Nine Southwest Florida high school graduates — left to right, Hannah Sullivan, Natalie Frye, Kyle Hilbert, Gustavo Rossello, Spencer Gauta, Matthew Limbacher, Bernadette Niehaus, Teresa Niehaus and Clare Williams — show off their Notre Dame and St. Mary's T-shirts during a special send-off held by the Notre Dame Club of Naples on Sunday, Aug. 5, at Artichoke and Company in Bonita Springs. SUBMITTED PHOTO
BONITA SPRINGS — In a few weeks time, Notre Dame Club of Naples members will undoubtedly be in kickoff mode … if they aren’t already. (The Fighting Irish begin the 2018 season at home when they resume their storied rivalry with Michigan on Sept. 1. The two programs have met 41 times, but it’s been four years since their last encounter.)
But on Sunday, kickoffs took a back seat to send-offs. Members of the Notre Dame Club of Naples gathered at Artichoke and Company in Bonita Springs to bid good luck to five Collier County high school graduates — Spencer Gauta (Gulf Coast), Kyle Hilbert (Community School of Naples), Matthew Limbacher (Naples), Gustavo Rossello (Community School of Naples) and Clare Williams (Donahue Academy) — who will attend Notre Dame this fall.
“Obviously, Notre Dame’s known for its football,” said Brian Carr, board member and officer for the Notre Dame Club of Naples. “There’s a thing I grew up on — my dad graduated in the 60’s, and he always told me when he was at Notre Dame, it was a sense of place. The idea is that we’re trying to create a sense of place, even off campus, as best we can.”
Carr said Notre Dame’s student enrollment includes 18 young men and women from Collier County.
Limbacher, a swimmer, and Rossello, a fencer, will don the blue and gold in competition for the Fighting Irish. (Did you know the Notre Dame fencing team has won 10 national titles, including two straight? So Gustavo, if you’re part of a three-peat, you know where to go to give the inside story, yes?)
A third Collier County sports standout, Gulf Coast High product George Takacs, is a freshman tight end for Notre Dame. He was not in attendance Sunday, presumably because he’s getting ready for that season opener.
Limbacher and Rossello, who both intend to major in finance, fielded a couple of sports-related questions Sunday.
Will you go to any football games, and if so, how many do you think you’ll attend?
Said Rossello: “I think I kinda have to since I’m going to Notre Dame. There’s such a hype behind it. I’m going to make it to at least one; the practice schedule with fencing is going to be pretty demanding, so I’ll see how that works out.”
Said Limbacher: “All the home games — absolutely every single one I can go to. … I’d like to have that experience of going to all the home games and seeing what all the hype’s about and seeing how our football team really works.”
Which Notre Dame team has the best chance to win a national title this school year: football, women’s basketball (which won the NCAA tournament last season), or other?
Said Rossello: “Notre Dame fencing probably. The best team in the NCAA — by far. It’s incredible, the quality of fencers they have on that team.”
Said Limbacher: “We have a lot of fast kids (on the swim team) — a lot of fast kids this year, and we’re getting a lot faster kids next year — but the women’s basketball (team) has been crushing it, absolutely crushing it. … Even though I love my sport to death, women’s basketball for Notre Dame is great.”
Gauta weighed in, as well, mirroring Limbacher’s prediction.
“Women’s basketball has just been crushing it,” said Gauta, who intends to major in science-business. “If you look at their last season, they were phenomenal. They already went so far last season, they could probably do it again.”
Now, one last question about Notre Dame, and perhaps the most important one of all:
Have you watched “Rudy”? (Even for those of you born at the turn of the century, the movie — which came out in 1993 — is on basic cable all the time, so no excuses.)
“Absolutely … a hundred times, easily,” Limbacher said.
Rossello said he’s seen it — twice, he guessed.
Gauta joked that seeing “Rudy” is an “unofficial prerequisite” to enrollment at Notre Dame.
Two other Collier County students, Natalie Frye (Gulf Coast) and Hannah Sullivan (St. John Neumann), were at Sunday’s gathering, along with Bernadette Niehaus and Teresa Niehaus of Lee County. All four ladies are bound for St. Mary’s College, which shares a unique co-exchange program with Notre Dame.
Sullivan, who played softball and volleyball for St. John Neumann, said she hopes to continue her softball career at St. Mary’s and intends to major in sociology.