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SMC Cross Country: Squad shoots for top three in conference race

Michael Blasco | Friday, August 21, 2009

Turnover and graduation are staples of college sports, but this year Notre Dame has a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Not one player from last year’s team left. The addition of one of the country’s best high school players is just piling on.

That doesn’t erase last season’s first-round loss at the Joyce Center in the NCAA Tournament, which coach Muffet McGraw and the Irish have not forgotten about.

“I’m sure not over it. I’m pretty sure they’re not either,” McGraw said. “It was a really devastating blow to us.”

The Irish finished 22-9 last season, 10-6 in the Big East conference. They drew a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and faced No. 10 seed Minnesota, who beat them 79-71.

The only senior on last year’s team, guard Lindsay Schrader, has one more year of eligibility because she redshirted her sophomore season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Schrader scored 12.5 points per game last season and led the team with 7.4 rebounds per game.

Schrader, along with seniors Melissa Lechlitner, Ashley Barlow and Erica Williamson, understand they only have one more shot.

“[They are] trying to get together the rest of the team to kind of get on that page of, ‘Hey this is it for us,'” McGraw said.

Torn ACLs kept the Irish shorthanded for much of last season as well. Junior forward Devereaux Peters and guard Brittany Mallory both tore their ACLs early in the season.

Mallory was cleared to play in July, McGraw said, and got a chance to play with the Irish over the summer.

“I think mentally she’s over the hump of coming back in terms of testing out her knee and feeling it’s strong, she got knocked down a couple of times so she’ll be ready to go,” McGraw said.

Peters tore the ACL in her left knee for the second consecutive season, but had more time to rehabilitate since she suffered the injury so early. She had a preliminary surgery in January to clean out the knee and another surgery in May, both of which were successful, McGraw said. She will not be ready to play until December.

“It really takes a year,” McGraw said. “She’s going to be a year out and I think she’s going to really be ready.”

Joining the Irish this season is point guard Skylar Diggins, the Gatorade National Female Athlete of the Year from South Bend’s Washington High School. Diggins recently helped the U.S. U19 team win the World Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.

“I think that really helps prepare you because you’re playing for a college coach,” McGraw said. “That definitely gives her a little bit of an advantage.”

In addition to Diggins, the Irish bring in 5-foot-8 guard Kaila Turner from Joliet, Ill. Turner was a four-year starter at Marian Catholic High School, where she averaged 10.8 points per game as a senior.

McGraw said Turner’s athleticism was impressive and that she sees her as a defensive stopper at the moment.

“Our strength and conditioning coach was very impressed with her speed and quickness,” McGraw said. “We’re excited about getting her in the gym and seeing what she can do.”

The Irish started 13-1 last season, their only loss coming in overtime on the road at Michigan. Then, they went 1-3 in four conference games. They split their next six conference games, which included a 10-point loss to eventual champion Connecticut.

Notre Dame won three straight to end the season and earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Irish beat St. John’s in their first game of the Big East tournament, but lost to Villanova in the third round.

That second-half struggle dropped the Irish, who were ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll at one point, down into the 20s.

The only junior who was healthy last season, forward Becca Bruszewski, emerged as a multi-talented offensive threat. She averaged 10.7 points per game and led the team in 3-point percentage (37.5 percent).

“Becca is most improved player two years in a row,” McGraw said. “She’s someone I know I can count on.”