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ND WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Batteast honored as MVP

Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Humor and sentimental memories of the seniors were the themes Tuesday night at the women’s basketball banquet at the Joyce Center.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw joked with sophomore Breona Gray about her outfit, and seniors Jacqueline Batteast and Teresa Borton gave emotional goodbye speeches as the Irish celebrated their 27-win season, the thirdmost in school history.

“These seniors have left a great legacy,” McGraw said. “They really raised the bar for us.”

Batteast, an Associated Press third-team All-American and Kodak/WBCA All-American, earned the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player award for the fourth time in as many seasons.

At the banquet, attended by more than 400 people, McGraw talked about the season, which started strong as the Irish won the Preseason WNIT, defeating then-No. 6 Duke in the semifinals and then-No. 10 Ohio State for the title. The Irish went on to finish second in the Big East Conference, behind only Rutgers and ahead of Connecticut. Notre Dame beat Connecticut 65-59 at Gampel Pavilion Jan. 30, the first time the Huskies lost a Big East game on their home court in 112 games.

McGraw talked about each of her 11 players, the first being freshman Charel Allen, who suffered a torn ACL and MCL in her left knee in the final game of the season, a 70-61 loss to Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I thought one of the biggest surprises, best surprises, was Charel Allen,” McGraw said of the freshman who stepped up in big games all season. “We are really confident Charel is going to rehab her knee and be back for us next year.”

McGraw also spoke highly of her junior point guard, Megan Duffy, who earned the Knute Rockne Scholar-Athlete Award for her performance in the classroom.

“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a player with more heart than Megan Duffy,” McGraw said, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd. “The good news is she’s back for one more year.”

Gray received two awards – Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year.

“Although there were a few choices for Most Improved Player, this one was a clear cut favorite,” McGraw said. “The only thing that changed more than her game was her hair-do.”

The Spirit Award went to freshman walk-on Amanda Tsipis, who saw action in 12 games this season.

Associate coach Carol Owens, who will leave the Irish to be the head coach at Northern Illinois next year, was remembered fondly by both McGraw and the seniors.

“People didn’t think I could do it [play at this physical of a level],” Batteast said to her post coach. “But you gave me the tools to succeed.”

And amidst the honors, the stars of the evening were Batteast and Borton.

Batteast gave an emotional speech, thanking her family, the assistant coaches and calling McGraw “the perfect coach” for her. She said her time at Notre Dame has prepared her for life.

“My career here at Notre Dame is done, and I’m excited, anxious and nervous to start a new chapter,” Batteast said. “I don’t know what to expect, but I’m ready for anything because I’m well-prepared.”

Batteast credited assistant coach Jonathon Tsipis for the improvement between her sophomore and junior years.

“You turned my game around,” Batteast said to her coach.

Borton, meanwhile, reflected on her decision to play college basketball.

“The past four years, I have been living this dream [of playing college basketball],” Borton said. “I honestly couldn’t have asked for much more.”‘

Borton reflected on her time playing for the Irish, never missing a game in her four years.

“It is difficult to believe that my dream has come and gone,” the senior said.

And Batteast said that despite the countless honors she has received – four all-Big East selections, Big East Player of the Year – she will take something else away from Notre Dame.

“I’ll cherish that diploma I’ll be getting in May more than any other award I’ve ever won,” she said.