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Time to shine

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Strangely enough, Senior Night should not be the final home game for four Irish seniors.

Notre Dame faces Syracuse tonight in the final regular season home game, but in the likely event the Irish make the NCAA Tournament, they will host the first two rounds at the Joyce Center. Still, for coach Muffet McGraw, tonight will be special.

“It’s a really emotional night, especially with this class,” McGraw said. “This has been a group that is just tremendous to work with. They’ve had great tremendous dedication, great work ethic, positive attitude – everything you can ask for in a player, they’ve got it.”

Seniors Monique Hernandez, Jeneka Joyce, Le’Tania Severe and Anne Weese, along with junior Jacqueline Batteast will all start against the Orangemen. McGraw traditionally starts all her seniors on Senior Night.

Hernandez, after playing on the national championship team as a freshman, and missing most of her sophomore and junior seasons after leaving the team for personal reasons, returned to the squad this year to start in 13 games. She has been a solid defensive player and has shown scoring potential on several occasions.

Joyce has battled through injuries throughout her career and missed all of last season because of various ailments. She has been a dangerous 3-point shooting threat during her time on the Irish and has made 43 percent of her 3-pointers this season. Joyce said Tuesday will be an emotional day

“It will be kind of exciting and sad at the same time because I will be transitioning into other things, but this has been a part of my life for so long time,” Joyce said.

Severe has started 59 games in the past two seasons after playing in every Irish game during her sophomore year. This season, Severe became the 15th player in Notre Dame women’s basketball history to be named a two-time captain.

“I’m trying to not be emotional. [on Senior Night],” Severe said. “I want to finish out the season with a win and emotions can get in the way of that. … It’s been a great career.”

Walk-on and fan favorite Anne Weese will get her first career start. Weese made the Irish squad last season, joining the team Jan. 7. She transferred from Seward County Community College where she helped her team to a 71-1 record in two years. She has played in nine games this season.

“I am thrilled [for Senior Night],” Weese said. “It’s amazing to hear people yelling your name and getting support from people in arena. Every chance I get to play, I love it.”

While the Irish want to win for the seniors, they also need the victory to improve their Big East standings.

A Notre Dame victory would clinch second place in the Big East conference regular season standings and give the team the No. 2 seed in next weekend’s conference tournament. The Irish are tied for second with Villanova but have the tiebreaker over the Wildcats because of a head-to-head win earlier this season.

Notre Dame defeated Syracuse 64-35 on the road Jan. 21 and the Orangewomen have lost 11 straight games since that defeat. McGraw said the key to stopping the Orangewomen is shutting down Julie McBride. McBride averages 16.8 points per game this season.

“Julie McBride is one of the best players in the league,” McGraw said. “She is really important to their team and we can’t let her get good looks.”

The Irish will open up Big East Tournament play Sunday at either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m., depending on outcomes of other games.