Jack Swarbrick is proud of athletics as of late
Joe Everett | Monday, August 27, 2018
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick sat down with The Observer on Friday to discuss a range of issues relating to the activity department. In this, the first of three stories detailing this interview with Swarbrick, the athletic director spoke about the success of multiple Irish programs this past spring and what these successes reflected about the people involved as a whole. Swarbrick said he was proud of the recent dominance of the fencing program, which secured its second consecutive national championship in March.
“For [the fencing] program it does reflect the achievement of the consistency at that level — they have stamped themselves as a leading, if not the leading program in the country,” Swarbrick said. “That’s great to see because they’ve worked very hard to get there. I thought it was an especially remarkable year because we complicated their lives by renovating the North Dome and kicking them out of their home for a significant part of their preparation season — when they’re getting ready and trying to train. The way they dealt with that challenge and the way they didn’t let it faze them was a great testament to the culture of that program.”
Swarbrick also said he was impressed with the job done by fencing head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, who has led the program since 2014.
“[Kvaratskhelia] is a remarkable coach,” Swarbrick said. “He is strategic about all elements of his program and is very focused about building a sustainable culture that can deliver these sorts of results year over year. He’s very thoughtful about developing leadership, building a championship staff, planning the season out — he hits all the markers.”
However, fencing wasn’t the only Irish program to win a national championship last spring. The women’s basketball team overcome four ACL injuries and improbable odds to win the program’s second-ever national title, thanks to late-game heroics by senior guard Arike Ogunbowale in both Final Four matchups — a remarkable story that finds Swarbrick still at a loss for adequate words.
“First and foremost, it was the most remarkable sports story of the year, at any level of sport,” Swarbrick said. “To be faced with the adversity they were faced with, to have a result during the season that was as bad a loss as we’ve seen, and to use all of that as sort of the fuel to move forward – I had never been around a better coaching job in my life. [Head] coach [Muffet] McGraw had to change everything about her approach to the game — how they practiced, how they played defense, how she substituted, and how she managed all that and ultimately produced a national championship — there just wasn’t a better story in sports last year, and it’s hard to put into words what an achievement it was.”
“ … Going forward, it reinforces this is a very elite program in women’s basketball, one at the very top. I’m sure as we head into the new season that’ll be reflected in people’s expectations of the team.”
Of course, the magical story wouldn’t have been possible without McGraw, Swarbrick said.
“Inducted into the Hall of Fame, a wedding in the family, a national championship … she’s just the gold standard in everything she does,” Swarbrick said. “Building a program and representing the University, in being an advocate for women’s sports — generally but basketball in particular — being an advocate for women in the profession, being a mentor and teacher to the women on the team, there’s nothing [McGraw] doesn’t do at the very highest level, and all of us that work with her and around her benefit from that. She doesn’t just set the standard among coaches, she sets the standard in the department for all of us.”
Swarbrick said he was impressed by the Notre Dame hockey team, which fell just short of completing the championship trifecta but still put forth a sterling performance all throughout its inaugural year in the Big Ten.
“Again, back-to-back Frozen Fours shows a program that is demonstrating sustained success at an elite level,” Swarbrick said. “Coach Jackson has built one of the very best programs in the country. His commitment to the Notre Dame model — to the academic success of his students as well as fielding great hockey teams — I think really stands out in college hockey.”
“ … This team had a remarkable resolve. The calmness and confidence they displayed in all those games that came down to the last shot or went into overtime — I was down in the locker room for enough of them during that stretch, and they were celebratory but also ‘Ok, on to the next one.’” Very focused. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the success we had in the Big Ten in our first year. You’re never really a member of the club until you win, when you’re in a conference. Our basketball programs having such great early success in the ACC — that just gives you credibility and you’re in. Hockey faced the same challenge, and to do it in the first year, and to do it as convincingly as we did…that was special. I knew Jeff talks very fondly about that team and his relationship with it, and it showed.”
Swarbrick said behind-the-scenes preparation — big and small — came together to contribute in creating a championship-level team.
“Overall, one of the more remarkable things about the experience as a whole — because I’m criss-crossing the country going to all these [events] — is the last seven contests I saw ended on the last shot or in overtime,” he said. “That really speaks to how small the margins are between success and failure at that level. All the things you have to do to try to make sure you can score that goal with three seconds left against Michigan, or hit those two shots in the Final Four — it’s strength and conditioning, it’s nutrition, it’s how you schedule the team — and so everybody who contributes in this department, everyone who helps prepare our student athletes, is part of putting them in position to be able to do that.”