By CURT RALLO
5:38 AM EST, November 10, 2012
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. -- Oranges and reds streaked across the sky as the sun set over Charleston, S.C., and a brown pelican majestically flew a few yards behind the basket, a stunning backdrop to the second half of the college women's basketball game being played between Notre Dame and Ohio State on the deck of the USS Yorktown on Friday.
Notre Dame and Ohio State tipped off the women's basketball season as the first women's teams to be part of the Carrier Classic, a Veterans Day weekend event that benefits the Wounded Warrior Project. The No. 7 Irish defeated the No. 19 Buckeyes, 57-51.
The second half of the doubleheader was to feature the Ohio State and Marquette men's basketball teams but the game was canceled because of condensation on the court.
A crowd of 4,400, mostly active military personnel from the Charleston area, packed the stands on the deck of the historic aircraft carrier. Bright sunshine at the 4 p.m. EST start had some Irish players applying eye black, and Irish coach Muffet McGraw wearing sunglasses. Temperatures in the 60s soon gave way to a nighttime chill as the event went on, finishing up under the stars.
It was a remarkable night for women's basketball and women in the military. Former Notre Dame player Danielle Green, an Army Purple Heart recipient who lost part of her left arm in a grenade attack in Iraq in 2004, was honored at halftime by the Wounded Warrior Project.
Notre Dame wore special uniforms for the event. The Irish had gold jerseys with a camouflage side panel. There was a purple heart on the front with the No. 12 emblazoned on it in honor of Green, who wore the No. 12 when she played for Notre Dame. On the back, instead of last names, the Notre Dame jerseys had USA in red, white and blue.
For the coaches, players and fans who walked the U.S. flag-lined walkway to board the aircraft carrier, there was an electricity in the air.
"It was just such a thrill for us to be here, on this ship, with the history surrounding this, and to be here with Danielle Green and the Wounded Warriors," McGraw said. "It was about a lot more than basketball."
South Bend native Skylar Diggins, an All-American point guard for the Irish, echoed McGraw's sentiments.
"I'm glad I got to be here," Diggins said. "I think I speak for my teammates and the program when I say this was a great opportunity for us, to be on this stage. It was so much bigger than basketball. This is something I will never forget. When I look back on my college experience, two Final Fours, a Big East championship, I will remember this, because it's always great to play for something that's bigger than you. It was a chance to get to see our troops face-to-face and say thank you for what you do. We had the chance the last couple of days to be around the troops, and it was just a great experience."
Monique Hernandez, who was a sophomore on Notre Dame's national championship team of 2001, is on active duty in the Army at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga. Hernandez, coached girls basketball at Marian, leaving in 2006.
"The atmosphere is amazing, I've already been in a couple of fights in the parking lot," Hernandez joked about run-ins with Ohio State fans. "There are a lot of basketball fans here."
Hernandez said that the implications of Notre Dame playing in the first women's Carrier Classic game are historic.
"This is monumental for the women's program," Hernandez said. "I hope they do more events like this. Women's basketball has come such a long way since I was a player. It's important for young female athletes ... to take a look and see what these young ladies are doing. They're a great representative of the university. I'm excited to be here.
"It's great that women get their opportunity to be part of this. I'm surrounded by men every day, and it's about earning their respect and showing that you can do just the same or better. Things are definitely changing in the right direction to promote women achieving at their highest potential."
Seaman Gary Guthrie, U.S. Navy, a native of Danville, Ind., was excited to be in the stands for the college basketball doubleheader. Guthrie is stationed at the Charleston Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.
"It's an absolute honor to be here," Guthrie said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I love basketball. The atmosphere is amazing. It's nice to mix basketball and the aircraft carrier. Being in the Navy, the aircraft carrier is the trademark of our fleet. This is very, very special to anyone who is here."
Guthrie said he's more of an Indiana Hoosiers fan.
"I'm not an Irish fan, but Skylar Diggins, I know all about her. She's a nationally renowned player. But being from Indiana, Hoosier basketball is huge."
Renee Scott, the mother of Notre Dame's hometown star Diggins, cherished the opportunity to be on the USS Yorktown when her daughter was playing.
"What an incredible atmosphere, and what an honor for Notre Dame to be the first women's team to play in the Carrier Classic," Scott said. "If this doesn't get you excited about Notre Dame women's basketball, I don't know what will. I don't think you can take it all in unless you are actually here."
Staff writer Curt Rallo:
Copyright © 2013, WSBT-TV