April 2, 2001

Associated Press Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame was again a champion on Monday as it celebrated the triumph of the women’s basketball team, the school’s first national title in any sport in six years.

Players exchanged high-fives with hundreds of fans early Monday, and one player dove mosh-pit style from the stage into the crowd.

“We were ready to celebrate with someone and just so happy that they were there to celebrate with us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

Some fans waited more than 2 hours for the team’s arrival back campus about 2:30 a.m., entertaining themselves with the Golden Dome as a backdrop.

“It’s just great to see any sport win a national championship,” said Duong Ly, a biochemistry senior from Terre Haute.

The 68-66 victory over Purdue in St. Louis gave Notre Dame its first national championship since the women’s soccer team won the title in 1995 and first in a high-profile sport since the football team went undefeated in 1988 under Lou Holtz.

The celebration early Monday had some football touches. As the team buses drove down Notre Dame Avenue to the Main Circle, where fans lined the street, the crowd circled their fingers in the air and let out a long “Ooooo,” as they do before kickoffs.

The crowd then broke into a chant of “Here come the Irish.”

All-American center Ruth Riley, who scored the final four points for the Irish, was one of the first off the bus along with teammate Meaghan Leahy. Together they sprinted through the crowd, slapping high fives along the way, as guard Niele Ivey made her way to the stage, carrying the national title trophy high over her head.

McGraw and several players tried to use a bullhorn to speak to the crowd, but it was hard to be heard with the crowd in the center of campus literally surrounding them.

“This is one of the greatest moments I’ve ever experienced,” McGraw said as the crowd cheered.

Riley told the crowd: “We have nothing but love for you.”

“I love you,” a fan shouted back, setting off a round of laughter.

One fan carried a sign that read: “Ruth, will you marry me?”

The Irish women gathered in a circle and Riley asked the band to play the “Irish Jig.” As the band played, the Irish players formed a circle and did the jig, a custom for the team before big games.

The celebration quickly broke up, in contrast to Purdue, where state police used tear gas to break up crowds that set fire to trash bins and threw rocks and launched bottle rockets at officers.

The only disturbance at Notre Dame was to those who were trying to study at nearby dorms. About 12:30 a.m. one student from nearby Alumni Hall tried to quiet the gathering of about 35 people by telling them that he heard the team would be an hour late, but it didn’t work.

After the celebration was over, McGraw and her staff went back into the basketball office to watch a tape of the game’s ending.

“We just wanted to see what it looked like because it was all so fast we’re not sure we even remember it,” McGraw said.