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A legacy of Irish women’s national championships

1987 – Women’s Fencing National Championship

Notre Dame’s first women’s varsity team national championship came via one of the school’s premier programs. Notre Dame fencing has accumulated 12 national championships to date. In 1987, the program had won three, all as just a men’s team. The women’s program joined the party, winning their first team title, led by All-American Molly Sullivan.

The women’s team, due to a smaller field, only competed in foil. But Sullivan garnered a third-place overall finish, and her teammates Janice Hynes and Anne Barreda added the necessary supplemental performances to claim the team title. Making the first-ever women’s team title in Irish history sweeter, it was also claimed on home soil. The Irish won the 1987 championships in South Bend, something they didn’t accomplish again until 2022. While the ‘87 title remains the women’s team’s only championship, the Irish women haven’t stopped winning bouts. Fencing championships became co-ed in 1990, and the Irish have claimed eight titles, including back-to-back championships heading into the 2022-23 season. 

1995 – Women’s Soccer

Eight years after the fencing team broke the ice, Notre Dame women’s soccer joined the championship club. After coming up short the previous year, losing 5-0 to UNC in the national championship, Notre Dame entered the year with a singular goal in mind. Their defense keyed the title run, as they didn’t allow a goal in their first eight games, en route to 16 shutouts on the season. 

In the NCAA Tournament, the Irish shut out all six opponents. In the semifinals, they ousted North Carolina, ending the Tar Heels’ nine-year championship streak. To punctuate the run, the Irish took on an undefeated Portland squad and battled out a triple overtime game, finally delivering the game-winning goal. Junior Cindy Daws won the tournament’s most outstanding offensive player, and sophomore Kate Markgraf (then Sobrero) earned the most outstanding defensive player. 

2001 – Women’s Basketball

Muffet McGraw was knocking on the door, making the Final Four in 1997. Then she qualified for the next three NCAA Tournaments, failing to reach that national stage again. But in the 2000-01 season, McGraw led a team ready to go the distance. The Irish lost just twice before the NCAA Tournament, although one loss came in the Big East Championship to UConn. 

The Irish mowed through their first four NCAA tournament games to get back to the Final Four. There, UConn was waiting, but Notre Dame didn’t trip up this time. They won 90-75, advancing to a national championship versus in-state rival Purdue. The Irish trailed by double digits, but behind Niele Ivey and Ruth Riley, the Irish weren’t to be denied. Down 66-64, national player of the year Riley scored the game’s final four points. She shined alongside Ivey, who notched 12 points and six steals in the finale. 

2004 – Women’s Soccer

Nine years after their first title, the women’s soccer program added another. This time, it was the likes of stars Katie Thorlakson and Erika Bohn lifting the Irish in an impressive effort. Again, defensive success propelled the Irish, as they started their NCAA Tournament run with three consecutive shutouts. They faced off versus their 1995 national championship opponent, Portland, in the Elite Eight and won 3-1. In a thrilling Final Four, the Irish first disrupted the Cinderella squad, Santa Clara, in the semifinals. Then, they triumphed over UCLA in penalty kicks to claim the national championship. Thorlakson and Bohn won most outstanding defensive and offensive players of the tournament. Melissa Tancredi and Candace Chapman also earned spots on the all-tournament team. 

2010 – Women’s Soccer

In 2010, the women’s soccer squad earned their third national title. That’s the most of any women’s program at Notre Dame and the third-most of any program overall, behind fencing and football. In terms of the program’s championships, this one was arguably the most unlikely. The Irish entered as a four-seed in their own region, but they hit a spurt of pure dominance in the NCAA Tournament. 

After a pair of dominant victories to open the postseason, the Irish slaughtered top-seeded UNC 4-1. Then they outscored their final three opponents 4-0, concluding a surprisingly dominant title run with a trio of shutouts. They edged an unbeaten Stanford squad in the finale, 1-0. Six different players made the all-tournament team for the Irish, led by Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller. The Irish women’s soccer team made it back to the Sweet 16 last season, but they’re still seeking a return to the College Cup.  

2018 – Women’s Basketball

Seventeen years after she claimed her first, Muffet McGraw earned her second national title as a coach. The Notre Dame legend had come so close, losing in the title game four times earlier in the decade, and in the Final Four once more. This time, she pushed her squad over the edge. The Irish were a top seed but faced stiff resistance, eventually reaching the Final Four, where the real heroics started.

The Irish faced down longtime rival UConn in the semifinals and trailed by seven at the half. Jackie Young scored 32 points, however, and Arike Ogunbowale added 27, as the Irish forced overtime. There, Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating jumper shocked the world and sent the Irish to the championship. This time, the Irish trailed by 13 at half, but they erased the deficit in a dominant third quarter. An even fourth quarter led to a wild overtime. There, Ogunbowale simply did it again, draining a buzzer-beating three and sending the Irish into a state of euphoria.

Aidan Thomas


Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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