Dec. 23, 2016
By John Heisler
It's not long now before the last calendar page flips to 2017.
So, in the spirit of the holidays, here are things to be grateful for from 2016 (listed in no particular order) when it comes to athletics at the University of Notre Dame. And there was plenty of good stuff, from individual NCAA titles to lots of number-one rankings from a handful of different teams:
1. Molly Seidel: The Heart of a Champion
If championships are the ultimate goal, color Seidel red hot in that category. She recorded individual titles in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races on
consecutive nights at the 2016 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. That pushed her list of individual championship medals to four after her wins in
the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championship and the 10,000-meter race at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. And the best news? Seidel, the
2016 NCAA Division I Women's Indoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year, will return to campus to compete during the 2017 indoor and outdoor track and
Seidel (Hartland, Wisconsin/University Lake School), who graduated in the spring of 2016 with a degree in anthropology, spent several fall months in Flagstaff, Arizona, doing high-elevation training and conversing with some of the country's most elite runners. "Molly's decision to return speaks volumes for the passion she feels for Notre Dame," Irish associate head coach Matt Sparks said. "She had the opportunity to forego her final seasons of eligibility to make a good living as a professional runner. She will still be able to live out her dream as a professional athlete, but she feels like she has unfinished business left at the college level." A three-time ACC champion, Seidel also was a 2015-16 first-team Academic All-American and 2016 ACC Female Athlete of the Year. She became the first individual track and field national champion in women's program history-and she is one of just three Notre Dame student-athletes to win four national championships in any sport.
2. Best and Brightest:
Byron V. Kanaley Award Winners
The most prestigious honor awarded to Notre Dame student-athletes is the Byron V. Kanaley Award, presented each year since 1927 at commencement exercises to the senior monogram athletes who have been most exemplary as students and leaders. The awards are selected by the Faculty Board on Athletics, and the 2016 winners were:
--Emma Gaboury (Swimming & Diving, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)
She and two of her diving teammates qualified for the NCAA Championship meet, the first time Notre Dame sent more than one diver to that event. At the NCAA Championship, Gaboury finished 38th in the one-meter competition and 29th in the three-meter event, following top-eight finishes at the ACC Championship in both the one-meter (eighth) and three-meter (fifth) competitions. Gaboury earned a place on the All-ACC Academic Team for women's swimming & diving for the second consecutive year.
--Garrett McGrath (Fencing, Mesa, Arizona)
McGrath was a four-time NCAA Championship qualifier in epee and a two-time All-American, highlighted by his NCAA runner-up finish as a sophomore in 2014. He was a two-time conference champion (2013 Midwest Fencing Conference, 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference) and helped the Fighting Irish secure two ACC titles (2015, 2016) and a Midwest Fencing Conference crown (2013). In the classroom, McGrath was named the 2016 ACC Men's Fencing Scholar-Athlete of the Year and appeared on the All-ACC Academic Team for the second year in a row.
--Quentin Monaghan (Men's Tennis, Chatham, New Jersey)
As a junior in 2015 Monaghan advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Singles Championship and finishing the year at No. 7 in the Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings. In 2016 he entered the national doubles rankings for the first time in his career, was the 2016 recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award given annually to players across all divisions who have exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements-and he and teammate Alex Lawson advanced to the NCAA Championship doubles semifinals.
--Katie Naughton (Women's Soccer, Elk Grove Village, Illinois)
Naughton was the first three-time captain in Fighting Irish women's soccer history, graduating in December 2015 with bachelor's degrees in anthropology and Spanish from the College of Arts and Letters following a career in which she was a three-time all-conference selection and a second-team Academic All-America pick in 2015. In January Naughton was a second-round selection by the Chicago Red Stars with the 19th-overall pick in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft.
--Molly Seidel (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field, Hartland, Wisconsin)
Seidel, in addition to the honors listed above, was named the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Women's Division I National Athlete of the Year in both indoor track and cross country and she was recognized as the Great Lakes Regional Women's Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. She won the Honda Sport Award in cross country and made the watch list for the Bowerman Award (considered the Heisman Trophy of track & field). At the conference level, Seidel earned top honors in 2015-16 as the ACC Women's Cross Country and Women's Indoor Track Performer of the Year, as well as the Women's Cross Country and Women's Indoor Track Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and she claimed her second All-ACC Academic Team selection in both cross country and indoor track & field. She also won the 3,000-meter (9:02.24) and 5,000-meter (15:19.64) races at the 2016 indoor conference championship, with her 5,000-meter time setting an ACC Championship meet record.
3. Irish Coaches Who Accomplished Big Things
-- Muffet McGraw and her 2016-17 Irish women's basketball squad opened the season as the preseason No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll, the first time for that at Notre Dame. In November and December Notre Dame five times ranked number one in one or both polls, three times standing atop both. The only other time the Irish sat atop the AP poll came during the 2001 season when Notre Dame earned the No. 1 ranking for five weeks.
won his 200th career game Sept. 23 vs. Syracuse - he and Randy Waldrum are the only two Irish soccer coaches to win at least 200 games. His
Irish spent five weeks in 2016 ranked number one in at least one of the three recognized polls-and that's one week from tying with the 2013 squad for the
most total weeks at number one (six weeks in 2013). The 2014 team that was the defending NCAA champion also was #1 for five different weeks.
--Kevin Corrigan has had his teams on the cusp of a championship since 2010 when the Irish advanced to the NCAA title game against Duke before losing in overtime. However never until 2016 had Notre Dame's men's lacrosse program dominated the polls as it did last spring. The Irish spent nine weeks in 2016 ranked number one in at least one of the three major polls. Notre Dame began the 2016 season rated first in both the Lacrosse magazine and Inside Lacrosse preseason polls. The Irish held the top spot in all three major polls twice. Notre Dame finished fifth in both the final Inside Lacrosse and Nike/Lacrosse magazine polls taken after the 2016 NCAA Championship.
--Mike Brey and his 2015-16 team advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for a second straight season-thanks to victories over Michigan, Stephen F. Austin and Wisconsin--and then opened the 2016-17 campaign with the best start at Notre Dame during the Brey era (9-0). No other team in the country advanced to the Elite Eight in both 2015 and 2016 as Brey and his Irish did.
--Deanna Gumpf won her 600th game in 2016 and now has 634 career victories, second at Notre Dame only to Muffet McGraw. She earned her 600th career victory at the helm of the Irish thanks to a 5-1 win over No. 22 Central Florida Feb. 26 at the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic. Gumpf became the third Notre Dame coach to surpass the 600-win milestone at the helm of an Irish varsity program. Legendary fencing coach Michael DeCicco (799) and Hall of Fame women's basketball coach McGraw (738) are the only other varsity athletics mentors to win 600 games during their Notre Dame tenures.
--Gia Kvaratskhelia saw his Irish women's fencing squad in 2016 rank first in three of the four polls issued by CollegeFencing360.com, including the final version. The Notre Dame men and women combined to finish fifth in the 2016 NCAA Championships.
--Jim McLaughlin and his Irish volleyball squad didn't qualify for the 2016 NCAA Championship bracket. But, until a late-season injury to its standout setter threw a monkey wrench into the lineup, Notre Dame was on the verge of one of the great turnarounds in Irish athletic history. A year ago Notre Dame finished 7-25 i n McLaughlin's first year in South Bend (including 2-18 in ACC play). In 2016 his Irish ended up 22-10 (13-7 in league action) and presumably would have been an NCAA Championship entrant if not for the injury suffered by Caroline Holt. At the time Holt was hurt Notre Dame stood 18-4, she led the ACC in assists and ultimately became a second-team all-ACC pick. Watch out for the Irish in 2017.
--Jeff Jackson notched his 250th career win in Notre Dame's 5-2 victory at Northeastern on Nov. 12. In the midst of his 12th season behind the Irish bench, Jackson is now 254-160-48 at Notre Dame and he trails only Charles “Lefty” Smith in career wins (307). During the first half of the 2016-17 season, Jackson has led a young Irish team to as high as No. 3 in the national polls. Last season, he guided Notre Dame back to the NCAA Championship field for the sixth time since 2008.
--Mike Litzinger saw both his men's and women's swimming teams get off to hot starts in 2016-17, with the Irish women ranking 10th and the men 12th one week in October-for the highest combined rankings by the two squads. The women remain unbeaten and the men have fallen only to Virginia Tech.
4. Best Combined Basketball Programs in the Country
In 2014-15 the Irish men's and women's basketball program combined for the best overall record in the country at 68-9 (.883) based on 36-3 by the women and 32-6 by the men. The Irish in 2015 also had the best combined final rankings (women second, men fifth). Then, in 2016-17, in early December Notre Dame qualified as the only school in the country whose men's and women's basketball programs both remained unbeaten. The women currently stand 11-1, the men 10-2. And how about this for an achievement? The Irish impressed enough voters to actually move up in both polls despite losing a Dec. 10 game to top-rated Villanova.
5. Irish Olympians Excel in Rio
A dozen current or former Notre Dame student-athletes took part in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro:
--Natalie Achonwa-- She and the Team Canada women's basketball team ended with a quarterfinal loss to France. She's a 2014 graduate.
--Molly Huddle- -She posted an American record in the women's 10,000-meter race, finishing sixth in the fastest women's 10K in history. Huddle's 30:13.17 time shattered Shalane Flanagan's 30:22.22 mark set at the 2008 Beijing Games. Huddle is a 2006 graduate.
--Courtney Hurley- -She helped Team USA finish fifth in the women's epee team fencing competition. In individual action, Hurley fell in the round of 32. She's a 2013 graduate.
--Lee Kiefer-- She saw her run in the individual women's foil fencing competition end in the round of 16. She's a 2015 graduate.
--Gerek Meinhardt--A three-time Olympian, he advanced to the individual foil fencing quarterfinals and helped the U.S. win bronze in the team foil event. He's a 2013 graduate.
--Melissa Tancredi- -She and Team Canada defeated Brazil in the women's soccer bronze-medal match. Tancredi scored two goals in Canada's 2-1 victory over Germany in group play. Tancredi captured her second Olympic medal, having helped Canada to the bronze in 2012. She's a 2005 graduate.
--Monty Williams- -He helped the USA men's basketball team win the gold medal for a third consecutive Summer Olympic Games as an assistant coach. Team USA defeated Argentina in the quarterfinals, Spain in the semifinals and then Serbia in the gold-medal contest. He's a 1994 graduate.
--Mariel Zagunis--A four-time Olympian, former gold medalist and four-time medal-winner, she advanced to the individual sabre fencing round of 16 and then helped the U.S. win the bronze in the team sabre competition.
6. Matt Kavanagh: Ultimate Clutch Player?
The debate over which Notre Dame athlete qualified as the most clutch individual likely would be a lively one in any given year. But at least consider veteran Irish men's lacrosse attack Matt Kavanagh, who won four games over his Notre Dame career with overtime goals.
In 2016 he earned All-America honors for the fourth consecutive year (the first Irish men's lacrosse player in history to do so), including first-team honors as both a junior and senior. The Rockville Centre, New York product led the 2016 Irish in scoring with 50 points and a team-leading 29 assists. The three-time all-ACC pick stands second on the Notre Dame career scoring list with 225 points (122 goals and 103 assists, both totals ranking third on Notre Dame's career charts). A Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2015, he notched at least six points in two games in 2016 and 13 times during his career. He had 36 multiple-goal games during his career (19 with three-plus goals). Kavanagh matched a school record with seven goals in the win at Ohio State in 2014. Kavanagh had four overtime game-winning goals during his career--netting the deciding goal in the 2014 triumph over Albany in the NCAA Championship quarterfinals (that put him on the cover of Lacrosse magazine) and doing that again against Marquette in 2016. During his freshman campaign in 2013, he scored in overtime to win games against Penn State and North Carolina (a three-overtime affair).
7. Corey Robinson: Latest in a Series
Notre Dame student-athletes have had a pretty good run of late when it comes to major accomplishments. First, in 2012 former Irish fencer Mariel Zagunis served as flag-bearer for the U.S. Olympic Team at the Summer Games in London. Then in 2014 the NCAA elected Irish soccer player Elizabeth Tucker as the Woman of the Year, as prestigious an honor as that body presents to a current student-athlete. Next rower Anna Kottkamp earned recognition as valedictorian of the Notre Dame senior class in 2015. Then Irish football player Corey Robinson was elected as University student body president for 2016-17 (that followed a similar position for fencer Alex Coccia in 2013-14 as well as Coccia's Rhodes Scholar designation).
8. Matt Landis: Best in the Nation (Twice)
It's more than impressive to be named the best in the country at your position in a given season in any sport. That's what Irish men's lacrosse defenseman Matt Landis did in 2015, punctuated by a fabulous effort in marking Albany's national player of the year, Lyle Thompson, in Notre Dame's NCAA quarterfinal victory. That helped Landis merit the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association's William C. Schmeisser Award as the best defensive player in the country. The offshoot? Landis won the award again in 2016 (only eight players have won it in successive seasons) and was one of five finalists for the 2016 Tewaaraton Award.
A 2016 Irish co-captain, Landis was the third overall pick in the 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft. Landis helped anchor a Notre Dame defense that allowed 8.0 goals per game in 2016 and ranked sixth nationally in that category. The two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year and two-time USILA first-team All-American keyed a Notre Dame defense that also ranked seventh in caused turnovers (8.47 per game). A two-time first-team all-ACC honoree, Landis started all 15 games for the Irish in 2016, collected 34 ground balls and led the team in caused turnovers with 19. He ranked as the top vote-getter among defensemen in USILA All-America voting for 2016 and 2015.
9. Barbara Sullivan: Two-Time Tewaaraton Finalist
Recognition for the work of Notre Dame women's lacrosse defender Barbara Sullivan continued to filter in after the three-year team captain helped lead the Irish back to the 2016 NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. The Notre Dame graduate student was named as one of four finalists for the Honda Sport Award for lacrosse.
Sullivan's continued success on defense led her to become the first female player (and just the third overall) to be a two-time Tewaaraton finalist while playing on defense. The three-time first-team All-American is just the second player named the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year twice. Sullivan led the ACC in 2016 in caused turnovers with 55. That sum is just one of eight Notre Dame records she holds including the single-game, single-season and career benchmarks for both caused turnovers and draw controls. Sullivan's 159 career caused turnovers rank 14th in NCAA history. Sullivan sat at the top of an Irish defense that by far led the nation in caused turnovers in 2016 as a team. Notre Dame's 294 caused turnovers in 2016 were the fifth most in NCAA history and the most nationally since 2002. The 2016 season was Sullivan's third as a team captain as she became only the ninth player in Notre Dame history to be a three-year captain.
10. GSR/APR: Notre Dame at #1 Sounds Familiar
The University of Notre Dame claimed a share of the 2016 national championship for graduating student-athletes in all sports-in the process posting the top NCAA Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figure (98) for its student-athletes for the 10th straight year.
The GSR number for all Notre Dame student-athletes rated the Irish first (tied with Stanford) among the football-playing institutions in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A). The 2016 NCAA figures were based on entering classes from 2006 through 2009. Meanwhile, Notre Dame's institutional research determined additional academic highlights based on the NCAA-issued GSR and federal figures released in November:
-- Eighteen of 22 Irish athletic programs analyzed posted GSR figures of 100 percent, and 10 produced federal rate 100 scores.
-- For the 11th time in 12 years, Notre Dame ranks number one on a percentage basis in terms of number of GSR 100 scores, among all FBS schools.
-- Eighteen of Notre Dame's 22 men's and women's programs posted GSR numbers that rank them best in the nation within their sports--and 11 produced federal graduation rates that led all FBS institutions.
Meanwhile, 16 Notre Dame athletic teams earned 1,000 scores-more perfect scores than any other NCAA FBS school--in the annual set of Academic Progress Rate statistics issued in April by the NCAA. Every Irish athletics program again exceeded the NCAA's APR minimum standards.
Notre Dame's number of perfect scores of 1,000 has ranked either first or second among all FBS programs for 11 straight years. Leaders in the 2016 data were Notre Dame (16), Stanford (14), Boston College (12), Minnesota (11), Rice (10), Duke and Northwestern (nine each), Tulane (seven), along with Auburn, Michigan and North Carolina (six each).
Notre Dame also led the FBS schools in 1,000 scores in 2015 (with an institutional record 17) and 2013 and 2012 (both with 12), in 2009 (with nine), in 2008 (with eight, tied with Duke) and in 2006 (with 14, tied with Boston College).
The 2016 report released by the NCAA featured a four-year compilation of APR data from the 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. The APR uses a series of formulas related to student-athlete retention and eligibility to measure the academic performances of all participants who receive grants-in-aid on every team at every NCAA Division I college and university.
Seven Notre Dame men's teams--cross country, fencing, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, track and field--registered perfect 1,000 scores. Nine Irish women's teams-basketball, cross country, fencing, lacrosse, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball--also earned perfect scores. This year for the first time indoor and outdoor track and field were combined into one score.
11. SWD Stars:
Community Champion Award
Notre Dame's student welfare and development division oversees all the community service work done by Irish athletes. The Community Champion award recognizes the contributions of a Notre Dame student-athlete to the University community and the community at-large, who embodies the spirit of leadership, commitment and selflessness, and who strives to make Notre Dame--as University President Father John Jenkins puts it--"a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need." Conferring this award recognizes student-athletes who study for the sake of learning, give for the sake of giving and understand that personal accomplishment is never achieved alone. Here's who won the award in May 2016:
--Casey Africano (Softball/Senior/Huntington Beach, California)
Africano was a repeat selection. She regularly set the Irish softball program standard for community service hours and participation throughout her four years at Notre Dame. Africano also took the lead as a key Fighting Irish Fight for Life ambassador and spent the majority of her 2015 summer in the International Summer Service Learning Program in Ghana, serving as a senior high school instructor while working to develop a sustainable income for the local school system to continue providing for the children in the surrounding area during her service opportunity.
--Lena Madison (Track & Field/Senior/New Buffalo, Michigan)
Madison finished 14th at the 2016 ACC Indoor Championship in the weight throw. Yet she also was heavily involved in Notre Dame's Green Dot violence prevention initiative, worked with the student organization Shades of Ebony and served as a peer educator for the Gender Relations Center of Notre Dame. A team captain both her junior and senior years, Madison also served as the SAAC monogram and career chair.
--Eva Niklinska (Fencing/Junior/Granger, Indiana)
Niklinska already is a three-year starter and monogram recipient as an epeeist on the Notre Dame women's fencing squad, as well as a member of the 2016 All-ACC Academic Team in that sport. She has been active in the University's Student Council--most recently serving as junior class president during the 2015-16 academic year--and on various academic committees and councils. She served as a weekly volunteer at the Sister Maura Brannick, C.S.C., Health Center, which provides primary health care services to the uninsured residents of St. Joseph County, and also contributed to her own "HandwrittenHearts" organization that she founded in 2011 to deliver handwritten letters and seasonal gifts to patients in the oncology and renal wards at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, Indiana.
--Kyle Richardson (Baseball/Senior/Park Ridge, Illinois)
Richardson connected with the Movember Foundation and rallied his teammates to participate in the annual November grass-roots movement of growing mustaches to raise money and awareness for men's health, most notably prostate cancer. With the entire Notre Dame baseball team on board, the Irish raised more than $35,000 and finished in the top 30 nationally among all Movember groups, finishing first among all college groups, sports teams and organizations.
--Andy Ryan (Hockey/Senior/Brighton, Michigan)
Ryan was Notre Dame's nominee for the 2016 College Hockey Humanitarian Award, in addition to serving as the hockey team's SAAC representative and participating in the University's Rosenthal Leadership Academy. He also led the Notre Dame hockey team's involvement with the Fighting Irish Fight For Life program, the University's Green Dot violence prevention initiative and the athletics department's Habitat for Humanity build. On the ice Ryan served as an alternate captain during the 2015-16 season and led a young defensive corps that included three sophomores and two freshmen to go with a sophomore goaltender.
The Trophy Award was established in 2006 to recognize the team that demonstrates a commitment to community through its unparalleled service to Notre Dame, as well as South Bend and the surrounding communities. The Trophy Award is sponsored by the Notre Dame Monogram Club and the Notre Dame Alumni Association.
2016 marked the fifth time in six years the Notre Dame softball team claimed the Trophy Award. The Irish have become a mainstay for this honor due to the program's ever-growing Strikeout Cancer initiative held each April. Through Strikeout Cancer, Notre Dame softball has raised more than $150,000 to directly benefit pediatric cancer patients since 2011.
A junior on the Irish football squad in 2015 and a captain for 2016, Tranquill established his 5th Quarter program, a fundraiser for a club called Lifeworks Dream Team of which Tranquill is a part. That group aims to send college students and college student-athletes into primary education centers around the South Bend area to mentor underprivileged children who aren't receiving support at home and who are struggling in the classroom. Meanwhile, Nelson, a member of the Irish women's basketball squad who lost her 12-year-old brother Jeremy due to a heart disorder a few years back, joins her family to support local heart scanning in their community via the Simon's Fund foundation that addresses cardiac arrest. Last summer she participated in a Heartsaver video, set to the tune of the Ghostbusters theme. Heartsaver is an American Heart Association initiative that teaches CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillators) use.
13. Alan Page: Still Helping
Former Irish football All-American, NFL MVP and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page received a pair of major awards in the fall of 2016. Earlier this month Page received the 11th Heisman Humanitarian Award from the Heisman Trophy Trust-in great part due to the millions of dollars he and his wife Diane have raised as part of their Page Education Foundation in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Since 1988 the foundation has awarded more than $13 million in grants to more than 6,500 Page Scholars-who have volunteered more than 420,000 hours of their time in their communities. Page in October received the Monogram Club's Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award.
14. Trey Mancini: Boom, Boom, Boom
After three seasons in the minor leagues, how amazing is it to hit a home run in your first appearance in a Major League Baseball game? Then, how bizarre is it to hit another home run two nights later in your second start? Then, how crazy is it to do it again, yet another home run, in your third start in the big leagues? Only three players in MLB history have accomplished that, and one of those is former Notre Dame standout Trey Mancini (with the Baltimore Orioles in September). Mancini, from Winter Haven, Florida, was an eighth-round MLB Draft pick in 2013, the same season he was named first-team all-BIG EAST as a first baseman and third-team All-American for the Irish.
15. On the Facility Front: Football, Rowing, Track and Field
The Campus Crossroads Project continued throughout 2016, with the construction involving home football contests to be completed prior to the 2017 season. The 15,000-square-foot McConnell Family Boathouse was dedicated in September. And construction began on the Harris Family Track Stadium that will provide a new $6.15 million home for the Irish track and field squads.
Then, in support of athletics advancement efforts to endow all coaching positions and grants-in-aid, 2016 saw Glenn and Stacey Murphy of Toronto make a $5 million commitment to endow Mike Brey's men's basketball coaching position-and Dr. John J. Callaghan and his wife Kim provide a $3 million gift to endow Irish men's tennis coach Ryan Sachire's position. Tommy and Audrey Ruttura made a $1.5 million gift to endow a linebacker position on the football squad.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been chronicling Irish athletic fortunes since 1978. Look for his Sunday Brunch columns every weekend.