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ND Women’s Basketball: No substitute for experience

Laura Myers | Thursday, November 5, 2009

After Notre Dame fell 79-71 to Minnesota in a shocking first round playoff game in March, 12 players left the Joyce Center stunned and disappointed.  

They will enter a different arena, but the 12 players are the same, and they’re ready to forget the ugly end to the 2008-2009 season.

“It’s a new season, I think we’re starting fresh,” coach Muffet McGraw said. “We have great leadership and good energy.”

The No. 4 Irish did not lose a single player to graduation after last season, and now return a squad of seasoned upperclassman.

“The experience level is something that is so nice to have come tournament time,” senior captain Melissa Lechlitner said. “We’ve been there, everyone has been through it. So many people can help the freshmen through things. We’ve all been there, done that.”

Lechlitner and fellow senior captains Ashley Barlow and Erica Williamson bring even more experience to the table — all three were captains in their junior year. The team elected the three to helm the squad again for the 2009-2010 season.

“I think we have great leadership,” McGraw said. “I think they’re doing a remarkable job. I think they’re working well together and I think they complement each other really well. They have different strengths and they’re each doing what they do well.”

Barlow said the consistency in leadership helps the captains and the team.

“We know how they react to what we say and what we’re doing,” she said. “It’s easier for us to be able to lead by example, lead them by showing them and by what we say.”

While the team is dominated by upperclassmen, the younger players will not be cast aside, McGraw said. In fact, in Tuesday’s 97-53 exhibition win over Indianapolis, the top three scorers were underclassmen who came off of the bench. Freshman forward Skylar Diggins and sophomore guard Erica Solomon each scored 17 points, and sophomore guard Natalie Novosel added 13.

“We’re expecting everybody to contribute,” McGraw said. “We don’t look at it as seniors have to do this many things and freshman have to do this. It’s going to be a team effort, and different people will have to step up on different nights and play well.”

“I think everybody wants to win. I don’t think anybody cares who’s hot on a particular night, they’ll just try to get them the ball.”

While the offense drew attention in the win, the captains said the team spends a lot of time in practice working on defense.

“We’ve picked up the intensity a lot on the defensive end and I think that was the main focus in preseason as well,” Barlow said. “The defensive intensity has picked up dramatically.”

After all, the team does not want to see a repeat of last year when they once again host the first two rounds of NCAA regional play in March 2010. Though the team is just beginning a long season, Notre Dame has the playoffs in the back of its mind.

“We want to be playing our best basketball in March,” McGraw said. “We feel like we’ve got a lot to accomplish.”

Lechlitner said the team is able to prove itself and to reach those accomplishments.

“Our first goal is just to play to our potential,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of talented players on our team and a lot of good things can happen. If we have the right chemistry and everyone does what she needs to do, our team’s success is really just going to skyrocket from there.”