Notre Dame & No. 1 Finishes

Lou Somogyi, Senior Editor
Blue and Gold
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The combined men’s & women’s fencing national title won by Notre Dame this weekend was the first time a Fighting Irish athletics team finished No. 1 since men’s soccer in December 2013.

That men’s soccer title became the eighth different sport at the school to capture a national title, and it also represented the first time a male-only sport won it all at Notre Dame since the football team in 1988, a quarter century earlier.

Since 1988, four different men’s sports reached the NCAA Championship but lost in the final: tennis (1992 to Stanford), hockey (2008 to Boston College), lacrosse (2010 and 2014, to Duke both times) and football (2012 to Alabama).

The soccer program finally ended that bridesmaid, or in this case “best man” streak.

With men’s lacrosse back at No. 1 this week and the hockey team advancing to the Frozen Four that begins April 6, Notre Dame could have two national title winners in the same academic year for only the fifth time:

The most was three during the 1943-44 school year, with football in the fall and then tennis and golf in the spring.

The other times it occurred were 1977-78 (football and fencing), 2004-05 (women’s soccer and fencing), and 2010-11 (women’s soccer and fencing again)

Overall, with the fencing title this weekend, here are the 29 total either recognized by the University and/or NCAA:


Football (11): 1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977 and 1988

In 10 other seasons, Notre Dame received some mention as the national champion, highlighted by winning the 1964 MacArthur Bowl, presented by the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, an award emblematic of one of the four outlets recognized by the NCAA (along with AP, the coaches’ poll, which used to be the UPI, and the Football Writers Association of America Grantland Rice Trophy).

Notre Dame, however, does not count those other 10 (including 1964) because either they are not consensus or are not recognized by the NCAA.

The Irish were No. 1 or legitimately in the running for it on nine other occasions before losing or tying on either the last day of the regular season or the bowl: 1938 (13-0 at USC), 1948 (14-14 at USC), 1964 (20-17 at USC), 1970 (38-28 at USC), 1974 (55-24 at USC), 1980 (20-3 at USC), 1989 (27-10 at Miami), 1993 (41-39 versus Boston College) and 2012 (42-14 to Alabama in the BCS Championship).

It demonstrates just how challenging it is to finish a season unbeaten or untied (achieved only twice in the last 67 years, 1973 and 1988).


Fencing (9): 1977, 1978, 1986, 1987, 1994, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2017

The men won the 1977, 1978 and 1986 titles, while the women earned it in 1987. In 1990, the NCAA went to a combined (men’s and women’s) championship.

Since 1979, the fencers have finished second 14 times, including five in a row from 1996-2000.


Women’s Soccer (3): 1995, 2004 and 2010

Notre Dame’s 28-year history in the sport has also had five runner-up finishes: 1994, 1996, 1999, 2006 and 2008 — all to North Carolina. The Tar Heels have won 21 of the women’s 35 soccer national titles (when coach Anson Dorrance was the Geno Auriemma of his sport). The Irish are second with three.


Men’s Tennis (2): 1944 and 1959

The Irish shared it with two other teams in ’44 while finishing 9-0 under coach Walter Langford, and in ’59 with head coach Tom Fallon the 14-0 Notre Dame team shared it with Tulane.


Men’s Soccer (1): 2013

At age 68, 12th-year head coach Bobby Clark captured his first NCAA title, one year after losing as the No. 1 seed in the round of 16.


Women’s Basketball (1): 2001

A two-point win over Purdue won it all in 2001 for head coach Muffet McGraw, who took the reins of the program in 1987 and led the Irish to the 1997 Final Four.

Notre Dame also made it to the Final Four five straight seasons (2011-15), losing in the championship game in 2011 to Texas A&M, in 2012 to Baylor, in the 2013 semifinal to Connecticut in a de facto title game after going 3-0 against the Huskies during the season, and then in the finals again to the Huskies dynasty in 2014 and 2015.

The Irish finished this regular season ranked No. 2, but an ACL injury to star forward Brianna Turner in the second round of the NCAA Tournament devastated its title hopes.


Men’s Cross Country (1): 1957

Coach Alex Wilson’s team won the title held in East Lansing, Mich. Since 1987, former coach Joe Piane guided nine top-10 finishes, including No. 3 in 1990 and 2005.


Men’s Golf (1): 1944

The final piece to the 1943-44 school year that resulted in three national titles.

Note: Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame coach George Keogan was retroactively declared the 1927 and 1936 national champs by the Helms Foundation, but that is not recognized by the NCAA.

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