ND Athletics: Year in Review
Joe Meixell | Friday, May 18, 2007
This season the Irish women reiterated the fact that they are the most dominant program in the Big East – etching their names into the history books in the process.
Scoring more than 750 points, the Irish won their 11th consecutive Big East title, becoming the first program in any sport in Big East history to win 11 straight titles. The victory moved Notre Dame ahead of the Pittsburgh men’s swimming and diving program, which won 10 consecutive Big East titles from 1983-1992.
“It shows what a dominant force we’ve been in the Big East for 11 years,” Notre Dame coach Carrie Nixon said after the Big East championships. “Dominating the way we did this year really sent a message to the rest of the conference that we’re not going away anytime soon.”
The Irish sent eight swimmers and divers to the NCAA Championships held March 8-10 in Minneapolis, Minn. The total was the second most ever sent to the Championships in program history, and the team managed to compile 25 total points, good enough for a 27th place finish.
A bright spot for the Irish at the Championships was senior Katie Carroll, who earned her second career All-America honor when she finished in seventh place in the 400 IM with a time of 4:12.47. Carroll also earned honorable mention All-America honors in the 200-meter butterfly.
On the men’s side, Notre Dame just missed winning its third consecutive Big East title, falling to West Virginia on the final race of the four-day meet.
Entering the 400-meter freestyle relay, the Irish held a 3.5 point lead over the Mountaineers. The Notre Dame quartet of freshman John Lytle, and seniors Louis Cavadini, Ted Brown and Tim Kegelman touched the wall in a school-record time of 2:59.59, but they were outdone by West Virginia’s time of 2:56.21. The Mountaineers received 40 points for the victory while Notre Dame’s third-place finish netted the Irish 32 points – 4.5 points less than they needed to maintain their lead over West Virginia.
“It’s crushing,” Irish coach Time Welsh said after the Big East championships. “But I don’t feel like we lost the meet as much as West Virginia won it. We had four guys set a school record in the last event, and it still wasn’t enough. What more can you ask of them?”
Overall, the Irish compiled an 11-3 dual meet record to go along with a first-place finish in the Dennis Stark Relays, as well as a third-place finish in the Ohio State Invitational.
Despite finishing as the runner-up to host Louisville in the Big East tournament April 24, Notre Dame failed to capture a berth in the NCAA Championships. The Irish finished their fall season in solid position to earn one of 81 NCAA regional berths.
“We had a very good fall,” Irish coach Jim Kubinski said. “We finished ranked about 40th [nationally].”
But the Irish were unable to maintain their high level of play for the duration of the spring, leaving them on the NCAA bubble heading into the tournament’s selection process.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t consistent enough during the spring,” Kubinski said.
After finishing second in the 16-team Triumph on March 13 in Pauma Valley, Calif., the Irish capped off their spring break trip with a sixth-place result at the high-profile Border Olympics March 17 in Laredo, Tex.
Several weeks later, however, the Irish struggled through harsh weather conditions to finish in a tie for eighth place at Purdue’s Boilermaker Invitational.
The team then carded an 11th-place score in the Kepler Invitational on the Ohio State campus April 15.
“The two tournaments at Purdue and Ohio State where we saw some really bad weather – like everyone else did – really hurt us,” Kubinski said. “We were still close [to an NCAA berth] but those two weren’t good for us.”
But after their second-place finish in the Big East – including a tournament-low, 10-under par score in the final round – the Irish still believed they may have earned a bid to the premier post-season event.
Notre Dame finished ahead of several teams that were selected to the tournament, but it was hurt by the NCAA policy of selecting a limited number of teams from each region. The Irish, who had to compete in a very strong district, were ranked well ahead of several teams from other areas that were given at-large bids.
“I definitely think we should have been there,” senior co-captain Cole Isban said. “But there’s nothing you can do.”
Kubinski said that Isban, too, was snubbed by the NCAA selection committee. In tournaments throughout the year, Isban defeated several of the players that were given individual spots in the tournament. He was even ranked almost 100 spots higher than some of those players, yet he was not deemed worthy of a bid.
“I think, quite honestly, Cole was most deserving of an individual spot,” Kubinski said. “I say this without a hint of bias. It was very surprising and very much a disappointment.”
The NCAA selection system will change next year to de-emphasize schools’ geographical locations.
“[Next year] it will depend a lot less on district allocations,” Isban said. “Notre Dame shouldn’t have a problem getting in from now on.”
For Kubinski, the impending change in the selection system, as well as some of his young team’s gutsy performances throughout the year, serve to ease the sting of being left out of the NCAA field.
“I’m not disappointed only because, other than Cole, we didn’t have too much experience coming into the season,” Kubinski said. “I’m very proud of the heart the guys showed, especially at the final round of the Big East. We actually shot our low round of the year in our last round.”
Notre Dame’s roller-coaster year ended when the Irish finished fourth in the NCAA Championships at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Notre Dame endured a season that included a surgery and lengthy absence for head coach Janusz Bednarski, the hiring of a new assistant coach for the foilists and the departure of Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis, a junior who withdrew in pursuit of a non-guaranteed spot on the 2008 Olympic squad.
Still, four Irish fencers garnered first-team All-America status with top-four showings – freshman epeeist Kelley Hurley, sophomore foilist Adi Nott and senior sabreists Patrick Ghattas and Valerie Providenza.
Ghattas became the 25th three-time first-team All-America in Notre Dame history, finishing second to Harvard’s Timothy Hagaman by a single touch. Meanwhile, Providenza’s first-team All-American showing marked her fourth straight season concluding in All-America honors.
What’s more, nine of Notre Dame’s 11 qualifiers earned at least honorable mention All-America status with top-12 finishes in their weapon, and seven of those nine will return to the squad next season.
“I am very proud of the kids, who kept going,” Bednarski said. “We have new fencers who are showing good skill.”
Notre Dame’s 2007 slate opened with an 8-0 performance by the women and an 8-1 showing by the men at the Notre Dame Duals. The squads struggled at the next dual meet – the NYU Duals – and finished just 3-3 on the men’s side and 4-2 on the women’s side.
The Irish stormed back to post undefeated team performances at the Midwest Duals and the Duke Duals before a strong showing at the Northwestern Duals. There, the men went 3-1 and women finished 5-2.
In her senior year, Noriko Nakazaki led Notre Dame to within one stroke of the Big East championship.
Nakazaki, who is the all-time leader in stroke average for the Irish, ended the 2006-07 year averaging 74.71 strokes per round and finished 18th in the NCAA Central Regional Individual Championships.
Notre Dame’s highest finish during the regular season was second place at the Lady Irish Invitational Sept. 24 at the Warren Golf Course, but the Irish caught fire at the Big East championships April 22-24 and headed into the third round leading by three strokes over second place Louisville.
But on the third day, the Cardinals stormed back, tying the Irish at 891 strokes for the tournament and forcing a playoff.
Louisville took the championship on the first playoff hole.
Although Notre Dame’s season ended with a disappointing 19th-place finish at the NCAA Tournament in Terra Haute, Ind., the Irish still had a successful season.
The Irish men and women came out strong in their first two races – the Crusader Invitational and the National Catholic Championship held at Notre Dame. The men’s team won both events while the women finished in second at Valparaiso and tied for the win at the NCC.
After the NCC, the squads’ seasons started to separate. The men continued their success at the Notre Dame Invitational Sept. 29, spurred on by senior all-American Kurt Benninger’s first race of the season. Although Benninger’s return was the big news for the Irish before the race, afterward sophomore Patrick Smyth’s personal-best time of 23:46 for a third-place finish proved to be crucial to Notre Dame’s fourth-place finish.
Smyth and Benninger continued to lead the Irish runners during the conference and national meets. The pair earned all-Big East honors along with junior Jake Watson after earning top-15 finishes during the team’s third-place showing in the Big East championship.
Although the team qualified with a second-place finish at the Great Lakes Regional, Notre Dame faltered at the NCAAs, finishing 19th in the 31-team field.
On the women’s side, junior Sunni Olding held pace for the Irish throughout the season. In Notre Dame’s 12th-place finish at the Notre Dame Invitational, she finished 18th and placed 19th at the Pre-National Meet. Olding earned all-Big East honors at the conference championships, along with seniors Ann Mazur and Amy Kohlmeier, and then qualified as a solo runner for the NCAA Championships after a sixth-place finish at the regional.
Notre Dame won its fourth-straight Big East championship in 2007 and will compete in the NCAA Championships later this month.
At the conference title meet, held in Worcester, Mass., the Irish scored 118 points, topping second place Louisville and Syracuse, who each finished with 101.
Notre Dame took first place in three events, with the varsity eight, varsity four and novice four boats all winning gold medals.
The NCAA meet will be held May 25-27 in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
It was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but it ended with a deep and nearly successful run into the conference championship that bore little resemblance to a team that was under construction.
The Irish (18-14, 10-4 Big East) avenged a 3-0 sweep at the hands of No. 24 St. John’s in the regular season when they defeated the Red Storm 3-1 in the semifinals of the Big East tournament Nov. 18. The upset win not only put the Irish in the league championship, where they fell 3-2 to rival Louisville, but secured the team’s 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament bid – which ended in a 3-0 loss to No. 10 Wisconsin.
Notre Dame entered the season with a lone senior in Danielle Herndon, a year after it advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. After the 2005 Tournament drive, the Irish were forced to replace All-American Lauren Brewster and seniors Lauren Kelbley and Meg Henican – a daunting task that Irish head coach Debbie Brown handled by recruiting a six-member freshman class that was ranked in the top five nationally.
The freshmen were up to the challenge, along with Herndon and junior leaders Adrianna Stasiuk and Ashley Tarutis. The team opened Big East play with a six-game win streak, after it started the season with a 5-5 record against some of the nation’s top teams.
During the remainder of the conference schedule, Notre Dame bumped along to a 4-4 record and a fifth-place seed in the Big East tournament. But the home stretch of the regular season was an unrecognizable prelude of what was to come – when the Irish were able to win the games that mattered and advance to the Big East championship.
A fresh, yet familiar face will join the Irish coaching staff next season. Former two-time Irish All-American Brewster agreed May 10 to become an assistant coach on Brown’s staff, replacing Louella Lovely. Brewster, a 2006 graduate and former middle blocker who owns four program records, guided the Irish to four NCAA Tournament berths and played in every single match during her career, compiling a 98-28 record (.778 winning percentage).
The Notre Dame women’s track and field team made history last weekend.
For the first time since the program became a varsity sport, the Irish women won the Big East championship meet in Storrs, Conn., finishing with 120.5 points. Louisville came in second with 106.5 points.
A large factor in Notre Dame’s victory was senior Molly Huddle, who won both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Huddle, who won the conference title in the 5,000 for the fourth consecutive year, finished in 15:59.89, 10 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. She won the 10,000 with a time of 33:20.42.
“They really did a great job,” head coach Joe Piane said of his team. “Molly Huddle obviously did a great job, but we had other kids who really stepped up.”
Piane, distance coach Tim Donnelly, jumps coach Scott Windsor, sprints coach John Millar and throwing coach B.J. Linnenbrink were named the Big East Women’s Outdoor Coaching Staff of the Year.
“It’s obviously a reward for the many hours of hard work they all put in, and it’s nice to be recognized by your peers,” Piane said.
The men finished in third place at the championship meet.
The Notre Dame men won the 2007 Big East indoor track and field championships with 133.5 points, beating Louisville by just 2.5 points. Senior Thomas Chamney defended his title in the 800 meters, winning with a time of 1:51.76. The 4×800 relay team also took first in 7:31.39. Six runners went to the NCAA Indoor Championships, and Chamney and junior Jake Watson both received All-America status.
Over the course of the outdoor season, more than 25 athletes qualified for the NCAA Mideast Regional meet. Competing in meets from Michigan to California, Notre Dame track and field set numerous personal bests, school records and two Big East-leading times.