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Football disappoints seniors

Mel Flanagan | Friday, May 20, 2011

After witnessing the worst four-season stretch in the history of Notre Dame football, senior Elise Gerspach said winning her final home game against the University of Utah made up for past disappointment.

“It was really important for us because we were so unfazed by losing at that point,” Gerspach said. “Winning the last game made us see that despite the past four years, we can win.”

The Class of 2011 witnessed a 3-9 record in 2007, suffering the most losses in a single season in the program’s history. This year’s senior class finished with a four-year stretch of 24 victories and 26 defeats.

Senior Holly Hinz said her freshman year also brought the lowest point of the four seasons. In their third home game, Notre Dame broke its 43-game win streak against Navy, losing in triple overtime.

“After the game the announcer just said ‘And there ends Notre Dame’s 43-year winning streak against Navy’,” Hinz said. “Everyone just thought, ‘Come on, as if we don’t know that already.'”

Although the wins were few and far between their freshman year, senior Chrissie Gotimer said they were memorable.

“Having the first five games as losses was disappointing but it made that sixth game that we won against UCLA (the University of California-Los Angeles) even more exciting,” she said.

Although the game was played in California, Gotimer said students reacted strongly to the first win of the season.

“Everyone rushed out of the dorms and into the fountain and started singing the alma mater,” she said. “Kids were just sprinting everywhere onto the quad, playing music and going crazy.”

Gerspach said the highlight of her freshman season was Notre Dame’s victory over Duke University.

“It was the last home game as well as the first win we saw at home,” Gerspach said. “It was nice actually feeling good after a game.”

Senior Tim Sweeney said though the Fighting Irish ultimately finished 7-6 in 2008, their victory over the University of Michigan renewed optimism.

“It was pretty cool, it was raining and it was only the second game of the season,” Sweeney said. “It gave us a little bit of hope.”

Senior Josh Zavilla said the first game of the 2009 season against the University of Nevada provided a sense of optimism.

“We ended up winning 35-0 and that gave us a hope for having a good year that we didn’t really have the year before,” Zavilla said. “That plus the fact that it was football season again, it just seemed like a new year, a new start.”

In their final regular-season game of 2010, Notre Dame beat the University of Southern California (USC), ending an eight-game loss streak to the Trojans. Gerspach, who traveled to Los Angeles for the game, said witnessing the Fighting Irish’s victory was unforgettable.

“That was the real way we ended our football seasons here at Notre Dame,” he said. “It was such a huge momentum change, especially after winning the last home game.”

Despite attending Notre Dame during the four worst seasons in football history, Hinz said she is able to find humor in the distinction.

“I also would not be surprised if we win a national championship the year we leave,” she said.

Sweeney said witnessing so many losses was made easier by doing so in good company.

“Being a Notre Dame fan is the overall experience. You’re with your classmates and everyone is obviously feeling the same,” he said. “We were losing but everyone always felt we were going to win every game. There’s always that hope.”

As someone who was raised to be a Notre Dame fan since birth, Gerspach said she came with expectations of greatness, and it was not easy suffering through the record stretch.

“The first season was depressing and just hard to watch,” Gerspach said. “Every year we went in with the hope that it’ll be better and then it just wasn’t. It was always really hard.”

Despite her disappointment, Gerspach said has not been deterred from cheering for Notre Dame beyond graduation.

“It became something we just accepted — this is how our four years was,” she said. “By senior year we all came to realize, ‘I’m going to be a Notre Dame fan for the rest of my life, and it just happened to be tough when I was at school.'”

Gotimer said though she was a student for a lean period in Fighting Irish football history, she anticipates a brighter future.

“It’s not necessarily easy to follow a team that fell from greatness,” she said. “But when they do rise, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”