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Optimistic beginnings

Joe Hettler | Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The atmosphere was light, to say the least, during Notre Dame’s Media Day on Monday afternoon at the Joyce Center.

Courtney LaVere placed a microphone in front of Jacqueline Batteast and began a mock interview for a local news station. Breona Gray blew kisses to a teammate. Associate coach Carol Owens used her phone to take funny pictures of Megan Duffy, among others.

Head coach Muffet McGraw and her 2004-05 edition were all smiles, and for good reason.

“I think we have a very veteran team, which reminds me a little bit of our [2001] championship team,” said McGraw, who is entering her 18th season as Notre Dame’s head coach. “We have great leadership, we have a great point guard, we have a great inside game. I think a lot of the pieces are in place for us to have a good year.”

The Irish, who are ranked in the top 15 in three preseason basketball publications, took a team photo and answered questions from about a dozen media members. When they weren’t being interviewed, the players mostly stood around talking and joking.

After taking a photo, Batteast, a first-team Big East selection last season, was swarmed by about eight reporters. After averaging 16 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior, the 2003 honorable mention All-American is expected to be one of the best players in the country this season.

“I’m trying to continue doing what I did last year,” Batteast said. “The last six or seven games last year, it just felt like I could do anything. So my confidence is really high right now and that was a problem I had going into last year. The confidence is good, I’m just ready to get started.”

McGraw said the Irish will rely on Batteast again this year, but also have many other players that will be expected to significantly contribute.

“This is the best I’ve ever seen her play,” McGraw said. “I’m just thrilled with the way she’s come through the summer. She’s been unstoppable.”

“We definitely want to take the pressure off Jackie. Every defense coming in here is going to try and figure out how to stop her. So we have to get Courtney LaVere, Teresa Borton, Megan Duffy – they’ve really got to pick up the slack.”

Duffy is coming off an excellent season, when she averaged 9 points per game, ran the Irish offense and was named Big East Most Improved Player. Borton and LaVere combined to score over 17 points a game last season. Duffy, along with Borton and Batteast will captain the 2004-05 team.

In total, the Irish return seven players from last season’s 21-11 squad that reached the Sweet 16 before losing to No. 1 Penn State. They also add four freshmen in Charel Allen, Melissa D’Amico, Tulyah Gaines and walk-on Amanda Tsipis.

Notre Dame begins the season with two home exhibition contests before playing Illinois State in the first round of the Women’s Preseason National Invitational Tournament at the Joyce Center Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. If they keep winning, the Irish could play up to four games in the tournament.

From Jan 2. to Feb. 2, Notre Dame plays seven of 10 games at the Joyce Center, where it was a perfect 15-0 last season. The team then ends the regular season with five of their last seven games on the road.