Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thoughts on Notre Dame Women's Basketball National Championship Loss: One Word—Transformation

On April 7, 2015 I attended a national championship game for the first time. For those of you who have been to one—for any sport—perhaps you realize the energy and excitement behind the event is truly incredible. I have been to my share of post-season games: San Francisco Giants Divisional and Championship Series contests, the NBA play-offs, and a strong number of college football bowl games. But a national championship? I can now say it is second to none. 
Congratulations to an incredibly talented team.
I saw the University of Notre Dame women's basketball team play the University of Connecticut in what was the second contest between these two teams in two years (in 2013, the Irish lost to the Huskies in the Final Four). On Tuesday night, the Irish fell short by 10 points. 

Everyone who knew I went to the game said something very similar. "I'm sorry you didn't see a win," they quipped. Or "too bad you were there for a loss." I know what they meant; I think it's important to acknowledge that the Irish didn't do what I know they wanted to do. And I know that for a fact, as my seats were perched above the tunnel where the Lady Irish exited the gym floor. Many of the players walked out with their heads hung low. Several of them were crying. Two were holding one another as they held back their tears. Coach McGraw was not happy. 

But if you were at that game, you might understand what I'm about to write. As much as I love winning, and I is one of the greatest feelings of the world...I'm not sorry for what I saw. It was an honor to be at that game. It was an honor to cheer for a team—my favorite female basketball team—playing at the highest level. It's not something I will easily forget.
So grateful to have had the chance to watch the game with the McGuire family who live in Tampa. Erin is ND '19!
Their mom Suzie, is an alum (and taking the photo ;-). Thanks Patrick for talking to Natalie Novosel ;-)
I don't enjoy spending money on what I think will be a losing proposition. UConn was favored by 18 points going into the game. Last year's final, wasn't much of a contest. Furthermore, the Irish lost to the Huskies 76-58 at home in early December. Suffice to say, I knew what I might be in for. But Coach McGraw felt differently. As written by Gene Wang for the Washington Post, “I love being the underdog, said McGraw. "Always have. The pressure is not on us. It’s on U-Conn. We can go out, relax, play our game. Nobody expects us to win. Nobody’s picked us to win, so we can have a very loose attitude going into the game.”

Indeed, hope springs eternal. “You know, I think getting here is a great achievement for any program,” McGraw said of reaching the NCAA final. “I think that there’s probably 350 schools in the country that would love to trade places with us. I think probably because we did win one that maybe I don’t feel that sort of pressure, but I want this for this team.” I did too. And I wasn't disappointed.

Before the game, the local alumni chapter hosted staff from the University's Alumni Office for a road version of a pregame pep rally. Free appetizers, beads, stickers added to the spirit. The band and the cheerleaders made a special stop to pump up the crowd. Fans of all ages, honestly—young and old—were ready to support the Irish.

At the game itself, it was striking to see the number of former female players in attendance. So many of these women are incredible athletes and too many they remain anonymous, unless you really follow women's basketball. Recent standouts included Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride, but it was quite obvious from the camaraderie between a host of other women, that many others in Tampa shared in the same journey.

The Irish played up, keeping it close in the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. But on my drive back to Orlando (where I happened to be for a conference) all I kept thinking about he homily I had heard two days prior, Easter Sunday. The Resurrection isn't limited to Christ's victory over death. The true message of Easter is transformation. And that is also what I saw at the national championship game.

I saw the Irish play UCLA at the historic Pauley Pavilion in December. I traveled to south over my Christmas break because I thought it was my one chance to see them play. As fate would have it, I got to see them again...but they weren't the same team. They were better. They were stronger and more cohesive. They played more effectively to their strengths and minimized their weaknesses. Again, maybe it wasn't enough, but what was there was a result to talent, team work and trust. Ultimately, I was a witness to transformation....their transfromation. All Notre Dame basketball fans can be very, very proud of that.

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