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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

McGuinness: Top 10 Notre Dame sports moments of the fall 2023 semester

Junior running back Audric Estimé scores a gem-winning rushing touchdown during Notre Dame's 21-14 victory over Duke at Wallace Wade Stadium on Sept. 30.

The 2023 fall semester is nearly over. A lot has happened over the last few months across every Irish sports team. So, let's look back on the action and revisit the top 10 plays from this semester across Notre Dame athletics (so far).

10. Women's Basketball Pulls Off Gutsy Comeback in Knoxville

Beating No. 20 Tennessee in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge would've been impressive enough on its own. But Niele Ivey's squad pulled out the victory in the toughest of circumstances. On the road, down three of their best players, the Irish erased a 16-point deficit to pull out the win. Four Irish players scored in double figures, led by senior forwards Maddy Westbeld and Natalija Marshall at 15 points apiece. Westbeld also finished with a double-double.

9. Hockey Takes Down BU Terriers

Notre Dame hockey has had an up-and-down experience when facing top teams this season. One of the high water marks came against No. 4 Boston University. Though the series wouldn't end well, the Irish got off on the right foot with a 4-1 victory at Compton Family Ice Arena. After falling behind 1-0, the Irish scored three times in the final 11 minutes of the first period to grab control of the game. The Irish power-play clicked at a 40% rate thanks to goals from senior defenseman Drew Bavaro and freshman forward Danny Nelson. The ever-reliable graduate student goaltender Ryan Bischel stopped 43 of 44 shots as well.

8. Marcon Up to the Task at St. Andrews

It would be understandable if even the best golfer was overwhelmed by playing at historic St. Andrews Links in Scotland. Angelo Marcon wasn't phased though. The senior led the way for the Irish in the first-ever St. Andrews Collegiate tournament, finishing in fourth place at 4-under par. Marcon's 64 in the second round of the individual portion of the competition was tied for the lowest single-round score of the event.

7. Estimé Runs All Over Stanford

If Notre Dame's regular-season finale was the last collegiate game for junior running back Audric Estimé, he certainly went off on a high note. The NFL hopeful showed off his skillset with a gaudy 238-yard performance that threatened Notre Dame's single-game rushing record. That was a career-high, as were the whopping 4 touchdowns Estimé recorded. His fourth broke Notre Dame's single-season record for rushing touchdowns (18).

6. Women's Soccer Pulls Off Improbable Rally at Duke

As time wound down in Notre Dame women's soccer's Sept. 21 clash with then-No. 16 Duke, all the Irish were hoping for was to avoid the worst-case scenario. Despite outshooting the Blue Devils 10-4 in the second half, Notre Dame trailed 1-0 with 5 minutes remaining. Just 7 seconds later, though, graduate student midfielder Kiki Van Zanten slammed in a caroming ball at the back post to level the score.

Just salvaging a draw would've represented a success. But the Irish didn't stop fighting. Just 93 seconds later, sophomore midfielder Leah Klenke picked the perfect time for her first goal of the season. Moments later, the final whistle sounded, etching arguably the team's most impressive win of the regular season into the books.

5. Slaggert Sets the Tone Against Michigan

Breakout performances were sorely lacking last season from Irish hockey's senior forward Landon Slaggert. After being one of Notre Dame's most productive scorers the previous two seasons, Slaggert's production inexplicably cratered in 2022-23. But after scoring just 7 goals in that season, the captain entered Notre Dame's highly anticipated weekend series with No. 13 Michigan with 10 goals. He immediately increased that tally with a gorgeous breakaway finish less than seven minutes in. Slaggert then erased any hopes of a Wolverine comeback by chipping in a spectacular feed from Nelson in the waning moments of the second period.

4. Burton Starts Shrewsberry Era Right

The focus on Notre Dame men's basketball is all about the future. However, there are some bright spots in the present to be found. The Irish didn't have to wait to see the first one, which came courtesy of freshman guard Markus Burton in the team's season-opener. In a game against Niagara that was there for the taking, Burton grabbed control. He finished his first collegiate game with an Irish debut record of 29 points on an efficient 11-20 shooting performance.

3. Hidalgo's Hot Start

Burton wasn't the only freshman guard to make waves in South Bend, though. Haddonfield, New Jersey native Hannah Hidalgo has lit the college basketball world on fire from the moment she stepped onto the court. Hidalgo put up 31 in her Irish debut in Paris and has tallied at least 13 points in each of her first seven games, exceeding 20 in all but one. It will be exciting to see what she can do with junior guard Olivia Miles once she returns from a torn ACL at some point in the not-too-distant future.

2. Shootout Heroics Send Irish Men's Soccer to College Cup

Notre Dame men's soccer players run to celebrate after the team's win in penalty kicks against Indiana in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Alumni Stadium on Dec. 2.

After receiving a first-round bye and dispatching Kentucky 2-0 in a dominant effort, things went down to the wire in the next two legs of Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament journey. First, the Irish went on their heels in their third-round match when sophomore midfielder KK Baffour received a red card in the 26th minute. But the Irish held Western Michigan scoreless in regulation and through the first two rounds of the shootout thanks to a save by senior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd and a post hit. All four Irish players found the back of the net on their kicks, with senior forward Daniel Russo finishing it off.

Six days later, Russo found himself in the same spot. For the second time in as many meetings in 2023, Notre Dame and Indiana played to a 1-1 stalemate in regulation. Overtime provided no closure. Indiana's first shooter hit the post with his attempt, followed by eight straight makes across both sides. Russo, who scored the lone Irish goal of regulation with a beautifully placed free-kick, made it nine with a shot to the right side and an iconic celebration as delirious spectators poured onto the Alumni Stadium pitch to celebrate Notre Dame's second trip to the men's College Cup in the last three years.

1. Fourth-and-16

There's no further explanation needed in the headline. Though it ultimately wound up being overshadowed by the letdowns at Louisville and Clemson, this improbable 4th-down situation couldn't have had higher stakes in the moment. The Irish desperately needed a win to stabilize after the demoralizing defeat to Ohio State the week prior, not to mention salvage their College Football Playoff hopes.

But as Hartman scanned the field for an open target, no one created separation. Instead, Hartman found open space himself, sprinting for just enough yardage to move the chains. Estimé took the next play to the house and the Irish escaped with an impressive road win against a then-undefeated Blue Devils team.