Aug. 9, 2013
by Chris Masters (Associate Athletic Media Relations Director)
BARCELONA -- On the excitement scale, Friday was perhaps one of the higher points for the Notre Dame women's basketball team on its European tour. Not only did it signify the middle of the 10-day adventure, but more important than that, it was the team's designated "beach day", as well as a chance for everyone in the travel party to fan out on their own around the city of Barcelona.
The group reconvened in time for dinner and a traditional Spanish flamenco show, complete with several extremely-gifted artists skilled in the intricacies of the unique dance and folk music performance that originated in the 18th century in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Flamenco involves singing (called "cante"), guitar-playing ("toque"), dance ("baile") and hand claps ("palmas"), as well as flowery costumes (some dresses have long trains) and even castanets.
Notre Dame closed out its night in Barcelona with a visit to the Magic Fountain at the foot of Montjuic Hill (the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics) for its famed light, music and water show. The fountain originally was built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition (similar to the World's Fair) and it regularly draws thousands of spectators to the steps of nearby National Museum, as well as the adjacent Catalonia Square and the roof of the Barcelona Arena (a former bullfighting ring converted into a five-story shopping mall), for its nightly shows that take place on Fridays and Saturdays year-round (as well as Thursdays during the summer).
Tradition is something that binds a people together, a shared event or landmark of common significance that gets passed along from one generation to the next. While the Notre Dame women's basketball program certainly doesn't have the longevity of the country of Spain (which originally unified into one nation on the Iberian peninsula in the 15th century), the Fighting Irish have their own traditions that are just as important to the team's players, coaches and fans, providing that same common link in their own unique way.
In recent years, the most recognizable tradition for Notre Dame women's basketball has been the growth of lime green as an unofficial staple color for the program. That tradition began in 2001 when head coach Muffet McGraw wore a blouse of that color (her favorite shade) in the NCAA national championship game against Purdue, a contest won by the Fighting Irish, 68-66, in St. Louis.
The color grew in stature during the latter half of the past decade, when Notre Dame season ticket holders began receiving t-shirts in that hue as part of their reward package when purchasing their tickets. The "Spirit Patrol", as the ticket holders became known, wore their lime-green t-shirts religiously whenever they attended a Fighting Irish women's basketball game (home or away) and the color became instantly connected with Notre Dame within the sport.
"(Former director of basketball operations/marketing) Stephanie Menio approached me about the idea of making the shirts lime-green a few years ago and I liked it," McGraw said. "Of course, I didn't expect that it would take off like it has. I think it's the perfect way for our fans, who are the absolute best in the country, to immediately show their support for our team and be seen right away, whether in person or on television. When you have 9,000 screaming fans, all wearing lime green and all cheering for you at every single home game, that's a pretty amazing environment to be a part of and one that I think any school in the country would be incredibly hard-pressed to match."
That connection between the team and its fans rose to a new level last season, when the Fighting Irish debuted their alternate home white uniforms that were trimmed in the ubiquitous lime green shade, wearing those new uniforms for matchups against Baylor and Connecticut (BIG EAST Championship) among others. Notre Dame players also wore a similar uniform with camouflage accents (designed by the school's official apparel provider, adidas), during several of its postseason games, including its NCAA Women's Final Four matchup against Connecticut.
Lime green isn't the only tradition in the Fighting Irish women's basketball history books, although the color green does go back even further in the team's archives. In 1997, Notre Dame saw its roster trimmed to seven active players due to injury (one of which sidelined current assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Niele Ivey) and was forced to suit up a student manager during the postseason. Yet, the Fighting Irish pushed on and prior to their NCAA Championship second-round game at Texas (to be played ironically enough on St. Patrick's Day), Notre Dame players (including current associate coach Beth Cunningham) and coaches (including McGraw and current associate head coach Carol Owens) painted their nails green for the holiday. The result was an 86-83 Fighting Irish win and the team's first-ever Sweet 16 berth, to be followed a week later by the program's first-ever Final Four appearance -- and thus a tradition was born.
"We just finished doing that for the 16th year in a row," Owens said. "It's really important to keep that going, not only coming from someone who was part of that first team that did it, but even now because it's that connection, that reminder for the current players and coaches of the teams that came before them and the sacrifices they made to help get the program to where it is now."
As it turns out, Notre Dame would be a regular player on St. Patrick's Day through the years, and the Fighting Irish began to not only celebrate the holiday with painted nails, but also with green jerseys. The kelly-green togs first made an appearance when Notre Dame played host to San Diego in the first round of the 2000 NCAA Championship (a game won by the Fighting Irish, 87-61), and showed up again a year later when Notre Dame downed Alcorn State, 98-49, on the first step of its run to the 2001 national championship.
Recently, the Fighting Irish have worn green uniforms for such landmark wins as those over Connecticut in the 2011 and 2012 Final Fours, and the 2011 Dayton Regional final (Elite Eight) victory over Tennessee (the program's first in 21 tries against the Lady Vols).
One last tradition that is certainly familiar to Notre Dame women's basketball fans, if not those observers outside the program, is the Irish Jig. It always takes place during the final moments of pregame warmups once the team has finished its layup drills and gathered for a huddle near the foul line. A lone basketball is placed in the middle of the circle of players (with their arms now linked around one another) and the Notre Dame Pep Band begins to play "The Rakes of Mallow", a traditional Irish polka song, with the players performing the Irish Jig, a popular step among the Notre Dame student body. This women's basketball tradition began during the 1999-2000 season, but picked up steam the following year when the Fighting Irish were beginning their run to the national championship and it's been here to stay ever since.
"I'm not really sure how we got that going," Ivey said. "It may have been something that we were already doing when my teammates and I were doing when we went to football games and we just figured out a way to bring it over to our games, too. At the time, you didn't think much about it becoming a long-running thing, but now Notre Dame women's basketball teams have been doing it for almost 15 years, so I think it's safe to say it's caught on. In fact, if we don't do it at a game, for whatever reason, we get e-mails and calls from fans wondering why we didn't and reminding us to do it at the next game."
While it's evident that traditions off the court remain important to the Notre Dame players, coaches and fans, there is one on-court tradition that the Fighting Irish are working to continue during their European tour -- excellence. That means continuing to keep the bar high for a program that already has nearly 800 wins, 16 conference titles across three different affiliations, five NCAA Women's Final Fours, three national championship games and the 2001 title under its belt.
The Notre Dame travel party will be on the move Saturday as the Fighting Irish head to their third and final destination in Europe, the Spanish capital city of Madrid. After arriving in the early afternoon following a nearly three-hour train ride, the players and staff will enjoy a welcome dinner and begin preparing for their last exhibition game of the tour at 10 a.m. ET (4 p.m. local time) Sunday against the French All-Stars at the Polideportivo Antonio Magarinos. While no general admission or live coverage of the game will be provided, a full recap and statistics will be available following the contest at the official Notre Dame athletics web site, UND.com.
The "beach day" or "free day" is generally one of the highlights of the trip, as everyone is on their own to visit whatever parts of the city they enjoy the most ... for the players, it was the beach, and while the temperatures of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea weren't exactly warm, several of the Fighting Irish took the opportunity to try out paddleboarding -- senior Natalie Achonwa proved to be the most adept at the new sport, which is sort of a mix of surfing and kayaking -- while others chose to wade into waters or just lay out on the beach for the afternoon ... some other members of the travel party, including Owens, visited the Picasso Museum, which houses one of the largest collections of the works painted by the master 20th-century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso ... still other Notre Dame folks took time to simply walk the busy streets of Barcelona and become immersed in the local flavor of the city, best reflected by La Rambla, a massive tree-lined thoroughfare and pedestrian mall that stretches from the Placa de Catalunya near the city center down to the harbor before ending at the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Veil.
WORD OF THE DAY
Flamenco -- While the textbook definition was provided earlier in this piece, leave it to our tour administrator, Leo Jenkins, to simplify things and make it a whole lot easier for the group to understand - in his words, flamenco is "like a cross between line dancing, tap dancing and going (crazy) on the dance floor, all while performing to what is basically the Spanish version of the blues."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.