Irish fans ready for next test

Samantha Zuba

Samantha Zuba, third from right, watches the Notre Dame-Maryland game Sunday night with some friends in a student lounge.

Samantha Zuba is a junior at Notre Dame and an assistant managing editor of the student newspaper, The Observer.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It almost seemed like a regular Sunday night on Notre Dame’s campus, even though the Irish women were playing in the Final Four -- but that is exactly what made the gameday atmosphere on campus interesting.

In the LaFortune Student Center, students sat at tables and in booths at Burger King working on homework, as usual. But every television had the Notre Dame-Maryland game on, and students constantly glanced up to check in on the score of the game. A campus security officer stopped to watch the game and expressed her support for the Irish with quiet but intense cheers as she stood near a table of students turned away from their laptops to watch the game.

The girls at the table next to her had all turned their backs on their homework to face their chairs toward the television. It can be difficult -- and sometimes nearly impossible -- to drag students’ attention away from their laptops, especially as we speed toward final week. We obviously need to study or distract ourselves from studying by flipping through Facebook photos.

Samantha Zuba

Even with finals on the horizon, eyes were often focused on TVs - not laptops -- at the Notre Dame student center.

So what really struck me was how many people took time out of their academic lives for a sporting event that wasn’t football. There are two large flat-screen televisions in the main lobby of LaFortune, and instead of passing through quickly on their way to Starbucks or Subway, students paused to watch the game, if only for a few moments to see that the Irish were winning and cheer with their friends. Some plopped down in armchairs to join the dedicated groups huddled around the televisions.

Before I visited LaFortune, I watched the first half of the game in one of the men’s dorms on campus. All of Notre Dame’s dorms are single-sex, and I was curious to see if the men on campus had interest in the game, too.

My guy friends were all sitting in their floor’s common lounge, talking about how they hoped the Irish would make the championship game, and guys in the center lounges on other floors also had the game on. I thought it was pretty neat that a group of men had all chosen to sit down and watch the women’s basketball game, and I was even happier when they started talking about how talented guards Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride are.

As far as women’s sports have come, many extraordinary female athletes still don’t receive the respect they deserve. Female athletes have the potential to be role models for both men and women, and in many ways, the Irish women’s basketball team proves that on our campus.

Men and women alike respect Muffet McGraw’s extraordinary success as a head coach, and anyone can appreciate the skill of players like Loyd and McBride. Former guard Skylar Diggins belongs in that category as well. When the game cameras panned to show Diggins in the crowd, you could tell everyone in the room respected how well she played basketball as well as what she accomplished at Notre Dame.

Given the lopsided 87-61 score, there was no raucous celebration as the clock ran down and the Irish remained undefeated. Instead, fans reacted with quiet, proud satisfaction and excitement for the upcoming championship game. The reaction reflected Notre Dame’s response to losing forward Natalie Achonwa: stoic, determined, ready to adapt and head to the next challenge.

Overall, watching campus watch the Irish on Sunday gave me hope for the future of women’s basketball. After the game, as I put the finishing touches on my blog, my friends flipped to a baseball game. But one of the guys, a player on the women’s practice team, made sure we tuned back in to women’s basketball because of the UConn-Stanford game and most importantly because McGraw would be interviewed at halftime. When everyone started chatting loudly, he turned up the volume so we could all hear Coach McGraw, and cheered when she gave a shout-out to the practice squad.

One thing is for sure — Notre Dame knows that this is an important group of women.