May 8, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
For the past week, thousands of Notre Dame students have been harnessing everything they have learned since January and exhuming it from their minds in a two-hour display of excellence for a final examination. Success will lead them one step closer to a coveted diploma from the University of Notre Dame du Lac.
In addition, 33 students have the additional task of harnessing everything they have learned since January and exhuming it from their minds and bodies in a two-hour display of excellence for a final examination in lacrosse. Success at Arlotta Stadium in Friday night’s opening round game of the NCAA Tournament will lead the No. 8-seed Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team one step closer to a coveted national championship.
As finals week concludes, the Irish NCAA Tournament will commence with a matchup against a hot High Point team, champion of the Big South Conference, at 7:00 p.m. Preceding that game, Duke and Stanford will face off at 4:00 p.m. with the winners meeting in a second round game on Sunday at noon at Arlotta Stadium.
Through months of games against the second-toughest schedule in the country, practices, film sessions, workouts, team meals and other activities, the Irish have been gaining the experiences necessary to ace their May final exams. Tomorrow night the Irish will put all they have learned onto the Arlotta Stadium turf.
Notre Dame faced numerous challenges along the way. Of Notre Dame’s 16 regular season opponents, 11 are amongst the 26 teams lucky enough to still be playing lacrosse. Of the seven other teams fortunate enough to be playing on their home fields this weekend, six saw Notre Dame’s name appear on their respective 2014 schedules.
The stream of spring season tests have been steady and the Irish carry a good grade into Friday night’s game, but that does not ensure passing the semester’s first on-field final.
“They are scrappy, fast and quick and are going to put it all out there,” senior captain Molly Shawhan said, cognizant of Notre Dame’s underdog of a foe coming into the game in the mental state of having nothing to lose.
“They’re hot right now and we know they’re coming in here ready to play and upset us,” said fellow captain Margaret Smith. “We have to prepare strongly.”
High Point has won each of its last 10 games entering the tournament, last losing by a single goal, 10-9, against then-No. 7 Duke on April 2. Each of the Panthers’ five losses this year came against teams either from the potent ACC or teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament field.
Amongst the advantages that Notre Dame will enjoy this weekend is the advantage on playing in familiar surroundings. Although, much like investing in stocks, past performance does not always ensure future success, Notre Dame is a perfect 4-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament play at home.
“We’re really exited to take advantage of this opportunity to play at home,” said Smith whose previous NCAA Tournament games have all come away from South Bend. “We didn’t end Senior Day how we wanted to (losing 18-10 to then-No. 1 Syracuse). Leaving here with a win is all that we want to do.”
“It’s great to get the opportunity to go out winning on your home field,” echoed Shawhan while standing at Arlotta Stadium after practice this week. “We’re one of eight teams that get to do that which is exciting. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be playing on that (midfield) ND again.”
As anyone reading this knows, Notre Dame students must meet some of the country’s most rigorous classroom standards. An unseen benefit of hosting games this weekend is a more normal final exam week for the Irish student-athletes. The Irish can take their exams with their classmates as intended. They can study in the Hesburgh Library. They can gather in dormitories with classmates. They are not losing hours of crucial academic time to bus rides and plane flights. They are not 1,000 miles separated from classmates working on a final group project. They are not sitting in an uninspiring hotel meeting room when trying to recall four months’ worth of elite accounting, Spanish or design lectures.
While she’s figured it out by now, Smith knows that this particular Notre Dame roster is benefitting from being home for this most important of weeks.
“It’s really nice, especially for the younger kids who aren’t used to handling exam week,” Smith said of her team that includes 20 freshmen and sophomores. “It’s been good for them to be able to stay here and study more.”
The time to enjoy springtime at Notre Dame thrilled Shawhan too, speaking of the fruits of her team’s labors this season against a steady stream of ferocious competition.
“Usually it’s a lot of travel that this year we don’t have to do,” she said. “It’s nice to be in the place I’ve called home for the past four years. I call it heaven on Earth and we get to stay here for another week.”
It is exam week at Notre Dame students, many of who automatically take five final exams. If the women’s lacrosse box score on Friday night resembles the athletic equivalent of a report card full of A’s, the Irish will get to take their next of five potential final exams on Sunday.