ND Women’s Basketball: With Allen gone, Irish need others to step up
Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, August 22, 2008
When guard Charel Allen graduated from Notre Dame in the spring, she left a seemingly gaping hole in the Irish program. Allen’s name is littered throughout the Irish record book, and she will go down as one of the best all-around players in Irish history, with 1,566 points, 656 rebounds, 239 assists and 206 steals in her career.
But Allen isn’t the only major personnel loss for the Irish for the 2008-09 campaign. Point guard Tulyah Gaines also graduated, meaning both positions in the starting Irish backcourt will need replacement.
Despite these two key losses, Irish coach Muffet McGraw is confident that her team can reload quickly for another strong performance in the upcoming season.
“When you lose your starting point guard and your leading scorer, it leaves a lot of holes,” she said. “That leaves a lot of opportunities for the freshmen.”
McGraw’s rookies this season mark another strong recruiting class for the Irish coach. In the last 12 years, only Notre Dame, Connecticut and Tennessee have had a Top 25 recruiting class every season.
Notre Dame added four players this year: guards Natalie Novosel and Fraderica Miller and forwards Kellie Watson and Erica Solomon.
The freshmen, with an average height of just over 6 feet, add a significant amount of height to the roster, but McGraw said she will not drastically change her gameplan for the season.
Another advantage the freshman class brings to the squad is its versatility. McGraw said Watson, who is listed as a forward, played guard and forward in high school, including some time at the point. Solomon will add depth to the post, along with junior center Erica Williamson and sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski.
But the freshmen alone can’t account for all of the points this season. McGraw said she expects the veterans to continue to contribute this season.
“We are going to need a lot of people doing a little bit more,” McGraw said.
Specifically in the backcourt, McGraw said she will look for junior Ashley Barlow and senior Lindsay Schrader to continue scoring like they did last year. The two were second and third as scorers for the Irish last season with 12.1 points per game and 10.3 points per game, respectively.
McGraw also said she expects sophomore guard Brittany Mallory to be the team’s long-distance threat again. The 5-foot-10 guard shot 38.2 percent from 3-point distance in conference-play last season – the team’s second best shooter from that range. (Allen led the team with 47 percent).
Bruszewski and Williamson will anchor the front-court for the Irish again this season. Bruszewski finished last season as the team’s Most Improved Player, as voted on by her teammates, and scored in double figures in two of the team’s three NCAA Tournament games.
One key component returning this year for the Irish is sophomore forward Devereaux Peters, who missed half of last season recovering from an tear in her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Pittsburgh on Feb. 10. Peters scored 9.0 points per game and led the team with 45 blocks last season.
McGraw said Peters’ rehab for her knee was going well and that she started running again a couple weeks ago.
“She is right on schedule,” McGraw said. “We expect her to be ready for the first day of practice.”
Although McGraw said she does not know who specifically will pick up the scoring slack, she said she is confident in Gaines’ replacement at the point.
“Melissa Lechlitner will be the starting point guard. I am confident in her; she is a great leader from the point guard position,” McGraw said.
McGraw said the team’s goals this year remain the same, even with losing Allen and Gaines.
“We went to the Sweet 16 last year and we want to get back,” she said. “We would also like to do well in the Big East, which is something we did not do last year.”
In the 2008 Big East tournament, the Irish came in as the No. 3-seed, but fell in the second round to Pittsburgh 64-53.
uMcGraw received a contract extension at the end of last season, guaranteeing her a place at Notre Dame through the 2014-15 season. McGraw has taken the Irish to 13 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 15 overall in her previous 21 years at the helm.
“It is an honor to represent Notre Dame,” McGraw said. “I feel like I’m still in my first years with my emotions and my passion for coaching.”
uIrish assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis was promoted to associate head coach earlier this summer. Tsipis will continue to coach the Irish wing players and is also the team’s recruiting coordinator.
“He has made major contributions to the program and is indispensable to me,” McGraw said.