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Notre Dame College to Shut Down End of Spring

  • 04 Mar 2024
Notre Dame College rugby

In a Feb. 29 press release, the Notre Dame College Board of Trustees announced that the institution will be ending in-person education at the end of the spring 2024 semester. The small college cited declining enrollment, rising costs and significant debt as factors in its closure. [Lead photo: Michael Joseph Images]

Read the full press release

“We are all saddened by the need to make this decision, but rest assured that as we move forward, we are doing everything we can to ensure a smooth transition for our students to continue their education,” said Interim President John Smetanka.

Current students in good standing and with at least 60 completed credits can take advantage of the Teach-Out program, which provides guaranteed admission to one of nine partner institutions (see list below) with comparable net tuition and transfer of all credits. Additional partners may be announced during the spring.


Baldwin Wallace University
Cleveland State University
Hiram College
John Carroll University
Kent State University
Lake Erie College
Mercyhurst University (Erie, Pa.)
Ursuline College
Walsh University

Of the aforementioned schools, only Baldwin Wallace and Kent State have robust women’s rugby programs. Hiram has featured in 7s. They all compete in National Collegiate Rugby.

NDC women’s rugby played its first season in fall 2013 under the direction of head coach Mark Andrade. The program took years finding the right competitive fit as a small college with athletic department support. In fall 2013, the Falcons advanced to the first-ever ACRA DII championship, beat Vassar in the semifinals and then fell short to Winona State. The following fall, NDC won the whole thing.

Back then, USA Rugby held a Division II National Championship between the ACRA fall champion and its spring champion. In May 2015, NDC beat UC Riverside for its first and only national title. Those were the days of Hannah Gauthreaux, MarCaya Bailous, Karmin Macedo, Leah Walsh, Danielle Walko-Suia and more — already or soon-to-be big players on the collegiate scene. Gauthreaux talked about that period (back when I worked with Alex Goff at Goff Rugby Report).

The program continued to attract talent from Hawaii, California, Ohio, to as far as Ukraine and Hong Kong – especially when the Falcons joined now-named NIRA. Luke Markovich took over as coach during this era, and it was a time when NIRA was also orienting its membership into tiers and eventually NCAA divisions. NDC fit in neatly competition-wise, but geography was always a challenge with the Northeast-based league.

While still a member of NIRA, Notre Dame College was admitted to the 2017 USA Rugby Division I Spring 15s Championship post-season. The Falcons played one of the most memorable playoff games in recent memory, beating Stanford in overtime to advance to the final. More big names like Hannah Long, Kayla Rudman and Emilia Ferrara jump out of the match report.

NDC continued to play NIRA matches through fall 2019, but on the other side of Covid, the Euclid, Ohio, team joined NCR. The team advanced to 15s national championship weekends in 2021 (3rd), 2022 (2nd) and 2023 (2nd). The first two post-season runs occurred under head coach Jack Nece, and then current head coach, Vanessa Marsh, took the Falcons to Texas this past December.

Graduates like Walko-Suia, Bailous and Long have served as assistant coaches, and NDC’s fingerprint is still all over the USA rugby map. USA 15s Eagle Saher Hamdan started at NDC before transferring to Life and earning USA honors. Alivia Leatherman was recruited to play at Queens University of Charlotte, and then the Ohio native transferred to NDC before getting capped for USA. Macedo is a long-time Mexico international. Several players are or were on the Premier Rugby 7s circuit as pro players. Long is a WPL national championship-winning player with Colorado Gray Wolves. The list goes on.

NDC Women’s Rugby wasn’t without controversy. At times there were staffing tensions and players put in difficult positions. But reflecting on the Falcons’ history, it is commendable how the program adapted to a fractured women’s college rugby space. It always sought out tough competition, looked for higher-level opportunities and recruited eager coaches who wanted to empower their athletes. It was a good hometown option for high school graduates coming out of Rugby Ohio, which has a strong girls’ high school lineup. NDC hosted the 2022 Girls’ High School National 15s Tournament — the first one after two years of covid cancelations.

In other words, NDC Women’s Rugby will be mourned. Here’s hoping the current players and staff can transfer their careers seamlessly and remain in the game.

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