Samantha Zuba is a junior at Notre Dame and an assistant managing editor of the student newspaper, The Observer.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Long before tipoff of the women’s basketball national championship game against Connecticut on Tuesday night, Notre Dame students flocked to the LaFortune Student Center, hoping to snag a seat at the school’s official game watch.
Organized by the student fan section known as the Leprechaun Legion, the festivities featured Krispy Kreme doughnuts, members of the Irish pep band and rows upon rows of students decked out in green Legion T-shirts, their eyes glued to the large screen in the student center’s ballroom.
The event filled up long before the players even took the court for warm-ups and introductions, so students queued on the stairs to the second-floor ballroom, hoping someone would leave so that they could grab seats, even after organizers turned them away. Not to be deterred, Irish fans reorganized in the main lobby of LaFortune by dragging a motley assortment of chairs from all over the student center in front of two flat-screen TVs.
One happy group of fans plopped down in the first row of armchairs in front of the screens and said how pleased they were to return to the seats they had enjoyed for the national semifinal against Maryland. Their brief conversation represented a larger, encouraging trend on Notre Dame’s campus when it comes to women’s basketball. The team has a remarkably loyal following -- from students, faculty and others affiliated with the university, as well as from people around South Bend at large. Many fans attend multiple games, and some attend nearly all of the regular-season home games.
Tuesday’s game was something unique, however, and Irish pride invaded the student center in a way usually reserved for football weekends. The buzz in the entire student center said “Gameday” as students set aside work entirely to focus on the game.
The matchup was just too perfect for campus to ignore: two No.-1 seeds, the only two undefeated teams in the country, two teams with an intense rivalry. The storyline provided the perfect hype for anyone covering the game, as well as for fans. Add up all of those factors, and the interest in women’s basketball on campus was greater than I have ever seen it. This surpassed the excitement leading up to other important tournament games for the Skylar Diggins-led teams, including the 2012 national championship matchup against Baylor. I guess after playing each other 12 times over the past three years, Notre Dame and Connecticut built up a rivalry that is tough to beat. Side note: I am also curious to know how many bitter people tuned into the game just hoping to see Connecticut not win its second championship in as many days.
Once the tide of the game started to turn against Notre Dame, the celebratory atmosphere turned tense, but the crowds seemed to cling to the hope that the Irish could turn it around. Each time Notre Dame dented Connecticut’s lead with even just one basket, fans on the first floor of LaFortune clapped and cheered, and the thunderous celebration from the ballroom could be heard downstairs as the band burst into song.
Even when the game had totally escaped the Irish in the final minutes, the fans gathered in LaFortune would not stop cheering for Notre Dame. A few people started to filter away as the clock ran down, but for the most part, fans stayed until the very end of the 79-58 defeat. It is never fun to be those fans, sticking it out when you know your team will lose, but it shows a great deal of pride in everything the team accomplished to reach the national championship game.
Here’s to the Fighting Irish and everything they have done for women’s basketball.