Dec. 31, 2014

As 2014 goes by the boards, let’s take a look back at the last calendar year in athletics at the University of Notre Dame (and check out the video links for up close and personal looks at some of the these individuals, teams and events):

Men’s Coach of the Year: Kevin Corrigan (lacrosse) — Corrigan and his teams have established the Irish as a legitimate power in men’s lacrosse circles thanks to three NCAA Final Four appearances in the last five years–including a trip to the NCAA title game in 2014 after also accomplishing that in 2010. Notre Dame has reached the NCAA quarterfinals five straight times and no other program in the country can say that.

Women’s Coach of the Year: Muffet McGraw (basketball) — Most outside observers figured once Skylar Diggins graduated the Notre Dame women’s basketball program would take at least a small step backward. They should have known better. With seniors Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride and sophomore Jewell Loyd leading the way, the Irish played with passion and poise while running an impressive series of wins over ranked foes on their way to the 2014 NCAA title game in Nashville. Then, when the 2014-15 season began, even with all-stars McBride and Achonwa graduating, McGraw led her team to a number-one national ranking in December 2014. Honorable Mention: Martin Stone (rowing) — He led the Irish to ninth place in the NCAA Championships, matching Notre Dame’s best finish in that event.

Back-to-Back Coach of the Year: Bobby Clark (men’s soccer) — If you thought the Notre Dame men’s soccer team might rest on its laurels after winning the 2013 NCAA title, think again. Despite losing weapons like ACC Offensive Player of the Year Harrison Shipp, Clark and the Irish picked up where they left off, won another ACC regular-season crown and earned the number-one seed in the 2014 NCAA Championship.

Rookie Coach of the Year: Ryan Sachire (men’s tennis) — In his first season as head coach, Sachire took his Irish to the NCAA Round of 16 as Notre Dame advanced to that postseason level for the first time since 2007. The Irish ranked as high as sixth nationally and finished with a number-13 final ranking, Notre Dame’s best since 1992.

Coaching Loss of the Year: (tie) Randy Waldrum (women’s soccer), Joe Piane (men’s and women’s cross country and track and field) and Janusz Bednarski (men’s and women’s fencing) — Among them they coached five NCAA Championship teams and won a handful of national-coach-of-the-year awards. Waldrum resigned as Irish women’s soccer in January after 15 seasons in South Bend to become head coach of the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League after winning NCAA women’s soccer crowns in 2004 and 2010. Piane retired in May following 39 seasons in charge of Notre Dame men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country–and having coached 189 All-Americans. Bednarski retired in December after winning combined men’s and women’s fencing NCAA titles in 2003, 2005 and 2011.

Men’s Athlete of the Year: Gerek Meinhardt (fencing) — Meinhardt achieved a program first in 2014, starting the season as the number-one-ranked men’s foilist in the world. He claimed his second NCAA individual foil title in 2014 after also winning the title in 2010. He helped the Irish to a sixth-place finish in the NCAA Championship standings and was a Byron V. Kanaley Award winner. Off the strip Meinhardt was a first-team Academic All-American.

Women’s Athlete of the Year: Emma Reaney (swimming and diving) — Not once but twice she established American records in the 200-yard breaststroke. She did it first in February in winning the ACC title in that event and then repeated it exactly a month later to win the same race at the NCAA Championship. The ACC Women’s Swimmer of the Year, she also was a first-team Academic All-American. Honorable Mention: Lee Kiefer (fencing) — She won a second straight NCAA title in women’s foil, becoming the first Irish fencer to claim back-to-back NCAA first-place trophies since Alicja Kryczalo did it three straight years from 2002-04; Kayla McBride (basketball) — She earned Associated Press first-team All-America honors in 2013-14 and was the ACC Player of the Year after averaging 17.6 points and 5.3 rebounds, plus adding 149 assists.

Men’s Rookie of the Year: (tie) Kristjan Archer (fencing), a third-team All-American after finishing 10th in foil at the NCAA Championship; Harvey Smith (track and field), an indoor track All-American after helping the Irish take eighth place in the 4×400 relay at the NCAA Championship, and Jacob Dumford (track and field), an indoor track All-American whose distance medley relay unit took fourth spot at the NCAA Championship. Honorable Mention: Sergio Perkovic (lacrosse)–He scored five goals in the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship title game against Duke.

Women’s Rookie of the Year: Karley Wester (softball)–The Irish softball outfielder was named a second-team All-American in addition to winning Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year honors. She led the ACC with a .455 batting average to go with 81 hits and 26 stolen bases. She also was one of three finalists for the national freshman of the year award. Honorable Mention: Cortney Fortunato (lacrosse)–She scored 63 points, was the national freshman of the year and a third-team women’s lacrosse All-American; Brianna Turner (basketball) –She played through an injury and has less than half a varsity season under her belt, but she’s averaging 14.0 points and 6.3 rebounds for the Irish women’s basketball squad.

Men’s Student-Athlete of the Year: Alex Coccia (fencing) — His resume included three monograms in fencing, Notre Dame student body president in 2013-14 and finally a Rhodes Scholarship in November. Coccia becomes the first Notre Dame student-athlete to be named a Rhodes Scholar since baseball player Don Sniegowski in 1957. Along the way, Coccia was a member of the 2011 Notre Dame team that won the NCAA combined men’s and women’s fencing title, and he won 98 career bouts. Honorable Mention: Greg Andrews (tennis)–Notre Dame’s number-one singles player won an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship, was a first-team all-ACC selection and was Notre Dame’s nominee as ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He participated in both singles and doubles at the NCAA Championships.

Alex Coccia Rhodes Scholarship Website:

Women’s Student-Athlete of the Year: Liz Tucker (soccer) — Named the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year, Tucker produced a perfect 4.0 grade-point average and played on Notre Dame’s 2011 NCAA Championship title-winning squad. She also earned an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship. Honorable Mention: Anna Kottkamp (rowing) –A member of Notre Dame’s first varsity eight, she received the NCAA Elite 89 Award for having the highest grade-point average among athletes competing at the NCAA Championships in her sport. She was the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year with her 4.0 grade-point average in environmental sciences.

Liz Tucker 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year Website:

Comeback Team of the Year: Men’s Lacrosse — Notre Dame’s season appeared at a crossroads in mid-April after home-field losses to Maryland and Duke seemed to place the Irish NCAA hopes in jeopardy. Apparently needing at least one victory to make the bracket, the Irish captured the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament with one-goal wins over Maryland and Syracuse and went on a tear that featured six straight wins over ranked opponents, taking Notre Dame all the way to the NCAA championship game. Honorable Mention: Football–The Irish limped into the postseason after attrition, injuries and turnovers contributed mightily to a November in which Notre Dame dropped its last four regular-season games. Brian Kelly’s squad changed that conversation dramatically in the Music City Bowl against 23rd-ranked and favored LSU by dominating time of possession, running for 263 yards against a highly-ranked Tiger defense and playing turnover-free football in the 31-28 victory.

Comeback Coach of the Year: Tim Welsh (swimming) –Welsh retired (or so he thought) last spring after 29 seasons as the Notre Dame men’s swimming coach (and 10 years in which he coached both the men and women). Then in September, after women’s swimming coached Brian Barnes stepped away, Welsh was recruited to return for a year as the women’s interim coach. Said Notre Dame vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick of Welsh: “There is no better fit between a coach and a university than Tim Welsh and the University of Notre Dame. He has lived Notre Dame’s values, taught them and modeled them.”

Comeback Player of the Year: (tie) Everett Golson (football)–After missing the 2013 football season, Golson rebounded in the 2014 regular season to complete 256 of his 427 passes (.599) for 3,445 yards (ninth nationally to end the regular season) and 29 touchdowns (ninth nationally). He also ran for 283 yards and a team-leading eight TDs, was responsible for 224 points (seventh nationally) and ranked 15th nationally in total offense (302.7 yards per game) after the regular season. Jerian Grant (men’s basketball)–Grant missed the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of the 2013-14 campaign, Notre Dame’s first in the ACC. He’s come back so far in 2014-15 to lead the Irish in scoring at 17.4 per game and also pace the squad in assists at 6.2 per contest, while pushing Mike Brey’s squad to a 13-1 start and a number-14 national ranking.

Comeback Play of the Year: Kyle Brindza (football) – Brindza finished his Notre Dame career as the all-time Irish leader in field goals with 57, yet he had struggled down the stretch, making only three of his final nine attempts through the end of the regular season. Then, with the Music City Bowl game against LSU on the line, he knocked through the game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired to cap a clutch 14-play, 71-yard drive and send the Irish home with a dramatic 31-28 win. Honorable Mention: Garrett McGrath (men’s fencing)–McGrath had a middling first day in the NCAA Championship, finishing 8-7 in epee competition. On the second day, he won six straight bouts, fought his way into the semifinals where he won, only to fall 15-13 in the title bout, good for an individual NCAA runner-up finish.

Breakout Player of the Year: (tie) Will Fuller (football)–Fuller played only a bit role as a rookie in 2013, catching six passes, one for a touchdown. Then, in 2014, he developed into one of the most dangerous threats in college football, at one point in November tying for the NCAA lead in TD receptions. He finished the season with 76 catches for 1,094 receiving yards, becoming the eighth Irish receiver in history to top the 1,000-yard mark in a single season. His 15 TD receptions tied the Notre Dame single-season record held by Jeff Samardzija, Rhema McKnight and Golden Tate. Demetrius Jackson (men’s basketball)–Jackson played as a freshman a year ago but had more than his share of ups and downs. So far in 2014-15 Jackson has been nothing short of sensational for the Irish as a scorer, shooter and defender. He currently averages 14.4 points and 2.9 assists per game while leading the team in steals with 30. Jackson provides a defensive presence Mike Brey has not enjoyed for some time. He’s hitting at a .581 clip from the field and .468 from three-point range.

Combination Player of the Year: Pat Connaughton (basketball/baseball)–Connaughton led all Atlantic Coast Conference players in defensive rebounds in 2014 and also averaged 10.4 points per game. Once the basketball season ended, he stepped onto the baseball field as a starting pitcher for the Irish, finishing with a 3-5 record and 3.92 ERA. A fourth-round MLB Draft selection by the Baltimore Orioles, Connaughton played a month with the Class A Aberdeen IronBirds and then returned to campus to join his basketball teammates in preparation for their summer trip to Italy. He’s currently averaging 14.0 points a game and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds in his final Irish basketball season.

Surprise Player of the Year: Joe Schmidt (football) – With all due respect to Schmidt’s abilities, who seriously would imagine that a one-time walk-on Notre Dame football player would become so integral to the Irish that he would be voted the squad’s MVP by his teammates, even after missing a full third of the season due to injury? That’s what Schmidt, a senior Notre Dame linebacker, did in 2014, leading the team in tackles until a season-ending foot injury in the eighth game of the campaign against Navy. The reality that the Irish lost their final four regular-season games with Schmidt on the sidelines spoke loudly to his worth.

Team of the Year: Women’s Basketball–The Irish stormed through the Atlantic Coast Conference in their first season in the league with a perfect 19-0 record that included both the regular-season crown and the ACC Tournament title. Notre Dame won the regular-season race by four games, the largest margin in 12 years and only the fourth time an ACC team has won the title by four or more games. The Irish set 19 single-season school records while leading the nation in field-goal percentage (.506) and ranking second in scoring (86.1). Honorable Mention: Men’s Lacrosse–The Irish advanced to the NCAA title game; Rowing–The Irish finished ninth in the NCAA Championships to match their best NCAA finish.

Game of the Year: Notre Dame 14, Albany 13 (OT) in NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship quarterfinal–The Irish found themselves down 12-7 with just more than eight minutes left before Notre Dame scored four goals in a 1:52 span to cut the Great Dane lead to one. The Irish scored twice in a 1:41 span to tie the game with about three minutes left, then sophomore Matt Kavanagh won it for Notre Dame 1:31 into overtime to send his team to the Final Four in dramatic fashion. Honorable Mention: Notre Dame 87, Maryland 83 (women’s basketball)–Notre Dame led 41-19 late in the first half. But Maryland fought back to an advantage at 64-63, its only lead of the night, with 10 minutes remaining. A Kayla McBride layup and three-point goal, plus two free throw from Michaela Mabrey, made it 70-64 for the Irish and they held on from there. Jewell Loyd had 31 points, 20 in the first half, to go with a career-high six assists. McBride was spectacular in her own right, with 20 points. She hit a clutch jumper with 11 seconds to go that essentially clinched it for her team; Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27 (football)–The football Irish dominated the defending national champions in many respects in Tallahassee and appeared to have won the game in the final minute when a potential lead-grabbing scoring pass was wiped off the board on an offensive interference penalty.

Streak of the Year: Women’s Basketball–Muffet McGraw’s Irish women’s basketball teams have enjoyed no shortage of success over the years, yet what her 2013-14 team did in winning 37 straight games to open the season qualified as remarkable. That ranks as the longest winning streak by an Irish team-based sport since World War II. Along the way, among those 37 wins, 35 came by double-figure margins and 14 came against ranked opponents, including eight over top-10 teams. Honorable Mention: Men’s Lacrosse–The Irish won six straight games over ranked opponents, the first two (over Maryland and Duke) to win the ACC Tournament and the last three (over Harvard, Albany and Maryland) in NCAA Championship play.

Play of the Year: Emma Reaney (women’s swimming and diving)–She entered the NCAA Championship having already set the American record in winning the 200 breaststroke event at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships. On March 22 in Minneapolis she outdueled Texas A&M’s Olympic Games gold medalist Breeja Larson to break her own American record and become the first Notre Dame swimmer (male or female) to capture an individual NCAA title. Honorable Mention: Matt Kavanagh (men’s lacrosse)–After the Irish rebounded from a late five-goal deficit against Albany in the NCAA Championship quarterfinals to take the game to overtime, Kavanagh ended it with a goal about a minute and a half into the extra session to send Notre Dame to the Final Four.

Rest In Peace: Dr. Leslie Bodnar (longtime Notre Dame athletics team physician and originator of sports medicine program), Dennis Stark (Irish swimming and diving coach from 1958-85), Wally Moore (Irish freshman coach and football assistant under Ara Parseghian from 1966-74), Tom Regner (former Irish All-America guard on 1966 national championship football squad).