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Guard plays in World Championships

Bill Brink | Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Melissa Lechlitner, like many other Notre Dame students, spent part of her summer studying abroad in Europe. Lechlitner’s classroom, however, was a basketball arena, and her teacher was the head coach of DePaul’s women’s basketball team.Lechlitner, a sophomore guard on Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team, competed in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia, from July 26 to Aug. 5, where the U.S. women’s team defeated Sweden 99-57 in the gold-medal game.Lechlitner was one of 37 high school and collegiate players invited to try out for the team in Colorado Springs, Colo. The 16 players that remained after cuts traveled to Washington, D.C. for two-a-day practices. There, more cuts were made to finalize the 12-person roster.When many students hear of Bratislava, they envision the war-torn eastern European capital with the lucrative exchange rate featured in the 2004 film “Eurotrip.” But Lechlitner was pleasantly surprised with her surroundings during the team’s stay.”It was a great experience, definitely a lot of different things that I wasn’t really used to,” said Lechlitner, who wrote a blog about her time in Bratislava that can be read on und.com. “The people, the food, everything. We got a tour of downtown and everything – it was really nice. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect, but it ended up being really nice.”While there, Lechlitner and her teammates, along with the Slovakian team, were treated to dinner at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Bratislava. “Just being in the ambassador’s house was really nice,” Lechlitner said. “He had a pool table upstairs and we all got to hang out, and he had a really nice view over Bratislava off his balcony. He was a really nice guy; he made everyone feel right at home. He was really down to earth.”The U.S. team stayed in the same hotel as the other teams, fostering interaction and trading between the players, Lechlitner said. She came away with an Australian shirt, Slovakian and Brazilian jerseys, game shorts from Spain and Lithuania and warm-up shirts from Spain.The hotel, along with the team’s curfew, also fostered boredom, Lechlitner said. Late one night, Lechlitner and her teammates, in search of entertainment, tried to throw old apples from Lechlitner’s third-floor balcony to a dumpster across the street. They thought nothing of it until later, when a Slovakian policeman showed up at her teammate’s door asking for her passport.”I was laughing,” Lechlitner said. “I felt really bad because I thought it was hilarious.”Team officials sorted out the incident with the police, but repercussions came at the subsequent team meeting, where the team got a scolding from the coaches.”I’m glad it happened, because it was a good story to tell,” Lechlitner said.The competing teams were friendly with one another off the court, Lechlitner said, but during the games, things could get ugly. Contact is much more prevalent in the international game, she said, and foreign officials were far less likely to call fouls than their American counterparts.”You’ll be driving to the basket, and in the U.S. they’ll call like a hand check or a blocking foul, but you know, overseas they just let everything go,” Lechlitner said. “That was a lot of fun, getting to play a little more, get away with a couple more holds and stuff. I have to change my game a little bit when I come back and play for Notre Dame, because I’ll get called for a lot of fouls.”While Lechlitner’s leadership role on the U.S. team differed from her usual role as a scorer for the Irish, Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw believes the change will benefit her.”I think it’s going to be really great to play with that level of players and then to 0 back some of that experience,” McGraw said last week. “It really helped her kind of run the team.”The U.S. team, coached by DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, easily took the gold medal. Other than a 74-66 win over Spain, the smallest margin of victory was 19 points.Lechlitner averaged 4.6 points and 1.4 assists per game. In a second-round game against Slovakia, Lechlitner had eight points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds. Against Korea, she put up 14 points and hit 10 of 10 free throws, setting two tournament records. Standing on the podium to accept the gold medal was a moment Lechlitner will always cherish, she said.”You watch the Olympics, you always see the U.S. team standing up on the podium, listening to the national anthem, and you’re like, ‘Hey, that’s us,'” Lechlitner said. “You dream about that as a kid, and there I was experiencing my dream. It was an amazing feeling.”

0 back some of that experience,” McGraw said last week. “It really helped her kind of run the team.”The U.S. team, coached by DePaul head coach Doug Bruno, easily took the gold medal. Other than a 74-66 win over Spain, the smallest margin of victory was 19 points.Lechlitner averaged 4.6 points and 1.4 assists per game. In a second-round game against Slovakia, Lechlitner had eight points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds. Against Korea, she put up 14 points and hit 10 of 10 free throws, setting two tournament records. Standing on the podium to accept the gold medal was a moment Lechlitner will always cherish, she said.”You watch the Olympics, you always see the U.S. team standing up on the podium, listening to the national anthem, and you’re like, ‘Hey, that’s us,'” Lechlitner said. “You dream about that as a kid, and there I was experiencing my dream. It was an amazing feeling.”