Dec. 30, 2017
By John Heisler
Here are some of the best moments-games, seasons and more-that earned headlines for University of Notre Dame teams, athletes and coaches in 2017.
Consider these selections as personal and maybe random as opposed to consensus choices:
Best Individual Single-Game Performance
-- Brandon Wimbush: Against Boston College Wimbush led an overwhelming Irish rushing demonstration with his 207 yards and four rushing TDs. The Irish quarterback rushed for 156 yards in the second half alone and became the first Notre Dame signal-caller to rush for four TDs in a game and run for more than 200 yards. I kidded Josh Adams the next week that he was the only running back in the country who could rush for 229 yards (fourth-best total in Notre Dame history) and score three TDs and end up a relative afterthought. That's how amazing the Irish run game was that afternoon in Chestnut Hill. Never had the Irish had two 200-yard rushers in a game. No Irish player had run for four TDs since 1984 (Allen Pinkett versus Penn State). Wimbush broke the Notre Dame record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, a mark that had stood since 1969. Notre Dame's 515 team rushing yards (one short of the most allowed by Boston College in a game) marked its most in one contest since that same 1969 outing against Navy. The Irish set a record by running for 10.1 yards per carry.
-- Jess Shepard: She broke the Purcell Pavilion women's scoring record with 39 points versus DePaul on Dec. 20. That total stands as the fourth most points overall by an Irish player. She also earned a double-double by reeling in 11 rebounds, and her 17 made field goals set a Purcell women's record.
Best Individual Single-Season Performance
-- Quenton Nelson / Mike McGlinchey: These two consensus All-America offensive linemen were the biggest reasons Notre Dame won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the country. The current Irish average of 279.1 yards per game in 2017 is 115.8 yards better than its 163.3-yard average from only a year ago. The Irish rank seventh nationally in rushing-a year ago Notre Dame finished 80th in that category. And that's after Notre Dame as a team after 2000 only once has averaged more than 200 yards (207.6 in 2015). Nelson and McGlinchey helped combine for five straight midseason games of 318 rushing yards or more-something that may never have been done at Notre Dame. It definitely did not happen in 1973 when the Irish set a record with an average of 350.2 rushing yards per game.
Best Individual Game-Winning Moment
-- Andrew Oglevie: His clutch, overtime game-winner in the NCAA Northeast Hockey Regional defeated UMass Lowell and sent the Irish to the NCAA Frozen Four. Anders Bjork had the picture-perfect assist.
-- Sergio Perkovic: He scored a career-high six goals to lead the Irish to an 11-10 win over Marquette. Perkovic's sixth goal of the game delivered Notre Dame the win, as the senior found the back of the net with fewer than 30 seconds left in regulation to put the Irish on top for good.
-- Matt Vierling: His walk-off triple beat Duke and enabled the Irish baseball team to win the series against the Blue Devils.
Best Single-Season Coaching Effort
-- Gia Kvaratskhelia: Fencing standards are more than a bit lofty at Notre Dame, so when a team dominates a four-day NCAA Championship the way the Irish did in 2017 the head coach must be pushing an awful lot of the right buttons. It marked the biggest point total for an Irish NCAA title team and the most in seven years for an NCAA champ.
-- Jeff Jackson: It's tough to beat the end of one season that concludes with an NCAA Frozen Four appearance and the start of the next that currently features a 13-game win streak, a number-three national ranking and an overall 16-3-1 record. That's what Jackson and his Irish did in parts of two separate seasons.
-- Muffet McGraw: It's difficult to argue with a calendar year in which your 2016-17 Irish team wins its fifth straight ACC regular-season and tournament titles, your September features induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and then your 2017-18 team works its way to an 11-1 start and a number-two national ranking (behind only UConn, the lone team to defeat the Irish so far) via road wins at Western Kentucky, Oregon State, Michigan and Penn, plus a big-time tournament victory over second-rated and defending NCAA champion South Carolina at the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Best Team Single-Game Performance
-- Football vs. USC: On this particular night at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish could have not been more dominant against their biggest rival. Give the Irish a plus-three advantage in turnovers. Give Brian Kelly's squad another dominant performance up front, resulting in an amazing 377-76 edge in rushing yards. Give improving quarterback Brandon Wimbush and all-star tailback Josh Adams the chances to make plays from start to finish. Give the Irish an opportunity to reacquire a rivalry trophy, this time the jeweled shillelagh. Give Notre Dame all those things and the end result turned out to be a three-hour party for Irish fans. The Irish manhandled old rival USC, the 11th-ranked team in the country, blowing out to a 28-0 halftime lead and scoring the most Notre Dame points in the series in 40 years. The final score was 49-14 in favor of the home team, as Notre Dame knocked off its highest-rated opponent at Notre Dame Stadium in Kelly's eight seasons on the sidelines.
-- Men's basketball vs. Wichita State: Fast-forward through the first half-it was eminently forgettable. The Irish scored only 23 points on 11-of-27 shooting. Wichita State took a 14-point lead into intermission. The Shockers still held a 62-53 lead with seven minutes remaining. The Irish went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to one at 62-61 with 3:50 left on the clock. Ultimately a dramatic ending gave the Irish the victory. Twelfth-rated Notre Dame pulled off a remarkable second-half comeback to defeat sixth-rated Wichita State 67-66 to win the Maui Invitational title. After Notre Dame coach Mike Brey drew up a perfect out-of-bounds play with three seconds left in the game, senior Martinas Geben was fouled and sent to the free-throw line. The senior big man sank both shots to deliver the Irish the championship in a game where they led for a combined 22 seconds. The trio of Geben, Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell each finished with 12 or more points. Colson led with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Farrell scored 15 points but made possibly the most important play of the night, stealing an inbounds pass and shoveling an assist to Colson to cut the Shockers lead to one and keep the comeback hopes alive with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
-- Women's basketball vs. South Carolina: The sixth-rated Irish women's hoops team knocked off second-rated South Carolina 92-85 on Nov. 26, defeating the defending national champion and stopping its 17-game winning streak. Notre Dame recorded its first victory against a top-five team since it defeated the Gamecocks at the 2015 Final Four in Tampa. The Irish trailed by as much as 12 points in the second period before recording a 25-point swing in their favor. Notre Dame's 92 points marked the most points scored against South Carolina since North Carolina defeated the Gamecocks 93-85 in December 2009 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Four players finished in double digits, including 23 points from Arike Ogunbowale and 22 points from Jackie Young.
-- Volleyball vs. Michigan State: Coming off an impressive 3-1 victory over Ohio State, the Irish followed by playing their best match of the season, sweeping 23rd-ranked Michigan State 3-0 to improve to 8-1 on the season. Despite having a major height disadvantage on the frontline, the Irish went toe-to-toe with the Spartans at the net and out-blocked Michigan State 13.5 to 13.0. Jemma Yeadon posted her seventh double-double of the season with 19 kills and 11 digs. The sophomore also added five blocks to complete her remarkable evening.
Best Team Single-Season Performance
-- Football: The Irish have improved their victory total from a year ago by five (so far) and plenty of that success has to do with an offensive line that paves the way for the third-best FBS rushing attack in yards/carry (6.37), 12th-best in rushing TDs (35), eighth-best in total rushing yards (3,349) and seventh-best in rushing offense (271.9 rush yards/game). Notre Dame has rushed for at least 300 yards in seven of its 12 games this season. The Irish lead the nation in rushing TDs (nine) and rank third in rushing yards (877) against AP top-25 opponents. Notre Dame also leads the nation in rushing yards (2,253) and ranks second in rushing TDs (23) in games against FBS teams with winning records. The Irish are the only FBS team with at least 2,000 rush yards and at least 20 rushing TDs this season against FBS teams with winning records. Notre Dame is the only unit in the country to average over 250.0 rush yards/game with at least seven games against FBS teams with winning records (Notre Dame has played nine). The Irish averaged 250.3 rush yards/game and 5.84 yards/rush in those nine games against FBS teams with winning records. Notre Dame ranks in the top three nationally in runs of at least 20 yards (t-3rd, 39), 30 yards (2nd, 26), 40 yards (3rd, 15), 50 yards (3rd, 11), 60 yards (t-1st, nine) and 70 yards (2nd, four).
-- Fencing: Notre Dame's fencing program annually has been good, often very good. In 2017 the Irish were great. In fact, they were NCAA champions. The men (30-8, final number-two national ranking) combined with the women to claim the ninth NCAA Championship in program history. Notre Dame's 186 points were the most for the Irish in an NCAA title victory and the most for a winning team since Penn State's 191 in 2010. Rookie Ariel Simmons won first-team All-America honors after advancing to the NCAA semifinals in epee. Four more men earned second-team recognition: Kristjan Archer (foil), Axel Kiefer (foil), Jonathan Fitzgerald (sabre) and Jonah Shainberg (sabre). The Irish repeated as ACC champions, with Archer (foil) and Simmons (epee) each claiming individual weapon gold medals. For his efforts in both the individual and team championship, Simmons was named the event's most valuable fencer. Simmons was named the ACC Fencer of the Year for Epee, while Kiefer took home that title for foil. The women (35-4, final number-one ranking) were led by senior Lee Kiefer who made Notre Dame and collegiate fencing history by capturing her fourth individual NCAA title in women's foil. Kiefer became just the third college fencer to win four NCAA championships and one of just 18 Division I athletes to accomplish the feat. Kiefer was also elevated to the FIE No. 1 senior women's foil ranking, becoming the first American woman to top the rankings. Francesca Russo also repeated as an NCAA individual champion, winning the 2017 title in women's sabre after also capturing the 2015 crown as a freshman. Joining Kiefer and Russo as a first-team All-American was Amanda Sirico, who placed third in women's epee. The Irish repeated as ACC champions and swept the individual titles with Sabrina Massialas (foil), Russo (sabre) and Sirico (epee) taking home individual gold medals. Massialas was selected as the ACC Championship Most Valuable Fencer. Kiefer was named the ACC Women's Fencer of the Year for Foil and Russo earned ACC Women's Fencer of the Year for Sabre honors. That's a landslide of achievements, even by Irish fencing standards.
-- Hockey in 2017: No hockey team starts a season 16-3-1 by accident, so let's look at some of the reasons the third-rated Irish have taken the Big Ten Conference-and arguably the college hockey world in general-by storm. Once sophomore Cale Morris took over for good in goal, the Irish have not been beaten. And Morris has not just been good, he's been great. He leads the nation in save percentage at .954 and he's second in goals-against average at 1.53 for a team that is third overall in defense at 2.0 per game. The Irish have been great down the stretch in games, outscoring opponents 55-27 in the second and third periods combined, including 27-14 in the crucial third periods. The Irish rank fifth nationally in scoring margin (plus-1.35 goals), fourth in assists (116) and 12th in scoring offense (3.35 goals per game). The Irish have dominated the Big Ten-- already winning 10 conference games (Ohio State is second at 5-4-1 in league play). No Big Ten team has started 10-0 in league play until now. At one point in late October the Irish record stood at 3-3-1. Since then Notre Dame has been unbeatable. Notre Dame's 13-game active win streak is the longest in the country. No team in the country has more than Notre Dame's 16 wins. It's been 34 years since Notre Dame had a longer victory streak (15 games from November 1983 through January 1984, and the Irish actually competed as a club team that season). No Jeff Jackson-coached Notre Dame team had won more than 10 in succession (February and March 2009). Notre Dame is the only team in the country without a road defeat in 2017. The Irish are 8-0-0 away from home so far, including pairs of wins over ranked teams from Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Most Poignant Moment
-- Brianna Turner: Notre Dame had every reason to think it was headed for a sixth straight NCAA Final Four in women's basketball. Then it happened. Forty-eight seconds until halftime against Purdue in a second-round NCAA game at Purcell Pavilion, Turner reached for a pass, went down and didn't get up. It was eerily reminiscent of a similar setting in the 2014 NCAA Championship when Irish center Natalie Achonwa went down on the other end of the same floor. This time the Irish survived to defeat Ohio State the next weekend in the regional semifinal, but Notre Dame couldn't hold on to a lead against Stanford in the regional championship game and missed out on that Final Four goal.
-- Harry Hiestand and the Joe Moore Award: Notre Dame's offensive line coach sat at the top of the team meeting auditorium at the Gug as head coach Brian Kelly spoke. Hiestand had no clue that Kelly knew a big-time secret-Hiestand and his Irish offensive line had won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in the country in 2017. Former Irish line standout Aaron Taylor walked into the room to make the presentation, the nearly lifesize trophy was wheeled in-and Hiestand was virtually speechless. Moore had been one of his mentors since Hiestand came to meet with Moore and observe his work with the Irish back in the late 1980s.
-- Bobby Clark: Notre Dame's men's soccer coach knew his coaching career was over after his Irish lost a second-round NCAA game to Wisconsin on the Sunday night before Thanksgiving. But no one else on the pitch knew. Imagine the emotions swirling in Clark's head. Nine days later he told his team and made it official.
Gone Too Soon
-- Ara Parseghian: 1964-74 Notre Dame football head coach, 1980 College Football Hall of Fame inductee and coach of Irish national title teams in 1966 and 1973
-- Tommy Hawkins: all-time leading Irish men's basketball rebounder for a season and career
-- Dick Erlenbaugh: 1963-64 men's basketball captain
-- Bill Fischer: 1948 Outland Trophy winner and 1983 College Football Hall of Fame inductee
-- Jim Gibbons: former Irish player and assistant coach in baseball and basketball and longtime University administrator
-- Ralph Guglielmi: 1954 unanimous All-America quarterback and 2001 College Football Hall of Fame inductee
-- Larry Sheffield: leading scorer (22.3) on 1963-64 men's basketball team