Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Foreign Tours Enlightening For Irish

Their passports now boast stamps from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Spain, Croatia and the Bahamas.
They played national teams and foreign all-star squads.
They sampled different cuisines and played as tourists in their spare time.
When members of the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse and women’s golf squads are asked what they did on their summer vacations, they have plenty to tell.
Current NCAA rules permit teams to take a foreign tour once every four years. The Irish men’s lacrosse team traveled in early June — with its just-graduated seniors along for the 10-day journey. The other three teams left in August, with their incoming freshmen a part of the travel rosters. 
Here’s where the Irish teams traveled and competed over the summer:

  • Men’s lacrosse: Notre Dame played seven games (winning all of them) in Barcelona against national teams from England, Germany, Spain, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland. 
  • Women’s basketball: The Irish traveled to Italy and Croatia, playing a pair of games against a Spanish all-star squad and a third versus an all-star team from Italy (winning all three).
  • Men’s basketball: Mike Brey’s squad journeyed to the Bahamas for a week, playing three games against local all-star squads (winning all three).
  • Women’s golf: The Irish spent a week in Scotland and Northern Ireland, playing Royal County Down, Portstewart, Royal Portrush, Royal Troon, Prestwick and Turnberry. 

Irish women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw loved the sneak preview she gained on 2018-19.
“I think the biggest thing we learned was that it’s great to have Brianna Turner back in the lineup,” she said. “We had a shot-blocking presence defensively, we had the ability to lob it over people in the zone. So her coming back and looking like she was 100 percent was the best thing coming out of the tour.
“As far as the freshmen I felt very confident with Jordan Nixon’s leadership at the point which is a key position for us this year — I was really happy with her. All of the freshmen showed some defensive intensity, I think they’re coming along really well, I think they’re learning a lot, I think it’ll be great to have the depth we have.
“The biggest question that came out of it was that we’re a team that can beat ourselves. If we’re not ready we’re going to lose some games. I worry about our intensity and focus going into games. We’ve got to be more willing to fight early on and set the tone in games. We were down in the first half in both games in Croatia. I was disappointed in the lack of a knock-out punch and the want to show somebody that we’re a really good team.”
Men’s basketball coach Mike Brey enjoyed the extra competition for an especially young roster:
“The neat thing for us was for the five freshmen to have the 10 extra practices and the chance to put the uniform on three times, play and get them more ready. Never in my tenure are we going to rely on so many freshmen in our rotation. Right now there are going to be four — we had two with (Luke) Harangody with (Tory) Jackson and that’s the most we’ve ever had. So the timing of the foreign tour is why we did it. It let T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger lead even more in a realistic setting — it’s those two guys really setting the tone. Elijah Burns and John Mooney as upperclassmen and big men, we asked them to do more as they got to start and play — those were things we achieved.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever gone into a year in 19 seasons with so many unanswered questions, but I’m excited about it because I have talented youth that’s hungry to show. We’re going to be a work in progress the whole year and there won’t be a whole lot of expectations early for us, but I’m excited because we’ve never had so many unknowns as of September 1, other than Gibbs and Pflueger. But it’s not worrisome because of the glimpses we’ve seen of guys we’re asking to do more and the freshmen and who they can be by March.”
Men’s lacrosse coach Kevin Corrigan saw his team benefit from the fact national teams from around the world were looking for top-level competition in the run-up to the 2018 World Championships that were held in July in Israel.
“It isn’t so much what we learned about our team as what we were reminded about our team,” he said. “Our guys have deep and meaningful friendships, enjoy doing a variety of active things together off the field and have a variety of interests that they share. Their curiosity and enthusiasm are contagious and fun to see as they explore life beyond the fields and classrooms at home.” 
Susan Holt’s golf team technically didn’t compete against any other teams, but the daunting foreign courses alone proved obstacles in and of themselves.
“Our Scotland and Northern Ireland trip was amazing,” she said. “Our players got to experience golf in a way they never had before. Golf over there is so different than it is in America. The terrain is so severe — with many blind shots — and the bunker placement throughout all the courses is very strategically placed. The courses play hard and fast and everything slopes to the bunkers so they are always in play. And the team played really well and adapted to the conditions nicely.
“We had the opportunity to travel with some great Notre Dame benefactors and for the players to play golf with them and have that interaction is something very unique to our sport. The players and coaches really enjoyed having that experience.”
As much as Holt saw her team members grow on the fairways and greens, she saw another side as well.
“The one thing I learned about the team that I didn’t know before is that they as a group are not very good singers!” she said.
“During our long bus rides each day to and from the courses they would sing karaoke.
“It did, however, provide some great entertainment!”
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.