Newark, NJ - NJIT Athletic Director Lenny Kaplan visited courtside about a half hour prior to his school’s tipoff against tenth ranked Notre Dame. Kaplan recalled how this day of excitement and anticipation came to fruition. "One of my earliest discussions with their administration I asked how much money would we get," Kaplan recalled. "I thought we would be going to their place. I never expected they would look to visit us right here on our campus."
"We talked about meeting in South Bend," NJIT coach Mike Lane said following Sunday’s contest, won by the Irish 104-57. "I am a Notre Dame graduate and would have liked a game there. We couldn’t find a date that worked for both schools. So they discussed coming here.’
Notre Dame has five players on the roster that hail from within 115 miles of Newark. It is not uncommon for a school to schedule a game near a player’s hometown. So, in this case, Notre Dame administrators felt it was a natural for the Fighting Irish to make the trip. "I would love to make a return trip (to South Bend)," Lane admitted. "Maybe we will wait until Hannah (Hidalgo) graduates" he added in jest.
Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said, "it was a homecoming. The players coming home to play in front of family and friends, their eyes lit up with anticipation as our plane landed."
Lane felt the whole day was a huge showcase for NJIT and the women’s program. "There were high school teams, coaches, AAU teams and coaches,. Trainers…it was just a great chance for them to see our facility and school up close."
Prior to the game, Kaplan predicted a record attendance for a non-Education Day game. His prediction was spot on as over 1,600 were in attendance. "The lower bowl was filled," Lane noted. "It was great seeing the Notre Dame fans into it. It was emotional."
Hannah Hidalgo, Notre Dame’s outstanding freshman from Haddonfield, NJ, tied for game scoring honors with 26 points. She also equaled the school record with 12 steals. Hidalgo, beside getting the win, was most excited about playing in front of family and her Paul VI High School teammates.
Anna DeWolfe hails from Maine. She played four years at Fordham before transferring to Notre Dame. It was still a ‘homecoming’ for her as several former Fordham teammates made the trip to Newark to see her play and meet up post game.
The doors opened at 1 p.m. for the 2 o’clock start. A little over an hour prior to tip off a line extended down the street as fans, in green or red garb, lined up to enter the Joel & Diane Bloom Wellness and Events Center (WEC).
Post game Notre Dame players stayed around the WEC to meet with family and friends. They posed for pictures with adoring fans dressed in green.
Prior to making the trip to Newark, Ivey predicted, "it’s going to be a special moment for everyone." It was, for both Notre Dame and NJIT.