Aug. 10, 2013
by Chris Masters (Associate Athletic Media Relations Director)
MADRID -- As the Notre Dame women's basketball team enjoyed its high-speed train ride from Barcelona to Madrid on Saturday morning, the Fighting Irish players and staff took in the varying landscapes of the east-central Spanish plains, highlighted by numerous vineyards that dotted the countryside.
Spain is the most widely-planted wine producing nation in the world, but ranks third among global wine producers behind France and Italy. Spanish wine benefits from more than 400 native grape varieties, although the top 20 types account for more than 80 percent of the country's wines.
As expert vintners note, the best wines result from an ideal blend of numerous factors, most notably the relationship between the soil and climate where the grapes are grown.
In much the same way, the Fighting Irish women's basketball team has achieved its best success in recent years due to the perfect mix of team chemistry and on-court talent. However, what many folks may not realize is that team chemistry isn't limited to the players and coaches -- it also extends to the student managers, who play a vital role behind the scenes in the success of any college athletics program, particularly those at Notre Dame.
Megan Golden and Kelly Harmon are in their second year as student managers for the Fighting Irish women's basketball program, having started as part-time, game-day managers for the team during the 2011-12 campaign and then coming aboard on a full-time basis prior to last season.
Golden, a native of Concord, Ohio, serves as the team's equipment manager, helping to issue players and staff their gear from the school's official apparel provider, adidas, as well as supervise the team's regular laundry schedule. She also handles all equipment needs both home and away, the latter involving packing 4-5 bags of extra jerseys, shoes, warmup suits, towels, clipboards and other materials, along with two Gatorade coolers and working with Harmon to pack the team's film case, affectionately nicknamed by the pair as "Big Bertha."
Meanwhile, Harmon, who hails from Grand Rapids, Mich., is the Fighting Irish personnel manager, putting her in charge of coordinating team travel accommodations on the road, including hotel reservations and local bus transportation. She also organizes all team meals (both home and away), develops itineraries for all road trips in consultation with associate coordinator of operations & technology Angie Potthoff, issues per diem to the players, files expense reports and oversees filming of both practices and games.
"Megan and Kelly are really part of the life blood of our program," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. "There are so many of our day-to-day activities as a team that involve our student managers, and they are so indispensable. They work long hours with little to no outside recognition, on top of their regular academic loads, and yet, they don't flinch for a minute and do their jobs so efficiently and thoroughly. It's tough to imagine where we'd be without their hard work and dedication."
On the surface, both managerial jobs appear incredibly time-consuming. Then add in the fact that each manager is carrying a full class load and an extremely taxing course of study, with Golden pursuing a self-designed major (SDM) in Sports, Culture & Society at Saint Mary's, as well as a minor in Spanish, and Harmon studying psychology in Notre Dame's College of Arts & Letters, with a supplemental major in pre-health (pre-med track).
Yet, without hesitation, both women agree their current roles as student managers for the Fighting Irish women's basketball team are the result of a long-held passion for the program.
"My dad (Tom) graduated from the University in 1974 and I've followed Notre Dame women's basketball since I was a little girl," Harmon said. "I remember watching them win the national championship and crying my eyes out. I wanted so badly to play for them, but I knew pretty quickly I wasn't going to have the appropriate talent to follow that path.
"Then, while I was in high school and my brother was at Notre Dame (graduating in 2008), I heard about the student manager program and realized that was a great way to be part of the basketball team outside of being a student-athlete," she added. "So after I went to the first manager meeting my freshman year, I constantly harassed (Director of Olympic Sports Equipment) Kathy Speybroeck to assign me to the women's basketball program and it took off from there."
Conversely, Golden said she was well-aware of the manager program at an early age, something that was helped by her family history at both Saint Mary's and Notre Dame -- her mother, Margaret graduated from SMC in 1985 and Notre Dame one year later, while her father, Brian was a 1985 Notre Dame graduate, and three other family members also matriculated from one school or the other.
"My track was a little different in that I really grew up on both campuses," Golden said. "I thought it was actually a pretty cool dream at the age of six to want to be a manager at Notre Dame. Throughout high school, I did a lot of work to find out how I could get involved. At the same time, as my passion and love of sports continued to develop to the point I wanted to make it a career, I thought being a manager would be an ideal thing to help build my resume."
Both Golden and Harmon have been able to experience a great deal in their short careers with the Fighting Irish, including trips to the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Women's Final Fours, as well as the program's current European tour. The latter event has presented its own share of challenges, most notably dealing with extra bags (at least 45-50 pieces combined among the nearly 40-person travel party) and navigating the airline's weight limits for that baggage, but both seem to take those demands in stride.
"Sure it's different to deal with travel to a foreign country, but we had a tremendous tour administrator in Leo (Jenkins), who is familiar with all of the cities we've visited and he's been able to coordinate most of the major details, along with Yvonne (Noell) at Anthony Travel," Harmon said. "In general, so much of my job centers around communication, not only with Coach McGraw and Angie (Potthoff), but also with Megan.
"I was really happy to get to work with someone like Megan who is so knowledgeable about sports, and basketball specifically," she added. "We get along really well and it's helped that we came into the student manager program at a time when it was evolving and we were trained in each other's jobs. That way, if either of us is away from campus, the other can cover without missing a beat."
That scenario played out earlier this summer, when Golden returned home for her third year as a communications intern in the baseball information (media relations) department of Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians. It's a career path she would like to follow after graduation, but even before she gets there, Golden already sees the connections between her current managerial role and a potential media relations career.
"It's such a professional atmosphere with Notre Dame women's basketball," she said. "Kelly and I are treated as peers and friends by the players, and as colleagues with valued opinions by the coaches and staff. That kind of respect really means a lot to both of us."
For Harmon, the future also is extremely bright, as she has her sights set on applying to medical school with the goal of becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). In fact, she already has shadowed an OB-GYN at Spectrum Health in her hometown of Grand Rapids, and just a few days after she returns from Europe, she will have a similar shadowing opportunity with a doctor at South Bend's Memorial Hospital.
However, in her eyes, it's the memories Harmon had made in her time with the Fighting Irish women's basketball program that will last long after she hangs up her team-issued sweatsuit in favor of a white medical lab coat.
"Really, there aren't very many people who can say they've been to two Final Fours, win two BIG EAST (Conference) titles and had the chance to travel to England and Spain like Megan and I have," Harmon said. "I wouldn't trade the moments we've shared for anything."
The memories for both student managers on the team's current European tour continue as Notre Dame prepares for its final exhibition game of the trip at 10 a.m. ET (4 p.m. local time) Sunday against the French All-Stars at the Polideportivo Antonio Magarinos in Madrid. 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 Fighting Irish travel party spent the early part of Saturday traveling from Barcelona to Spain's capital city of Madrid (located nearly in the center of the country) via a three-hour high-speed train ride ... Madrid is the European Union's third-largest city behind London and Berlin with a metropolitan area population of 6.5 million people ... the team arrived at Madrid's Puerta de Atocha, the largest railway station in the Spanish capital city and a facility that was originally built in 1851 and reconstructed in 1892 following its destruction by fire (in consultation with famed architect Gustave Eiffel, who is better known for his work in designed a certain tower in the French capital city of Paris) ... after checking into their hotel in downtown Madrid, the Notre Dame players and staff enjoyed a walking tour of the city on Saturday afternoon, highlighted by stops at the main square of Madrid (La Puerta del Sol), one of the city's major farmers' markets (La Mercado de San Miguel) and the massive Royal Palace, which features more than 2,800 rooms, although the Spanish monarch himself (King Juan Carlos I) does not live in the residence -- instead the Palace is used for gala functions, including a recent visit by members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) making final evaluations on the three remaining candidate cities to host the 2020 Summer Olympics (the choice between Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul will be made next month) ... the team wrapped up its first night in Madrid with a traditional Spanish dinner of paella, a dish of rice, meat (usually chicken), seafood and vegetables that originated in its current form in the 19th century in the eastern Spanish region of Valencia.
WORD OF THE DAY
Carriage -- Back home in the States, a carriage may conjure up visions of a leisurely horse-drawn ride through New York's Central Park, or possibly for those lovers of fairy tales, the idea of Cinderella's transportation to the ball that later turned back into a pumpkin.
However, today's usage is another of the great alternate British words used by our tour administrator, Leo Jenkins, who had a few in the travel party initially scratching their heads when he said we were going to "get our luggage loaded onto the carriage for the trip to Madrid." Of course, we soon realized the British call a train car a "carriage", in much the same way they refer to the hood of a car as a "bonnet" and getting into line as "forming the queue".
No promises that these British idioms will end up in one of my press releases any time soon, but they sure are fun to hear and just another example of how many different ways there are to express oneself all around the world.