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Winter Break recap: Notre Dame

Between the conclusion of Finals Week on Dec. 16 and yesterday’s resumption of the school year, Notre Dame’s hockey team and two basketball teams combined to play 21 games. The three amassed a total record of 10-10-1, with women’s basketball making the most holiday magic at 6-1. Here’s a breakdown of how each team fared over the past month.

Men’s basketball

The men’s basketball team endured a difficult stretch, playing to a 2-6 overall record with five losses in ACC play. Notre Dame opened the break in Atlanta for the Holiday Hoopsgiving event, where Georgia pulled away late for a 77-62 win. The Irish went 11-for-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs made 14 more free throws.

Florida State then overcame freshman guard JJ Starling’s 20 points to take a tight 73-72 victory. Notre Dame had a chance to win on the final possession but turned the ball over at mid-court. Graduate student guard Marcus Hammond scored 15 to lead the Irish to their final non-conference win against Jacksonville, but another tough stretch followed. Then-No. 14 Miami (Florida) escaped a tight game to win 76-65 and extended Notre Dame’s recent struggles in close contests.

The New Year ushered in another tough pill to swallow, as the Irish coughed up a 44-34 lead in a 70-63 loss at Boston College. Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin suffered an injury in Chestnut Hill and would miss two games thereafter. Notre Dame’s reduced interior presence hurt it severely at North Carolina in an 81-64 loss last Saturday. On the shoulders of two outstanding individual efforts, the Irish returned to the win column against Georgia Tech. Graduate student guard Dane Goodwin exploded for a double-double, while Starling offered 16 bench points to yield a must-have overtime win.

However, despite a double-double from graduate student forward Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame couldn’t keep up with Syracuse in Saturday’s 78-73 loss. After losing to Florida State Tuesday, the Irish will welcome Boston College on Saturday before traveling to NC State next Tuesday.

Women’s basketball

Irish women’s hoops played seven games over the break and now sit at No. 7 in the AP Top 25. They began with a 63-52 victory over then-No. 6 Virginia Tech on Dec. 18. Sophomore guard Olivia Miles posted a remarkable 16 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and five steal stat line in the win. Junior forward Maddy Westbeld then tallied 23 points on an 85-57 dismantling of Western Michigan at home. After Christmas, the Irish squeaked out a 66-63 triumph at Miami (Florida). Both Westbeld and graduate student center Lauren Ebo notched double-doubles.

Freshman guard KK Bransford’s 17 points off the bench keyed an 85-48 clobbering of Boston College on New Year’s Day. Notre Dame then lost just its second game of the year at No. 22 North Carolina, as Ebo’s 19 rebounds were not enough in a 60-50 defeat. The Irish returned to form with an 86-47 demolition of Wake Forest, as Westbeld dropped 25 points. Most recently, Miles’ 23 points pushed the women’s team to a 72-56 road win at Syracuse. Carrying a 14-2 overall record and 5-1 conference mark, the Irish will visit Clemson on Thursday.

Hockey

Notre Dame hockey, now sitting just outside the USCHO’s Division I top 20, played three series after Christmas. They first split with Alaska-Fairbanks over New Year’s weekend, falling 3-2 in game one but opening 2023 with a 2-0 win. Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel picked up a 25-save shutout, his fourth shutout of the season. The Irish then traveled to Madison for two games with Big Ten foe Wisconsin. Notre Dame dropped game one 2-0 but started fast the next night for a 6-4 win. Senior forward Trevor Janicke and junior defenseman Drew Bavaro each scored twice in the win.

Finally, the Irish welcomed No. 2 Minnesota to South Bend this past weekend. Junior forward Ryder Rolston’s shootout goal helped Notre Dame to a tie and shootout win on Friday. But the Golden Gophers answered back on Saturday. Despite the Irish putting 38 shots on net, Minnesota held them down for a 3-0 win. Notre Dame is now 10-11-3 overall with a 5-7-2 record in conference play, good for 5th place in the Big Ten. The team will visit No. 6 Penn State this weekend.

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu.

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Sports

Rogers: The mental health crisis of collegiate athletics

Editor’s note: This column discusses eating disorders and mental health concerns.

The mental health crisis in college athletics is an epidemic growing more fatal every day. In the spring of 2022, it felt like almost every week, there was news of a student-athlete taking his or her own life. Even outside the more extreme situations, mental health issues have increased in student-athletes, and the resources are not catching up fast enough. Larger contributions to this crisis are stigmas surrounding counseling services, the “typical” athlete mindset, lack of support from coaches, overworking athletes and eating disorders. 

The stigma surrounding counseling for student-athletes is a substantial issue currently being discussed in the media. In the athletic community, there has been a big push for easier access to these services. The stigma, however, prevents young athletes from pursuing these services. The stigma around this topic consists of the use of negative labels that affect their view on this kind of treatment. There is a general consensus, right or not, that taking advantage of counseling is a sign of weakness for young student-athletes. The “hero” complex adds to this resistance to seek help, in fear of seeming lesser than their peers. Even when athletes decide this is the right choice, these services are not robust enough to keep up with the demand, adding another issue to the existing ones.

The “tough athlete” mindset worsens the stigma, especially in team environments. In athletics, competitiveness is key, so comparison is inevitable. Self-sufficiency is prized, and needing help does not align with self-sufficiency. It needs to be a priority that no matter what, athletes take care of themselves first. This lack of priority is difficult to overcome because fellow teammates, administrators and coaches, even more, see asking for help in this way as a shortcoming. Even more than coaches seeing counseling as an inconvenience and not necessary for peak performance, they are generally more concerned with team results than individual well-being. 

When athletes are recruited into college, they are seen as pieces of meat, for lack of a better phrase, and so their personal happiness is put on the back burner, and their physical strength, speed and endurance are prized above all else. Coaches are generally not trained, or not yet trained adequately, to handle mental health concerns on their respective teams. This disconnect means that student-athletes suppress their needs for fear they will be treated differently or not given the same opportunities. Athletes are taught to push through all physical pain, but the sporting community’s drive has escalated to the point of pushing past emotional pain, which can impact all parts of an athlete’s life. This mentality is rooted in the athletics institution as a whole, and so it is difficult to break this cycle.

Pushing past pain is good to a certain extent. That is how elite athletes contribute to winning programs. However, pushing can get to the point of overworking and burnout. Athletes are starting to train at elite levels at very young ages in hopes of being accepted into a competitive college program. This premature training means competitiveness is at an all-time high, and burnout and injuries are too. Working athletes past a certain point can create irreversible injuries, which are both incredibly physically and mentally taxing. These injuries can negatively impact school work and even last a lifetime.

Athletes, in general, are isolated from their “NARP” (non-athletic regular person) peers, but when they are isolated from these people as well as their teammates, mental health struggles become even more difficult. Resuming normal life is not easy when your main identity is being an athlete. Whether you are injured or taking time off for mental health reasons, separating yourself from the team is uncomfortable for many student-athletes.

A current and large aspect of college athletics worsening the mental health crisis is eating disorders and lack of discussion of nutrition. Eating disorders mentally and physically damage young men and women in athletic programs. This issue usually arises through pressures from coaches, peers and the athletes themselves. Although both men and women suffer, young women are more likely to develop eating disorders. By nature, women often compare themselves to one another more because of the media and other societal pressures. Although the “trend” right now is to be the classic gym girl toned from lifting, being strong does not always equate to beauty in the minds of young women, unfortunately. Athletics generally contributes to this unhealthy mindset and lifestyle because it adds unnecessary pressures and makes the sport seem to be the cause of body dissatisfaction. An endurance athlete may wish she had more muscle, but a strength-focused athlete may want to be in a smaller frame. Many athletes will justify their weight loss or gain as something they did for their commitment to their sport and their need to perform better, but the majority of the time, it is not the case.

Coach pressures add to this also because oftentimes, a certain body type is best for a sport, and so coaches want their athletes to mold to that ideal standard, which can be very destructive. Even more, many athletes pass away very young because of eating disorders developed by their respective sports. These unfortunate statistics highlight how deadly eating disorders are in the athletic community.

When circling back to the majority of these contributions, support, especially from coaches, seems to be a leading issue. The solution to this problem of worsening mental health could be reforming how coaches lead teams. More education for athletes, too, on how they can take advantage of resources around them and how they can put themself first is also a great step.

Although there is no “I” in the team, there is also no team without the players. Although it seems counterintuitive, selfishness may be the answer. Being selfish and owning your need is how you can be the best teammate.

As a student-athlete at Notre Dame, I have learned over these two years that putting myself first is the best thing I can do for my overall well-being in the short and long term. Running yourself into the ground is rewarding during the race, but after, the consequences are not worth the few minutes of success.

Contact Bella Rogers at irogers@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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News

2022-23 leprechauns talk journeys to leading Notre Dame fans

The Fighting Irish welcome four new leprechauns for the 2022-2023 year. Seniors Jake House and Jamison Cook, junior Ryan Coury and sophomore Colin Mahoney were selected. All four will be entering the role for the first time. The new Leprechauns reflected on their paths to the green suit and their hopes for the year.  

Ryan Coury

Coury did not think he would one day be the Fighting Irish mascot.

Coury grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, “bleeding gold and blue,” he said. His parents both attended Notre Dame, and he remembers singing along to the fight song with his dad every Saturday.

During his sophomore year, Coury worked for Fighting Irish media as a cameraman. He loved capturing the students’ excitement at games, and he was inspired by the role that past leprechauns have played in bringing energy to the crowd.

“I realized, man, it’s a lot easier to hype up a crowd without a camera on your shoulder,” Coury said. 

After hearing about the tryouts from friends on the cheer team, Coury decided to apply “kind of on a whim,” he said.

“In my mind, being a leprechaun was always a dream, but never something that I thought was a possible reality,” Coury said. “But the moment I realized it was on the table, I went for it.”

All four leprechauns volunteer at other events to engage the Notre Dame fanbase. His favorite part of the job, though, is being a part of a team and working with the other leprechauns.

“We are not only leprechauns ourselves, we are part of the cheer team,” Coury said. “Having those people behind you and with you at everything — it’s electric.”

Coury is a finance major with a real estate minor, and he plans to pursue sports business or real estate after graduation. On campus, Coury is the vice president of Dillon Hall and works as a tour guide for the admissions office. 

“At the core of what we do as leprechauns, we are ambassadors for the University. We are representing what [Notre Dame] stands for,” Coury said. “That’s something huge for me.” 

Jamison Cook

Unlike Coury, Cook did not grow up in a Notre Dame family, but that does not diminish his passion for Fighting Irish sports. 

Cook wanted to be a leprechaun to showcase his love for Notre Dame athletics. 

“You don’t have to be a lifelong fan to do something like this,” Cook said. “I wanted to share how much I have come to love Notre Dame on my own.”

Cook tried out for the leprechaun position three times before making the team his senior year. The tryout process involves a written application, a video application and in-person events and interviews.

“I think it’s pretty rigorous,” Cook said.

Eight to ten applicants are selected to participate in the in-person events. Over the course of three days, Cook and his fellow leprechauns led a mock pep rally, conducted a mock media interview and worked as the leprechaun at the Blue and Gold spring game. They were also interviewed by a panel of judges from the athletics department.

“If I’m completely honest, I don’t think I would have wanted to be a mascot if I was at a different school where you had to wear a big head or a mask,” Cook said.

He said he enjoys the creativity of being a “mouthpiece” for the university rather than a faceless mascot.

“I think that that’s something that the four of us really take very seriously but also have a lot of fun with,” Cook said. “We’re kind of the impersonation of what the Fighting Irish is.”

Cook is studying marketing and journalism, and he is originally from Eerie, Pennsylvania. Cook is currently recruiting for a career in brand management.

“I think [being the leprechaun] kind of gives me a unique perspective, especially for the field that I’m going into conveniently,” Cook said. “I’m very much living the Notre Dame brand and trying to bring it to life for people.”

Colin Mahoney

Mahoney believes the power of the leprechaun extends far beyond excitement at games.

“I think the leprechaun certainly has a presence on campus and has the resources and capabilities to be a force for good,” he said.

Mahoney hails from a family of farmers in Omaha, Nebraska. He was not originally committed to Notre Dame, but he switched his deposit at 11:45 p.m. the night of the deadline, partly because of the opportunity to be a leprechaun.

“I think very early on, I bought into the mission of the University,” Mahoney said. “Ultimately, I want to be a servant for others, and I think that’s what led me to Notre Dame.”

His favorite part of the job is when he gets to see a “tangible result.” Mahoney recently visited St. Adalbert Elementary School in South Bend to interact with young Irish fans. He was handing out high fives before the kids decided to hug him instead.

“That certainly felt good, because I left feeling like I had made those kids’ days better and hopefully gave them a memory that will last them a lifetime,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney lives in Duncan Hall and is majoring in finance and Spanish. He plans to pursue investment banking after graduation. 

Jake House

“The leprechaun is so special because you’re not in a mask, you get to see people face to face … and let them know that they are welcome … showing that Notre Dame is a place for everyone,” senior Jake House said. 

A romance languages and literature major originally from White Lake, Michigan, House said that he “grew up a fan of other colleges, and [Notre Dame] just wasn’t on my radar.”

“I applied to Notre Dame a few days before the application was due, because a friend mentioned it. I never really thought of it as a place for me, but I came for a visit and that first sight of the Golden Dome, you know, just walking around campus … you just get this different feel like, ‘Oh, this isn’t just a place to go to school, this is a family,’” House said.

House recalled a story from his freshman year which put him on the path to becoming the iconic Irish fighter.

“I transferred here from Holy Cross as a Gateway student, and I was a little lost one day and Leprechaun Conal [Fagan, class of 2021] came up to me and helped point me in the right direction, asked if I was doing okay and everything,” he said.

House continued, “I just felt so special because the Leprechaun talked to me and helped me out, and the chance to give that to other people, to make other people feel that way … I think it’s a gift, it’s really indescribable.”

A resident of Dunne Hall, House spoke on his previous high school experience that helped him grow into a student leader.

“I was class president in high school so I was always trying to get people to go out to events and be excited, but I was never a cheerleader or a mascot, it wasn’t my official title,” House said.

House then spoke on the community surrounding the University, saying, “Notre Dame isn’t just the students who go here, Notre Dame is the outreach to the South Bend community, it’s the alumni of course and just fans all over the place.”

House continued, “Notre Dame can sometimes feel like a bubble, it isn’t just the kids on campus bound by SR 933, Angela, Twyckenham and Douglas, it’s also Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross. The Notre Dame Leprechaun to me is about welcoming people,” House said. 

To conclude the conversation, in true Fighting Irish fashion, House had one final statement: “Go Irish!” 

Contact Meghan Lange at mlange03@saintmarys.edu.

Contact Katie Muchnick at kmuchnic@nd.edu.