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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame cheerleading announces 2023-2024 Leprechaun squad

Notre Dame cheerleading selected four leprechauns for the 2023-2024 school year, the Notre Dame leprechaun Instagram account announced Sunday, April 23.

After a multistep tryout involving open clinics, a written application, an audition video and several live performances, McKenna Englhardt, Colin Mahoney, Kylee Kazenski and Ryan Coury were chosen to lead the Fighting Irish in spirit next year.

Since the leprechaun became the University’s official mascot in 1965, Coury said there have been 67 leprechauns in total. Englhardt and Kazenski are the third and fourth women to sport the mascot’s iconic bucket hat and green suit.

Leprechaun McKenna

Englhardt is a first-year from Palo Alto, California studying mechanical engineering.

Growing up, Englhardt said she competed in Irish dance and was nicknamed the “little leprechaun” by her hometown friends. Englhardt’s parents were the same year at Notre Dame, but they first met at a bar in San Francisco 10 years later, she said.

“I grew up doing the whole Notre Dame thing,” Englhardt said.

When it came time to shoot the one-to-two-minute audition video as part of the leprechaun application, Englhardt said her lifelong affinity for Lucky Charms came in handy.

With a friend’s help, Englhardt filmed a comical skit that hinted at her fitness for the leprechaun role because of Englhardt’s Irish dancing background and love for the marshmallow cereal.

“My friends know that if I'm going to have a late night of studying, I’ll fill up a cup of Lucky Charms in the dining hall to keep me going,” Englhardt said.

Deciding earlier to step back from competitive dance in college and applying to be a leprechaun almost as a joke, Englhardt said she didn’t tell her family she was trying out until actually making the cheer team.

“It was so funny to call my parents and my siblings to let them know, because it came so far out of left field for them,” Englhardt said. “I don't think that’s what any of them expected me to say when I called.”

Courtesy of Ryan Coury
Seven Notre Dame leprechauns pose during cheer team tryouts in their green suits.

Leprechaun Colin

A sophomore from Omaha, Nebraska studying Spanish and finance, Mahoney is a returning 2022-2023 leprechaun.

Drawn to Notre Dame because of traditions such as the leprechaun and dining hall rivalry, Mahoney said he acts like a “ballistic missile” when inciting Fighting Irish fans at sporting events.

“I have the ability to flip the switch and instantaneously go from trying to be professional, calm, mild-mannered and studious to going absolutely crazy,” Mahoney said.

Whether it’s lifting in the morning with the cheer team, learning how to do a backflip, creating social media content, engaging in community outreach or speaking with donors, Mahoney said leprechauns must cultivate a unique set of skills.

“I think there’s so many different avenues of personal development that the roll provides you with that I really don’t know what I can draw a parallel to,” Mahoney said.

Heading into year two, Mahoney said he’s always looking to improve the leprechaun role on and off the field.

“This year, I ended up getting into 10- or 11-grade schools and elementary schools around the South Bend, Mishawaka and the Michiana area,” Mahoney said. “Those interactions meant a lot to me.”

Leprechaun Kylee

Kazenski, a junior computer science major from Springfield, Illinois, said she always wanted to try out to be a leprechaun during her senior year.

“As soon as I put the suit on and got out there in front of my peers at the tryouts, it was a whole different experience," Kazenski said. "There was no fear. It was just all pep. I was ready to go. Nothing was really standing in my way.”

Since arriving at Notre Dame, Kazenski, a first-generation student, said she's turned to several activities to prepare for the leprechaun role.

A member of the St. André Bessette Welcome Weekend committee for two years, Kazenski said she has led dorm chants for first-years during move-in. She studied abroad in Ireland over the summer for six weeks, is taking an Irish language class and plays banjo in Notre Dame’s céilí band, she added.

“You don't have to be delved into Irish culture, obviously, to be way into the Fighting Irish," Kazenski said. "But I think it did really help propel me into really wanting to portray the leprechaun."

Kazenski and Englhardt both said they were honored to be among the University’s first few female leprechauns.

“It’s a unique opportunity to inspire younger girls and women here to really go out there and make their dreams happen, no matter what’s typical of that role or perceived as typical,” Kazenski said.

Leprechaun Ryan

Coury, a junior finance major from Phoenix, Arizona, is another returning leprechaun from 2022-2023.

Last year, Coury said leprechaun tryouts were so close that applicants were given time during the Blue-Gold Game to engage with the crowd in an added round of tryouts. Following the game, Coury thought he might have gotten cut.

“I didn't know how tryouts would go, and I was fortunate that the coaches saw something in me that I didn't quite see in myself yet,” Coury said. “Little did I know that I was embarking on the best adventure of my life.”

One of the “unspoken best parts of the job” is meeting mascots from other schools, Coury said. The uniform — an Irish country hat, green suit, vest and shillelagh — provides leprechauns the confidence to perform, Coury added.

“Last year when I got the job, I found out on a Sunday morning. We had a team meeting that evening, and then immediately after the team meeting, the seamstress was there measuring us for the suits,” Coury said.

Although a leprechaun is inherently mischievous, Coury said he embodies a more friendly, goofy and high-energy character.

“On a greater note, for what the figure means, you have the unique opportunity to not only represent the University, but you’re also embodying its mission — this idea of being a means for good,” Coury said. “When you’re in suit, you are out of your own life. It’s an escape from that. But you also get to take other people out of their troubles and their worries and let them just focus on you.”