The 20th Annual Flying Irish Basketball Invitational brought together 52 Reserve Officer's Training Corps men's and women's teams this weekend from detachments across the country. The tournament, hosted by Notre Dame Air Force ROTC, lasted from Friday night until Sunday afternoon, when the Flying Irish finalists earned the right to play on the same court where the Irish men's team would be practicing later in the day.
In the women's final, South Dakota State Air Force ROTC Jackrabbits upended the Purdue University Navy ROTC and U.S. Marine Corps Boilermakers 34-18. The Jackrabbits were led by the strong guard play of co-tournament Most Valuable Players and sisters Emily and Liz Jarding. The two took over the game after a slow start that only saw six points scored in the first 10 minutes, jetting Purdue out to a 20-7 halftime lead.
In the men's final, Texas A&M Air Force ROTC Aggies soared over West Virginia Air Force ROTC Mountain Hogs in a 58-30 rout. The Aggies stifled West Virginia's co-tournament MVPs Anderson and Montaglia with tight half-court defensive pressure, forcing turnovers and converting them into points.
Though the Flying Irish Basketball Invitational is the largest ROTC gathering for an athletic event in the country - only mandatory ROTC field training draws more cadets and midshipmen for any event - drawing schools from San Diego State to Virginia Tech, this weekend was Texas A&M's first appearance in the tournament.
Michael Wied, who led the Aggies with 15 points, including eight straight that broke the game open with a 34-13 halftime lead, was thrilled by his first visit to Notre Dame.
"It was amazing," Wied said. "We all walked around campus [Saturday] for the first time. And the competition is great. We didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing."
Two-time defending champion Notre Dame Air Force ROTC A team replaced four starters from last year's team and went 2-1 in round robin play. However, they lost their first bracket play match up with the eventual champion Aggies.
The Notre Dame Navy/USMC men's A team, led by MVP runner-up senior Greg Hiltz, also advanced to bracket play and lost in the second round.
"Air Force men's A team and Navy both played really hard," Air Force ROTC Basketball Tournament Officer John-Paul Adrian said, "but both got stuck in hard playoff brackets."
The Air Force men's B, Air Force women's A and B, Army men's and Navy/USMC women's teams did not make it out of round robin play.
The Flying Irish Invitational also accomplished its further-reaching goals of endorsing positive relationships with the country's future military leaders all over the nation.
"The goal of our tournament is to foster sportsmanship and unity between teams because we're all going to be officers," Notre Dame Air Force ROTC Public Affairs Officer Katy Sidrow said.
In that spirit, every year the tournament presents the Colonel Moe Award for sportsmanship to one men's and women's teams. Col. Moe was a Vietnam prisoner-of-war veteran who returned from war to become Air Force ROTC Professor of Aerospace Studies and Commander of Detachment 225 at Notre Dame. He was present to award the honor to Nebraska Lincoln-Omaha men's Air Force ROTC Huskers and University of Iowa women's Air Force ROTC.
The tournament also featured a three-point contest, won by Josh Stallard of Texas A&M and Stephanie Thomson of Marquette.