Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's Been Awhile

No, I'm not referring to the once popular song by Staind. It's been awhile since I've posted and, therefore, awhile since we've had some ND coverage on the blog. The following will serve as a download of happenings since my last post.

Notre Dame Men's Basketball Wonders What Could Have Been
As Justin had mentioned, the Irish men's basketball season came to a screeching halt on the heels of a flat performance against Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Expectations were high on Mike Brey's squad after a tremendous regular season found the Irish ranked in the top 10.

A disappointing early loss in the Big East Tournament apparently did not leave as bitter a taste as one would have expected in the player's mouths. They looked relatively unimpressive against their first round NCAA opponent Akron and then struggled out of the gate against the Seminoles. As much as the pro-Irish crowd in Chicago was supposed to help the Irish it wound up being a non-factor thanks to the slow start.

Accolades continued to roll in for the Irish though even in defeat. Head Coach Mike Brey added to his Big East Coach of the Year award by being named AP Coach of the Year, beating out San Diego State's Steve Fisher. It marks the first such award for an Irish skipper. Notre Dame finished the season ranked No. 5 in the final poll, it's highest ranking under Brey.

Ben Hansbrough added to his Big East Player of the Year honors when he was named a second team All-American by Sporting News and third team All-American by Basketball Times. It capped a tremendous season for the veteran leader and heart of the Irish squad. Hansbrough now looks to earn a spot on an NBA roster as he prepares for the NBA draft.

Sky(lar) Was The Limit For Women's Basketball Program
Switching to the women's side of hoops, Notre Dame advanced to the NCAA championship game where the lady Irish fell to Texas A&M in a game that many, including yours truly, found more entertaining than the men's national championship game between Butler and Connecticut.

Skylar Diggins led the charge for the Irish throughout the entire tournament, putting up 20+ points during four out of the six tournament games and each of the final three.

En route to the title Notre Dame ended a 20-game losing streak to Pat Summitt's Tennessee Volunteers squad. It was Notre Dame's first ever win against the Volunteers. Perhaps more impressive than that feat was the Final Four victory over expected champion Connecticut. Maya Moore was the force behind the Huskies and took the game over late in the fourth, but Notre Dame's defense held strong in the waning minutes of the game to secure the Irish's second title game appearance in program history.

The pro-Irish crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN certainly helped will the Irish against the Huskies but could not stop the force of Danielle Adams from Texas A&M in the title game.

Irish Iced Over At Frozen Four In St. Paul, MN

Notre Dame's hockey team reached the Frozen Four for the second time in school history this season after defeating Merrimack College 4-3 in OT in the Elite Eight. Unfortunately the Irish did not fair as well in St. Paul as they did in Denver during the 2008 Frozen Four, where they advanced to the championship game before falling to Boston College.

Eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth held off the Irish in what started out as target practice during the first semifinal of the tournament. Five total goals in the first period saw the Bulldogs head to the locker room with a 3-2 lead.

Notre Dame rallied in the third period after entering down 4-2 with a short-handed goal from Calle Ridderwall, who was the hero in the 2008 Frozen Four that netted the game-winner against Michigan. The Irish could not sneak another past the Bulldogs' goalie and wound up a goal short with a 4-3 final score.

At least Irish fans can take solace in the fact that Minnesota-Duluth went on to defeat Michigan in the title game.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first set of games (Notre Dame vs. Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan vs. North Dakota) thanks in part to the Notre Dame Club of Minnesota and to fellow Dillonite Jamie R for winning a lottery opportunity for tickets. Our view was great (see picture above) and even though the result was an Irish defeat it was still an amazing experience to be part of an NCAA championship event. The Excel Energy Center was a great venue to host the event.

Head Coach Jeff Jackson has clearly built the Irish into a perennial powerhouse and hopefully it will eventually lead to the first of many national titles for the Irish icers. What better way to christen the beautiful Compton Family Center opening next fall than by winning a national title? Seeing as the Irish were young this season (12 underclassmen saw significant ice time) they should make a run within the next few years.

Post season awards trickled in for the Irish as freshman T.J. Tynan was named National College Hockey Rookie of the Year by the Hockey Commissioners' Association. Tynan became the first player from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) conference to earn the honor. He led his fellow classmates across the nation in scoring with 23 goals and 21 assists for 54 points.

All in all it was a strong winter season for the Irish. Stay tuned in the coming days for a few updates on how the spring sports are faring.

Until then, Go Irish!

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