May 12, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
Please don't talk to the No. 6 Notre Dame women's lacrosse team about the Monmouth men's basketball team and definitely don't bring up the reserves from the Syracuse women's lacrosse team. Since the spring of 2015 the Fighting Irish have gotten synchronized celebrations from their bench reflecting the passion that all members of the team share in the team's ultimate success.
Notre Dame has scored a lot of goals in 2016 -- the Irish rank seventh nationally in scoring offense -- and they assuredly lead the nation in sideline hijinks. Goals on the field are met by reserves on the bench acting out human bowling, "flying hawks" in which unused sticks are thrown at teammates like lumberjack competition axes, skeet shooting, boxing matches, tandem human exercise bike riding, bench presses, pull-ups, suspended pushups and any number of heavily-coordinated expressions of joy.
The organization of the celebrations is taken as seriously as Notre Dame takes its on-field march to the sixth-seed in the upcoming NCAA Championship. The ring-leaders have even taken to quarterback wristbands only instead of DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire calling in a certain running or passing play, several Irish senior women's lacrosse players make sure that a dozen of their peers are properly prepared to go fishing or perform another antic.
How did this all come to be? How does the coach see it? Where will it go from here? Five of the sideline coordinators and the head coach who supports them tell the tale in their own words.
Emma Claire Fontenot: "The ones of us on the sidelines wanted to make it fun for both us and the team. We wanted to show the team that we care as much about how they're playing as they do. From that, stemmed the idea that the same old cheering doesn't necessarily get them pumped up or amped up as much. We decided to get more creative with it."
Danielle Lukish: "(Head coach Christine Halfpenny) wants us to transfer the loud positive energy that we have on the sideline onto the field because it creates a better atmosphere for the girls who play. It keeps us involved too and as one team. Whenever we score a goal, we look to them and they look to us and then we do our thing and have our sick cheer."
Sydney Cardozo: "The bench has a bad connotation to it. `Ohhhh, you sit on the bench.' But this way it keeps us involved with people who aren't on the bench and it makes people who are playing more comfortable knowing that we're so proud of them and cheering for them. Even though we're not out there with them to tell them `great job' they know we're proud of them. "
Halfpenny: "Every single one of them would do anything to play. They want to play. But, at the end of the day, there's only 12 spots at a time that I can put players out there. They're finding that silver lining. They're finding what our team needs.
"They bring us incredible energy. They bring us perspective. It's something we built off of last year and this year it's taken a whole new form. You've got to credit those kids who understand that no role is too small. Everyone has a piece to this team...I'll take this squad any day of the week (to coach). I would certainly say that this has been an enjoyable year."
Hannah Hartman: "Having 22 upperclassmen makes for a strong leadership and a strong foundation. It allows other people to see upperclassmen embracing their role whether it's being the leading scorer or someone being a hawk on the bench throwing a stick at each other. That helps with chemistry. Own your role no matter what it is. When you win like we have, it makes it easier to have that chemistry continue."
Fontenot: "We're a very close team off the field. We do almost everything together, whether that's eating, studying or just hanging out -- all different types of things. I think that we know each other's personalities so well because of that and we know who each other are and a lot of us are pretty funny. Sometimes lacrosse gets very serious. A lot of us use laughter as an outlet. Being able to use the comedic relief during a game reflects how well we understand each other. A lot of us need that spark of laughter and joy. We understand that because of the chemistry we have."
Hannah Rees: ""It makes it more fun and makes everyone stay involved and engaged throughout the game. It helps the players on the field too because they always give us recognition, which is awesome. It makes us feel like we're contributing to the game."
Halfpenny: "They're top-to-bottom together. A team isn't made up of individuals who play on game day. A team is made up of 32 individuals and everybody has a specific role. No role is too small. So far we've played 19 games but together we've trained over 120-something days and traveled together. Everybody finds their importance."
Lukish: "(Our team attitude) is really positive. My freshman year, it wasn't as together. You had to earn your place. After our Italy trip last summer, that really bonded everyone. We've had so many random activities to facilitate through our coaching staff or just each other that we're so close. Anything goes and we're not judgmental of each other. These are people that I know I can be my true self around."
Hartman: "It started last year with (Rees)' cousin's lacrosse team and they started with jousting and bench pressing."
Rees: "Spencer Rees at Boy's Latin in Baltimore."
Hartman: "We brought that into our bench last year but it wasn't like our whole squad. It wasn't as organized. We started with a Cortney (Fortunato) cheer... `when I say Cort, you say nee' and touch someone else's knee. It's evolved since then."
Cardozo: "Shauna (Pugliese) and Kiera (McMullan) helped get it started last year too."
Rees: "We were terrified at first to do it."
Hartman: "We thought we were going to get in so much trouble. Is this going to make it seem like we're not taking games seriously? Then Chris (Halfpenny) ended up loving it so we went for it. It was for the better."
Rees: "We got more creative as we kept doing it. At first benching was just a bencher and spotter. Now we have a rack and goggles as weights on the stick. It just keeps adding on and more people can participate. We added a more racks."
Fontenot: "In sports, in general, it's a thing to do celebrations. Coming from Minnesota, it's a really big deal to do hockey celebrations. People make them up and have them on the ice. I had always known it as a thing."
Lukish: "The legacy had to be carried on this year because Shauna was such a spirit on our team and so loud, so vocal, so into it and positive as a captain."
THE NEXT LEVEL
Hartman: "This year, when we saw that Syracuse got recognition or it, that was when we decided that we had to meet and come up with cheers. We came up with the tandem bike -- Katherine McManus found that on YouTube, maybe from a Premier League soccer team. Then bowling. A little bit from the Monmouth bench. Credit where credit's due."
Lukish: "This past year, we knew going into our Syracuse game that Syracuse has a good bench that knows how to cheer and they got publicity for it."
Rees: "We were playing Syracuse the next day and we were mad. It was a cheer-off - our bench vs. theirs. Their bench doesn't travel so we clearly won but we would have won that, regardless."
Cardozo: "We were doing it first and didn't get credit for it so we knew we had to step it up. We had a meeting in the locker room. We called it `yeet and greet' with the whole sideline and everyone else who wanted to be a part of it -- people who play the whole game too. We came up with probably 15 more cheers than we had originally. We practiced the bike outside, (Caroline) Doyle's pushups, stuff like that. We're serious about it. We practice."
Cardozo: "We texted about it and then said in the GroupMe app that anyone who wants to come do it, come plan and beat Syracuse (at cheering)."
Hartman: "We did a serious search for new cheers."
Lukish: "We practiced all of our stuff on the field after one practice and the rest is history."
Rees: "We assigned positions during the yeet and greet meeting. We didn't want just certain people to be the stars. We wanted to make sure everyone's involved so everyone has a part of each cheer."
Lukish: "(Using boxing as an example) we looked and thought, Syd (Cardozo), (Hannah) Proctor, you would be a good match. You are both really outgoing. Make it fun."
Fontenot: "(Wrist bands) was Hannah Rees and my idea. Before we got the wristbands, we wrote it in Sharpie on our arm so that we'd remember them. Sometimes, on the sidelines, you get stuck in a moment and (forget) which are the ones we had talked about. At our yeet and greet meeting, we wrote a bunch of stuff on the white board and I said `wait a minute, Hannah, we should just get the wristbands that the quarterbacks wear.' Her and I got that."
Lukish: "This past game (the ACC semifinals), we were playing Syracuse and they're our biggest rival when it comes to the bench so we tried to think of new cheers. Emma Claire and Hannah Rees thought of the dog walkers which was a good addition."
Rees: "We always start out with bowling and then tandem bike's the second. It can be anything from there. We usually do pushups at seven with Caroline Doyle flying in the air. There's about 20. That's what fits on the wrist band at least."
Fontenot: "I like the trophy fish. It gets everyone involved. A lot of the cheers that we made up are meant for just a small group of people but we tried to incorporate as many people as we have on the sidelines. So, we make a boat for the person who's fishing. Or making two sets of people do the bench press gets more people involved. I really like the trophy fish one because when she comes in at the end we all hold her up and that's funny."
Rees: "I don't know why (Hannah) Proctor's our (trophy) fish. She's a good one though. Proctor's a star. She's our horse. She says `the British are coming'."
Hartman: "I think my favorite is flying hawks. Syd Cardozo stands up on the bench with a pile of sticks and she throws them all at us and we all fall down. We came up with that one. That was an original ND spirit squad."
Lukish: "The Civil War one is really good too."
Cardozo: "It's Revolutionary War. We call it `Civil War' but we're so wrong historically."
Rees: "(Coach's young sons) Jack and Cole Halfpenny brought a football once so we played football and hashed that out as one of our cheers."
Hartman: "That one didn't go too well though. I think we had an incomplete pass. No touchdowns scored on that celebration."
Fontenot: "(I like) the tandem bike. I play a pretty strong base as a seat for a biker. Honestly, I just like being a part of it even if the crowd and team doesn't see my face."
Cardozo: "I'm a really big fan of the bike because everyone does it."
Hartman: "Syd seems to win every time (in boxing). She asserts her dominance and knocks (Proctor) out every time. It just kind of happened that way and we go with it."
Cardozo: "We have a golf one that we want to do. We'll think of other stuff."
Rees: "Some don't work, like the Titanic. We were rowing in a boat when an iceberg comes and people are Titanicing on the row boat."
Hartman: "It's more of a sinking rowboat than the Titanic. It's a mixture."
Rees: "We just added the iceberg. Jenn Casadonte's the iceberg. Hannah (Hartman) and I are Jack and Rose."
Lukish: "We have personalized cheers for some of them. Grace Muller, I'm going to act like a mole and crawl."
Cardozo: "When someone who doesn't score a lot scores, it's really exciting so we do one of our exciting cheers."
Fontenot: "I like when players who are on the field do something to get involved or when players who are usually on the field are subbed out and join in with us. I love that."
Hartman: "It keeps you engaged and makes it a lot more fun."
Cardozo: "One of my friends came to the ACC (semifinal) game and he had some of his fraternity brothers with him there and they LOVED it. They were filming the fight. They were calling us the Monmouth bench of women's lacrosse. It's fun when everyone laughs and cheers for us too."
Fontenot: "The best reaction was being on the big screen at ACCs [Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium has a 95-foot long video board]. That was pretty awesome being able to look up and see us. That also allows everyone on the field to be able to look up and see us and then the crowd directs its attention. It was great at ACCs getting that camera time."
Rees: "We kept looking to see if we were on the screen and got so excited every time we were. It was HD. It was awesome actually getting face time."
Lukish: "It was huge that we made it on the big screen for ACCs."
Halfpenny: "I don't see many of the celebrations until they're replayed and they're HILARIOUS. The senior class has such a great sense of humor and that's a piece of what we do. It's a supportive team constantly cheering each other on."
Fontenot: "(Now we need to) get more creative. We've got to think of some more for the NCAAs. We're going to have to come up with some new ones or maybe build off of some of them -- make them longer or get more people involved."
LEAVING A LEGACY
Halfpenny: "The players on the bench doing these things are going to leave a big legacy. There will be big shoes to fill. Those who are leaving us this year have been a part of everything we have done and every single one of our 13 victories."
Fontenot: "We decided to make it a tradition to pass (the wrist bands) on. After we graduate, we're going to pass them on to the next juniors who display the best attitude and enthusiasm on the sidelines. We want to keep that as a tradition. Having the wrist bands symbolizes the camaraderie we have as a team.
"It's not as intense as the (men's lacrosse team's) bagpipes, but maybe one day it will be as well-known of a tradition. That's the plan."
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse team while serving as the football publicity team's top lieutenant. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.