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Notre Dame: Year in Review

Joe Meixell | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Women’s Golf

No. 28 Notre Dame concluded its season last week with a 16th place finish at the NCAA Central Regional Tournament at the University of Texas Golf Club in Austin, Texas. The Irish shot a 61-over-par 925, 23 strokes away from the cut line to the NCAA Championship. Both the score and finish are program records for Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament play.

Irish junior captain Lisa Maunu paced the Irish the fourth time this season. Maunu’s nine-over-par 225 placed her in a five-way tie for 30th. Freshmen So Hyun Park and Katie Conway carded 231 and 238, respectively. Sophomores Kristin Wetzel and Annie Brophy rounded out the squad with a 236 and a 240, respectively.

This year’s tournament marked the third time in program history Notre Dame has earned a bid to the NCAA Regionals. The Irish earned their No. 9 seed with a Big East Tournament win last month, the third conference title in six years for Notre Dame.

The conference title caps an Irish season distinguished by rousing success. Notre Dame, which opened the fall season with three straight tournament victories, has finished in the top-five in nine of 10 tournament appearances this season – the Big East Tournament win is its fifth first-place finish.

The Irish collected honors at Golf World Magazine’s mid-season awards banquet, being named the most surprising women’s team, while freshman So-Hyun Park was named most surprising women’s player.

Park, the No. 14 golfer in the country, has led the Irish with her scoring average of 73.12, a program-record. She also recorded two first-place finishes this season.

Junior captain Lisa Maunu contributed three podium finishes, including one first-place finish. In total, every Notre Dame golfer recorded at least one top-10 finish this year. Coach Susan Holt attributes her team’s success to preparation and mental toughness.

“Golf is basically hitting shots and playing holes and managing our game,” Holt said. “We have to get into our mode, that thought process, that comes with managing the course well.”

Notre Dame’s success led to Big East Coach of the Year honors for Holt. Holt has earned the award four times in her career.

“This is a great honor because it’s a result of the team’s performance,” Holt said. “I’m grateful because they are such a wonderful group and it’s a privilege to coach them. This team is special and to get this award for their hard work is an honor.”

Rowing

Notre Dame claimed its fifth straight Big East championship last month, sweeping all six grand final races on Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as the Irish outdistanced conference rival Louisville. Notre Dame captured gold medals in the varsity eight, second varsity eight, varsity four, second varsity four, novice eight and novice four races. It was the first time in its five championship meets that the Irish swept all six races.

“We are obviously very pleased to win the conference championship again and to do so by winning all six races,” Irish coach Martin Stone said. “This is the first time that we have won all six races. Today was a total team effort.”

Behind Notre Dame (123 points), Louisville (105), Syracuse (92), Georgetown (85), Rutgers (67), Connecticut (64), Villanova (44) and West Virginia (28) completed the field. Stone said his team put together the dominant performance he expected.

“We knew coming in that we were going to face a strong challenge from Louisville. All of our races were hard-fought,” he said. “I’m happy for our team and our coaching staff that we were able to come in here today and achieve our goal. To win it the way we did certainly was a great accomplishment for our rowers.”

The Irish crew’s five straight Big East titles is the school’s second-longest active streak, behind only the women’s swimming team’s 12 straight titles. Stone and assistant coaches Joe Schlosberg and Marnie Stahl captured their fifth straight Big East coaching staff of the year honors, as well.

The Irish will compete next week at the Central/South Region Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn. After the Big East win, Stone was relieved to have some time to train.

“After five straight weeks of being on the road and competing, this is going to be a welcome relief for us,” Stone said. “It’s going to be good to get back to training. This certainly will be one of the premier regattas of the season for all the teams competing. We’re looking forward to…putting ourselves in position to do well.”

The Central/South Region Championships will be the final tournament of the year for Notre Dame before the NCAA Championship in Sacramento, Calif., at the end of the month.

Cross Country

Notre Dame’s season featured a mix of success and disappointment, and a blend of veterans and newcomers stepping up for the Irish.

For the women, coach Tim Connelly called the season “one of the most disappointing that we have had in many years.” He cited the fact that key runners were not able to perform as a reason for the disappointment.

“We had numerous injuries and illnesses to several of our top runners which we were not able to overcome,” Connelly said.

The season started out with a bang, with the team taking first place in the Crusader Invitational at Valparaiso, followed by another first place finish in the National Catholic Championships. Sophomore Lindsey Ferguson finished 14th overall at the Big East Championships, as the team took home a sixth-place finish. Connelly sees a brighter future for next season.

“We only graduate one runner [Ann Mazur] out of our top-five runners at the end of the year, so we are very hopeful that 2008 will be significantly more successful,” he said.

The men’s team had a more successful run, winning its first three meets and spending the season among the top 25 teams in the nation. The Irish took home fourth place in the Big East Championships, with junior Patrick Smyth leading the way with a third place finish. He was followed closely by senior Jake Watson, who took 12th.

Smyth would continue to have success, winning the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet, while leading the team to a third place finish. At the NCAA Cross Country Championship, Smyth received second-team All-America honors after finishing 15th. The team, making its 15th appearance at the Championship in the past 18 years, finished 21st.

Fencing

The men’s and women’s teams met similar fates as each finished as the runner-up to Ohio State at the NCAA Championships.

Five Notre Dame men garnered All-America honors but the team was unable to claim the prize it coveted most. The Irish mustered only 176 victories in the NCAA Championships and fell to Ohio State, who finished with 185 victories.

The finish was the men’s team’s best since 2005, when the squad won the NCAA title.

The Irish women missed an NCAA win even more closely than the men. The women’s squad fell by just three victories to the host Buckeyes.

Two Notre Dame women were able to claim gold in individual competitions at the NCAA Championships. Kelley Hurley won in the epee competition and Sarah Borrmann claimed the top spot in saber.

Men’s Track

Notre Dame claimed the Big East outdoor championship for the fourth time in six seasons.

Senior runner Jake Watson led the Irish by placing second in the 1500-meter race and running the second leg of Notre Dame’s runner-up 4×800-meter relay team.

Behind Watson in the 1500-meter event, fifth-year senior Kurt Benninger and junior Daniel Clark placed sixth and eighth, respectively.

The Irish 4×100-meter relay squad also scored points for Notre Dame, placing third with a time of 41.63 seconds.

For the fifth time since 1999, head coach Joe Piane and his assistants were named the Big East Men’s Coaching Staff of the Year.

Volleyball

Though Notre Dame entered the Big East tournament as the No. 4 seed and defeated Cincinnati three games to one in the first round, the Irish did not go on to finish their season as they had hoped.

A subsequent loss to Louisville in three games ended the Irish season. Though the Irish defeated Tennessee only six days after in their season closer, the loss against the Cardinals prevented Notre Dame from earning a bid into NCAA tournament.

Upon entering the Big East tournament, the Irish maintained a 13-12 record that included a regular season ending four game winning streak.

“We finished really strong at the end of the regular conference season especially with our huge match against Louisville,” Irish coach Debbie Brown said. “We fell a little short with our goals by not making the NCAA tournament, but we finished strong this season.”

Only a week before they fell to the Cardinals, the Irish defeated the top-20 team in their final match before the Big East tournament.

Despite an early-ending season, the Irish focused on improving their overall game and their defense during spring season competition where they competed against top caliber teams such as Purdue, Michigan, Texas, Illinois and Penn State.

“We are working on everything but our main goal is to improve our defense, expand our range, and develop a stronger attitude of not letting the ball hit the floor on our side,” Brown said.

The Irish will lose two of their key senior leaders this year – outside hitter Adrianna Stasiuk and setter Ashley Tarutis. Along with five other athletes, Stasiuk earned Notre Dame’s prestigious Kanaley award for exemplary leadership and scholarly achievement. The senior captain also collected her 1,000th career kill this season and was named to the Academic All-District V team. Tarutis consistently posted several assists per game to aid the Irish offense as the team’s starting setter.

Despite the loss of two strong players, Brown has high hopes for next season.

“We want to improve upon what we did this year,” Brown said. “As always we want to win the Big East, not just the regular season, but the tournament, and we want to have a strong season.”

Women’s Track

Notre Dame saved its strongest performance for the end of the season, placing third at the Big East championship meet May 4 at Villanova.

“The Big East outdoor meet was certainly our best team meet of the year,” Irish distance coach Tim Connelly said. “We had a number of people who had struggled indoors with sickness and injury who performed well last week at Villanova.”

Heading into the meet, Connelly wasn’t sure that his team had enough depth to win, but with some strong finishes by top athletes, he thought that the Irish had a chance to finish in the top three.

“Going into the meet, we thought that with some outstanding performances, we had a good shot at being in the top three,” Connelly said. “We were only a point away from second place and only about 20 out of first. We really didn’t miss in too many areas that we thought that we had the potential to score big points. We just needed a few more ‘depth’ points, which we knew would be our problem.”

Notre Dame’s success can be partially attributed to junior Alyissa Hasan’s record-breaking season. Hasan set both school and personal records this season in the heptathlon on her way to grabbing an automatic bid to the NCAA National Championship meet. Hasan had a strong Big East performance, finishing second in the heptathlon and scoring points in the 100-meter run with a fifth place finish.

The Irish notched many of their points on field events throughout the season and the field athletes again performed well in the Big East outdoor meet.

Junior Mary Saxer took first place and set a Big East meet record in the pole vault with a jump of four meters.

“Mary [Saxer] got better and better in the outdoor season after struggling during indoors,” Connelly said.

In the throws events, junior Anna Weber and sophomore Jaclyn Espinoza had strong finishes for Irish. Weber grabbed a second place finish at the Big East meet in the hammer throw and scored top-eight finishes in the discus and the shot put. Espinoza took second in the discus and had a top-eight finish in the shot put.

Sophomore Lindsey Ferguson led the Irish runners with a third place finish in the 3000-meter steeplechase. Her time of 10:29.63 was fast enough to break her own school record by 12 seconds.

The NCAA Mideast regional meet will be held May 30-31 in Fayetteville, Ariz., and the NCAA Championship meet is June 11-14 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“We have several athletes who potentially still have a long season ahead of them with the NCAA meets,” Connelly said.

The Irish will be in a great position to move up the Big East ladder next year as they will return nearly all of their top athletes.

“We only graduate one individual scorer from this year’s team, so we are very excited about the future,” Connelly said.

Swimming

The Irish men’s and women’s teams both maintained first-rate records to successfully earn the 2008 Big East Conference championship title.

With a score of 820, the Irish men dominated competition and won the tournament by over 200 points. Louisville came in second with only 615 points.

“We put all of our emphasis on how things were going to be at the end of the season and things were great,” Irish men’s coach Tim Welsh said. “We won the Big East title after being second the year before, and not only did we win, but the guys swam great.”

After winning the tournament the Irish diving squad went on to make history at the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame sent six divers, the most ever, to the Zone C competition, and subsequently, junior Michael Bulfin became the first ever member of the Notre Dame men’s diving team to earn points at the NCAA Championships. He secured top finishes in both diving events, finishing 28th in the one-meter board and 15th in the three-meter board.

Sophomore MacKenzie LeBlanc also earned top honors as a swimmer. As a Canadian citizen, LeBlanc placed third in the 200-fly during the Canadian Olympic Trials, earning himself a spot on the Canadian National ‘B’ Team.

Despite strong underclassmen, the Irish will lose four senior swimmers – Andrew MacKay, Rob Seery, Eric Swenson and Jay Vanden Berg – and three divers – Steven Crowe, Chris Kane and Sam Stoner.

“This is a big senior class and a powerful senior class we’re losing, but we do have a good freshmen class coming in. Things will be different but we hope to be just as strong,” Welsh said.

The Irish women had similar success, winning the Big East championship for the 12th consecutive time. The Irish dominated, earning 767 points, while Louisville earned a distant second place finish with 239.5 points.

“We had a solid dual meet season,” Irish women’s coach Carrie Nixon said. “We always treat that as a stepping stone toward Big East.”

Irish women’s swimming and diving coach Carrie Nixon and her Notre Dame squad also sent three female divers to the NCAA Zone C competition – freshman Heidi Grossman, senior Tara Hyer, and sophomore Natalie Stitt.

Three Irish swimmers earned entry into the NCAA national meet. Junior Christa Riggins earned bids in the 50, 100, and 200-free events. Freshman Amywren Miller competed in the 50-free, 100-fly and 100-free, while freshman Samantha Maxwell earned spots in the 100 and 200-breast competitions.

All three went on to record Olympic Trial cut times during the meet. Miller recorded a time of 26.35 in the 50-free and 57.94 in the 100-free, while Maxwell earned a times in both the 100 ad 200 breast. Riggins earned cut times in four freestyle events – the 50, 100, 200, and 400-free. The Irish women boast 12 Olympic Trial qualifiers who will compete in a meet at the end of June.

The Irish women lose six senior swimmers – Morgan Bullock, Natalie Burke, Kate Guida, Katie Hopkins, Caroline Johnson, and Georgia Steenberge – and two senior divers, Hyer and Laura Rings, this season.

“For me this is a pretty special class because I was an assistant coach their freshman year and I took over as head coach their sophomore year, so I’ve been with them since them beginning,” Nixon said. “We’re going to miss them. They’re a great group of girls, and each has a bright future ahead.”

Men’s Golf

A young Irish team finished a strong spring season with a fourth place finish in the Big East Championship April 20-22 at the Traditions Golf Club in Hebron, Ky.

Notre Dame carded a three-round total of 889 (25-over par) in the conference championship, finishing two strokes behind Seton Hall. Marquette won the Big East crown with a score of 874, defeating runner-up Louisville by two strokes.

The season finale featured some impressive individual performances for the Irish, who received two all-conference selections. Sophomore Doug Fortner earned his first all-Big East selection after finishing fourth in the tournament with a three-over 219.

Junior Josh Sandman made his second consecutive all-conference team, tying for seventh at four-over par. This is the sixth time in seven years that Notre Dame has had multiple selections to the all-Big East team.

With the strong showing, Sandman continued an impressive stretch of five straight top-10 finishes. His efforts were recognized with an individual selection to compete this weekend in the NCAA Central Regional at the Ohio State Scarlet Course. Sandman is the first Irish player ever to qualify for a regional as an individual.

“We’re thrilled to have Josh join the elite field competing in Columbus,” Notre Dame coach Jim Kubinski said. “Of course, as a program, it’s pretty special to have a player earn the right to compete for a national championship.”

Sandman was equally thrilled to have a chance to compete for an NCAA Championship.

“I’m excited to go and represent the team and the University at regionals,” Sandman said. “Obviously, there are some mixed emotions because my teammates won’t be out there on the course with me. But this is a great opportunity to build momentum going into next year and I’m confident that if I play my game, I can compete with anyone out there.”

While Sandman’s season continues, the Big East championship marked the last event for two of Notre Dame’s captains, seniors Greg Rodgers and Eddie Peckels. Rodgers finished his Irish career with an average of 76.36 strokes per round in 31 tournaments. His top career finish was a fourth-place mark in last fall’s Gopher Invitational.

Peckels finished with a 75.78 stroke average in 22 career tournaments, highlighted by a tie for first place in April’s Irish Invitational.

Eight of the 12 players on Notre Dame’s roster were underclassman on one of the youngest-ever Irish teams.