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Monogram Club Musings: Tobacco Road Tour

Mar 8, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT

For one of the Club's stops on the "Tobacco Road Tour," Monogram winners and their families gathered at Top of the Hill before Notre Dame men's lacrosse took on UNC.

On July 1, 2013, Notre Dame officially joined the Atlantic Coast Conference. Beginning with men’s soccer’s showdown against North Carolina in September, the Fighting Irish have been competing in the ACC for six months.

But perhaps it was this past weekend that truly marked Notre Dame’s arrival in its new conference. With seven Fighting Irish programs competing in the Tar Heel State in the span of six days, it was the perfect opportunity for the Monogram Club to connect with members in the Research Triangle area, where three of the conference’s 15 schools are separated by 40 miles.

Before you read any further… Here’s a 30-second look at the trip:

Now, for those of you with some more time on your hands, here’s the complete recap…

Membership coordinator Mike Sullivan (’09, manager) and I left South Bend for Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday morning. Upon arrival, we were greeted by temperatures in the mid-40s, but with the winter we’ve had in northern Indiana this year, that may as well have been sunny and 75.

Our first stop along Tobacco Road took us to Chapel Hill, the site of the University of North Carolina and the women’s lacrosse team’s showdown with the #1 Tar Heels. Before heading to Fetzer Field, we searched for a bite to eat on Franklin Street, surprised when we ran into a restaurant owner who invited us in because he saw our Notre Dame gear. We started chatting, and as it turned out, his brother-in-law coached with Ara Parseghian. If you’re ever in Chapel Hill, be sure to check out Top This! (even if their best-selling sandwich is called The Tar Heel). The restaurant also ended up being the post-game dinner choice for the Irish baseball on Friday.

source:  On Friday morning, we made the hour drive west on I-40 to catch the Irish men’s swimming team in the day three preliminaries at the ACC Championships. We watched as senior Frank Dyer took first in his heat in the 200 free, a title he went on to capture later that evening for the first Notre Dame event win in meet history.

After touring the ACC offices in Greensboro that afternoon, we made our way back to Cary, the home of Notre Dame’s USA Baseball-Irish Classic. The USA National Training Complex was also the site of our first “official” gathering, where several Monogram winners and their families joined us for dinner and the Irish’s showdown with defending champion UCLA. At that point in the evening, temperatures began to dip in to the low-40s, but it did not stop the group from enjoying some classic ballpark cuisine, including hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and of course, Cracker Jacks.

source:  Monogram winners in attendance included president Haley Scott DeMaria (’95, swimming) and her husband Jamie (’95, manager), Kerri Wagner Debbs (’89, golf), Michael Boland (’97, manager), Scott Bickford (’05, baseball), and Brant Ust (’00, baseball), who currently serves as USA Baseball’s 18U National Team Program & Alumni Relations Director.

Unfortunately, a ninth inning rally came up short, and the Irish fell to the Bruins, 2-1. A few miles north in Durham, the Irish women’s tennis team met #1 Duke. While we weren’t able to be in two spots at once, Fighting Irish Digital Media was on scene to capture the match (see below).

On Saturday morning, it was back to Fetzer Field as the Irish men’s lacrosse team battled UNC. Before the game, Monogram winners and alumni gathered at Top of the Hill. While the Chapel Hill staple is probably not the friendliest environment for opposing fans on the day of a Tar Heel basketball game, it was the perfect spot before lacrosse.

Monogram winners who joined us included Mike Johnston (’83, football), Kelly Burrell Soldati (’06, volleyball), Jim Morrissey (’84, soccer) and Kim Holden (’13, swimming).

Though we arrived a few minutes late with Notre Dame already facing a four-goal deficit, perhaps it’s safe to say the Monogram crew provided a bit of luck of the Irish, as the squad rallied for a thrilling 11-10 victory.

source:  On Sunday, our final gathering of the weekend took us to McDaids Irish Pub in Raleigh, where we joined ND Women Connect and the Notre Dame Club of Eastern Carolina for brunch prior to the women’s basketball team’s regular season finale at North Carolina State. Nearly 50 people met up before grabbing a lime green shirt, and heading to Reynolds Coliseum to cheer the Irish to a 24-point victory over the Wolfpack.

Though we did not have any events planned for Monday, our final day in the Triangle was nevertheless a busy one. In the morning, we met with members of the Rams Club staff, North Carolina’s athletic development organization, as well as director of athletics Bubba Cunningham (’84 & ’88, honorary). Cunningham, who worked at Notre Dame from 1988 until 2002, is in his third year at North Carolina, after serving in the same position at Ball State and Tulsa.

While waiting in the UNC offices, we also met Revere La Noue (’99, lacrosse), who also had a meeting with Cunningham that morning. Some may know the artist for his work, “The Original Fighting Irish.”

After our meetings, we visited the Dean E. Smith Center, where the Irish men’s basketball team was shooting around in preparation for its game later that evening. With some South Bend-like weather conditions affecting the area on Monday afternoon, many schools and universities closed early, so of course, the short route between North Carolina and Duke was particularly busy as we made our way to Durham.

While on Duke’s campus, we met with Nina King (’00, manager), the Blue Devils’ Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Administration/Legal Affairs and Chief of Staff. She graduated with a degree in accounting, and was the head manager for the Irish women’s swimming & diving team. King has been a member of the Duke staff since 2008. After our meeting, we had the great privilege of visiting Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of the Blue Devils’ basketball programs, and certainly one of the most iconic venues in all of college sports.

source:  After making our way back to Chapel Hill, we returned to the Dean Dome for the men’s basketball matchup against the Tar Heels. We caught up with former Notre Dame cornerback and current Minnesota Viking Robert Blanton (’12), who was back in his home state for the offseason. The Irish trailed by 14 at the break, but made a valiant second half rally that certainly put Carolina fans on the edge of their seats. In the end, the Tar Heels prevailed, 63-61, to win their 12th straight game.

Following five days cheering on six Fighting Irish teams in four different cities, we returned to South Bend on Tuesday morning, even more excited about Notre Dame’s new conference home, and looking forward to future opportunities to connect with Monogram winners at regional events on the Atlantic coast and around the country.

Watch below for all of Fighting Irish Digital Media’s great coverage from the weekend.

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