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Junior trio will be deciding factor for ’03-’04 Irish

Joe Hettler | Friday, November 21, 2003

During her team’s championship run in 2001, Irish coach Muffet McGraw recruited the future of Notre Dame women’s basketball, knowing her team would need a couple of years to rebuild before challenging for another title.Two years later, McGraw knows the next two seasons present that championship opportunity. Jacqueline Batteast, Katy Flecky and Teresa Borton are the three remaining members of that recruiting class, and all three have played well in their first two seasons for the Irish. But before, Notre Dame didn’t have a true chance to win a title. The immediate post-Ruth Riley era was a time to rebuild for future championship chances. The team was inexperienced for the most part, and the pressure wasn’t as high. Unlike 2001, when Notre Dame was expected to not just compete with but beat the Connecticuts and Purdue’s of the basketball world, the expectations were lowered in the following two years, as they should have been. Staying within striking distance until halftime was considered a pretty good game against tougher foes, and that’s mainly what Notre Dame did against top teams. They would battle for a half before losing by 15 to 20 points. Batteast, Flecky and Borton played well during those times. They improved throughout their first two seasons and showed greatness at times. Batteast was named Big East Rookie of the Year during her freshman campaign and received numerous other accolades since then. Flecky and Borton have been major contributors, and both have been instrumental in the success Notre Dame had in the past two seasons.But McGraw isn’t asking those three to be role players or even have solid seasons in 2003-04. She needs the trio to break out and dominant in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. Batteast must find consistency after having an up-and-down sophomore year. Borton needs to stay injury-free and be an everyday scoring threat after averaging eight points a game last season. And Flecky must make the greatest improvements, because she will switch from playing more inside to becoming one of the team’s most important outside threats, with the loss of Alicia Ratay to graduation last season. Ratay ended her career with the highest career 3-pointing shooting percentage of all-time.How those three improve will determine how far this Notre Dame team goes in the 2003-04 season. They have the other pieces in place – a solid senior leader in La’Tania Severe, two outstanding sophomores in Megan Duffy and Courtney LaVere and an impressive freshman class with three possibly immediate contributors. The X factor will be the three juniors and their ability to move from good players to every-game difference-makers. McGraw saw that kind of talent in the trio over two years ago when she recruited them to be a part of Notre Dame’s future.Two years later, the future is now and the hopes of another national championship run rests in the collective hands of three junior players who can make this team better than simply a good women’s basketball team.They can make them a great one.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Joe Hettler at jhettler@nd.edu