round men's basketball game, even though no one will know until Monday night whether or not the Irish play at home (that will happen only if Kentucky wins at Creighton Monday night).
7. Notre Dame's men's lacrosse team defeated Vermont today 13-7 (five goals by Ryan Hoff) in Dallas to move to 6-0 - the best start by the Irish since the '93 squad began 8-0. And Notre Dame now plays three straight games at home.
8. Prior to the CCHA title game, Notre Dame's hockey dads today played an afternoon game of shinny hockey in Livonia, Mich., with Notre Dame hockey chaplain Father Tom Gaughan in goal. Meanwhile, between the first and second periods at Joe Louis Arena, Wendy Thang (Ryan's mother) played the cowbell with the Notre Dame band for the Jimmy Buffett song "Fins."
The question becomes - how does Notre Dame's 5-2 win tonight over Michigan in the CCHA Championship contest affect the NCAA draw that will be announced at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN2? Notre Dame would appear to be an automatic #1 seed, based on its season-long achievements and its current #1 national rating. But Michigan (ranked #3 nationally) might well be a #1 seed as well. And who will be assigned to the regional in Grand Rapids (Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29)? And who is headed to Minneapolis or either of the two other sites? It would seem that the Irish will be in Grand Rapids. We'll find out tomorrow. And, by the way, when's the last time any Michigan hockey team gave up five unanswered goals?
2. The Irish men's basketball team is taking a couple of days off since, after two games in three days, there now are five days off before Notre Dame's NIT quarterfinal game on Wednesday. The next opponent for the Irish won't be determined until Monday night when Kentucky plays at Creighton. If Creighton wins, the Irish would travel to Omaha for the Wednesday night game. If Kentucky wins, the Wildcats then would come to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. The winner of that Wednesday quarterfinal earns a berth in a semifinal matchup the following Tuesday (March 31) at Madison Square Garden.
3. While he was in New York for BIG EAST basketball last week, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick made a stop at the Sirius Satellite Radio offices and studios on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and made a 30-minute live appearance on Mad Dog Radio, with Bruce Murray and Bill Pidto ("The B Team").
4. The Hannah & Friends event last week in New York City featured entertainment by Jon Bon Jovi, who sang a half-dozen songs as part of the program. He also convinced Charlie Weis and Bill Belichick to join him on stage to sing "Wanted Dead or Alive." Among others in attendance were former Irish players Brady Quinn, Tom Zbikowski, Mark Bavaro, Anthony Fasano and John Carlson - and Mike Golic, who was one of the masters of ceremonies (with ESPN Radio partner Mike Greenberg).
5. Sophomore Samantha Maxwell turned in a top-10 finish during Friday morning's preliminary session in the 100 breaststroke to begin day two of the 2009 NCAA Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. Her :59.73 performance broke her own school record and was the first sub-1:00.00 mark recorded in program history.
6. It was a quick start for the Irish hockey team at the Joe in Detroit - with two back-to-back Northern Michigan penalties putting the Irish up a man 30 seconds into the game - and the Irish responded by grabbing a 1-0 4:15 into the opening period on a Kyle Lawson power-play goal. That's how the first period ended. Then, the Irish dodged a bullet in the second period when a Northern Michigan shot clanged hard off the pipe behind Jordan Pearce. The second period ended 1-0 for the Irish, with Notre Dame outshooting the Wildcats 24-11 to that point. Northern pulled its goalie at 1:28 of the final period - and needed only five seconds to tie the game. But Ben Ryan came right back with what became the dramatic game-winner at :59.5 from right in front of the net. The 2-1 Irish win puts them in the Saturday night title game against the Michigan-Alaska winner. (FYI, the NCAA Championships selection show is set for 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on ESPN2)
7. The Irish completed day two of fencing today at the 2009 NCAA Championships inside the Multi-Sports Facility on the campus of Penn State. Through all the rounds of men's fencing, Notre Dame stands in third place with 84 points. Penn State currently leads with 98 points, while Ohio State is in second with 93 points. The margin between the three teams remained the same, as Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame each added 37 points to their totals on day two.
Freshman Gerek Meinhardt advanced to the men's foil semifinals with an impressive 19 wins in pool play. He earned the top seed entering the final four. In the semifinal, he squared off against Columbia's Kurt Getz. Getz took an early 5-4 lead into the first break before extending his lead to 7-5. But then Meinhardt was able to tie the bout at 7-7. The duo then traded touches until Meinhardt took his first lead at 9-8. He went on to record six of the next seven touches to book a place in the gold medal bout by virtue of a 15-9 win.
In the gold medal bout, Meinhardt met Penn State's Nicholas Chinman. Meinhardt, who became the first Notre Dame athlete to appear in an NCAA men's foil final since Ozren Debic achieved runner-up status in 2000, was defeated by one touch, 15-14, to take home the silver medal and claim second team All-America status. Meinhardt took an 11-7 advantage into the first break, but Chinman closed the gap and the bout was eventually tied at 12-12. The finalists then traded touches, creating tie scores at 13-13 and 14-14 before Chinman claimed the narrow 15-14 win.
Meinhardt's foil teammate, Enzo Castellani, finished in eighth to earn second-team All-America honors. He notched a total of 13 wins over the two days. In epee, Karol Kostka and Greg Schoolcraft rebounded to post 12 wins in the three rounds of day two after combining to post 10 wins in the first four rounds. Kostka, making his fourth consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships, finished in 10th place to earn third-team All-America honors. He posted 13 wins over the two days. Schoolcraft chipped in with nine wins to finish 18th overall.
In sabre, the sophomore duo of Avery Zuck and Barron Nydam earned All-America status. Zuck, who finished with 17 wins, was just outside the top four as he finished in fifth, earning second-team All-America honors. Zuck was tied with fourth-place finisher Daryl Homer of St. John's, but lost out in the tiebreaker, having received three more touches than Homer. Nydam finished in 10th with 13 wins, good for third-team All-America honors.
The women will try and close the gap with rivals Penn State and Ohio State tomorrow, when rounds 1-4 get underway at 10:00 a.m.
2. Notre Dame assistant athletics director Lisa Deibler is leaving to become athletics director at Penn State Berks in Reading, Pa. Beginning April 20, she will head up a 12-sport varsity program that in 2008-09 is in its first year as an NCAA Division III program. Deibler is in her third year as the Irish assistant athletics director for compliance. In this role, she worked with all 26 of Notre Dame's intercollegiate athletic teams and has been involved in all facets of the day-to-day operations of the compliance office. Her responsibilities included developing and maintaining all compliance monitoring systems, policies and procedures for the athletics department, and serving as the primary contact for providing rules interpretations of NCAA and BIG EAST Conference legislation. A 1996 Notre Dame graduate with a degree in psychology, she spent the 2004-05 academic year as an assistant athletic director for compliance and recruiting at Boston College, following a nine-year stint at the University of North Carolina, where she served four years as director of compliance. Originally from Hamburg, Pa., Deibler received her master's degree in sports administration from North Carolina in 1998.
3. Recent good weather in South Bend has been a boon to ongoing construction for Notre Dame's new soccer and lacrosse facilities. Bleachers are already in place for both stadia, and concrete and plumbing work continues. Both structures now loom impressively in the area east of the Joyce Center. Both stadia will include a limited amount of bleacher seating with chair-back railings.
4. Tickets for the Blue-Gold spring football game went on sale through the Notre Dame ticket office Tuesday -- with the first customers lining up nearly five hours before the offices opened. Within hours the VIP Pregame Brunch with the Irish team and the press box seating were virtually sold out (only a handful remain for those two events, so call ASAP if you're interested). Plenty of tickets in the general admission and reserved gold seating areas remain. Call 574-631-7356 or visit und.com/tickets to buy.
5. Women's basketball NCAA sales are closing in on 6,000 for the Sunday first-round contests at the Joyce Center.
6. Some random notes from Wednesday's Notre Dame home softball opening doubleheader against Toledo: most runs in a home opener (15); most runs in a doubleheader (24) since 2003; first back-to-back five-inning wins since 2004; first five-inning home opener; first home opener at Melissa Cook Stadium; Sadie Pitzenberger scored a career-high four runs in game one; Christine Lux had five hits - including two home runs and two doubles - to pace the Irish; her 13 total bases yielded a single-day slugging average of 2.167; freshman Dani Miller had two doubles and one home run in her home debut.
7. Notre Dame hockey players are wearing the initials "ML" on the backs of their helmets in tribute to Irish hockey radio play-by-play veteran Mike Lockert who died on Feb. 27 at age 43.
8. Notre Dame fencing coach Janusz Bednarski, on the start of the NCAA Championships today at Penn State: "I have been at the NCAA Championships 14 times in different places in the country. The first time I was here and this competition for my team (Notre Dame) will be very important. The reason being we are traditional rivals of the place organizing the competition. We are coming here to the cave of the lion, just to try to get the prize. It's also very important because the last time we won a National Championship gold medal was 2005; it's already four years. It's time to fight. We have a new team, young kids who are coming for experience and for a good, strong future. That's the place that's important for us and in addition such excellent facilities and a very well organized tournament. We have to turn our attention to get the best place possible in this competition even if it will be our host institution who becomes our rival."
9. The first four rounds of men's sabre were in the books at NCAA fencing by early afternoon. Leading the way for the Irish was Avery Zuck, who notched 10 wins on the day, good for sixth place in the individual sabre standings. Zuck recorded 64 touches on the day and ended with a +19 touch margin. Zuck's sabre teammate, Barron Nydam, finished 13th with seven victories. Freshman Gerek Meinhardt posted a 13-1 record in foil to lead the Irish, including a thrilling 5-4 win over Ohio Stat's Andras Horanyi, last year's NCAA foil champion. Through four rounds, Notre Dame stood in third place with 47 points. Penn State currently leads with 61 points, while Ohio State is in second with 56 points.
10. Seventeen NFL teams were represented (16 by scouts, Carolina by linebacker coach Richard Smith) as Irish draft-eligible football players went through their paces today at the Loftus Center at Notre Dame's Pro Day. There were two sets of bleachers - five rows high and 10 yards wide - on the 50-yard line for the finish of the 40-yard dash and various shuttle drills. The NFL reps set themselves up on the finish line, sitting one behind another with their stopwatches. Then, after the various drills, the scouts all huddled and shared their times and measurements (height, weight, broad jump, vertical jump, bench press). New York Giants scout Ryan Jones directed the shuttle drills; Cincinnati Bengals coach Paul Guenther (assistant linebackers, assistant special teams) ran the position-specific drills. About two dozen current Irish players observed, as did head coach Charlie Weis and most of his staff. It was mostly quiet during much of the session, with the players sometimes being rooted on by their teammates. Irish strength and conditioning director Ruben Mendoza barked out the last names of the participants as they took their turns at the various drills. After the shuttle drills, one set of bleachers was moved to the west end zone end line for the position drills. Notre Dame's Tim Collins videotaped everything that happened to distribute to the teams. Two non-Notre Dame players - OL Ryan Kozy from Valparaiso and DB Paul Carter from St. Francis (in Fort Wayne, Ind.) - also participated. Notre Dame's David Bruton opted not to run or re-do the shuttle drills, instead standing on his strong numbers from the combine. David Grimes did not participate due to back problems.
11. If Notre Dame defeats New Mexico tonight in second-round NIT action, the Irish ticket office will pre-sell tickets for a potential third-round game at the Joyce Center - even though no one will know if that game comes about until Monday night. The winner of the Notre Dame-New Mexico contest plays the winner of the game between #1 seed Creighton and #4 seed Kentucky, to be played Monday night in Omaha (7:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN). If Creighton wins, it would play host to the third-round game on March 25 as the top seed. If Kentucky wins, the Wildcats will travel to play at either Notre Dame or New Mexico. Stay tuned. If Notre Dame wins and ends up playing at Creighton, all pre-sold tickets would be refunded.
12. Spring football begins on Saturday for former Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood who is in his first season as head coach at Miami (Ohio) University. The Miami athletic web site has a large shot of Haywood in the upper right corner of the front page - and the RedHawks' program is being billed as "Haywood-Ball."
13. As Irish football coach Charlie Weis mulls the question of whether to call plays from the press box or sidelines, one College Football Hall of Fame coach cast his vote for the press box, in a piece in today's South Bend Tribune. That's where Darrell Mudra did business in nearly 300 games as a head coach at Florida State (1974-75; he preceded Bobby Bowden there), Adams State (1959-62), North Dakota State (1963-65), Arizona (1967-68), Western Illinois (1969-73), Eastern Illinois (1978-82) and Northern Iowa (1983-87). Said Mudra: "Just do it."
14. After a one-hour skating session at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Irish hockey team ventured to the Hockeytown Cafe for a team dinner before heading next door to the Fox Theater for the 2009 CCHA Award Show presented tonight by RBC Financial (Fox Theater is the second largest theatre in the country after the Radio City Music Hall in New York City). Notre Dame award-winners were: Kyle Lawson as CCHA Best Defensive Defenseman (he had 16 points and finished with a +7 rating), Jordan Pearce as CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year (a pre-med and anthropology major, he led the CCHA in victories and shutouts and has a 3.81 grade-point average), and Erik Condra who claimed the CCHA Terry Flanagan Memorial Award as comeback player of the year (in recognition of his perseverance, dedication and courage while overcoming severe adversity -- Condra worked all summer to rehab from ACL and MCL injuries and less than seven months after the injury, he returned to captain the Irish squad).
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