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ND Women’s Basketball: Team falls, but players learn more

Jared Jedick | Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A season begun with lofty expectations came to a close in the Sweet 16 on Sunday when Notre Dame lost 77-72 in overtime to Oklahoma. It was not the finish that many of the players probably expected to have happen after boasting five returning seniors this year as well as adding local freshman sensation Skylar Diggins.

The year began with a 15-game winning streak and a No. 2 ranking nationally, yet that was not to last. The Irish saw themselves with one of the deepest benches a team could hope for, but the bench was not enough to lift them over the top.

But in what appears to be the year of the Husky, when no one can make a legitimate claim to the national title besides Connecticut, maybe there is something more to be found here than just winning it all.

Just ask the Irish players who faced Connecticut three times this year and lost all three games by double digits. Sometimes you just cannot impede the unstoppable force.
But there was something about this Irish team that was truly special, and that can never be taken away from them. They had class, they had poise, and most importantly, they had each other.

I can only speak as an observer from the outside, hopefully not a too terribly biased one, but the best analogy to what I was able to cover this year was a team that was a family.

Of course there was the steady presence of Irish coach Muffet McGraw, always keeping the girls on track to do what they needed to succeed and get better.

The veteran guidance of seniors Ashley Barlow, Melissa Lechlitner, Lindsay Schrader, Erica Williamson and Alena Christiansen cannot be underestimated.

Barlow was the defensive juggernaut, taking on the opposing team’s best player and shutting them down on a regular basis. Lechlitner organized the offense and made sure everyone was in the best position to succeed. Schrader was the hard worker that always put herself in position to make plays with hard work, and McGraw trusted no one more with the ball in pressure situations.

Williamson stepped up to the plate late in the season and made some huge contributions down the stretch. Christiansen, although she did not see the court very much, added to that substantial senior presence.

Looking at this list of truly phenomenal women to have taken the court together for the Irish for so many years, it is hard to imagine what this team will look like next year. When will the team be as together and formidable as it was this season again?

But do not underestimate the teaching that went on between these players. Juniors Becca Bruszewski, Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters are ready to make the next step and take over that leadership position.

And do not forget Diggins, who was able to absorb so much from these great players in so short a span of time. Diggins led the team with 13.8 points per game and was tied with Lechlitner for the lead in assists with 3.2 per contest. The story of Skylar Diggins has barely begun here at Notre Dame, and the team is in good hands going forward.

But as a graduating senior myself, I cannot help but feel nostalgic as the year comes to a close, and I begin to contemplate the end of my Notre Dame career along with these fabulous senior basketball players.

It reminds me that basketball (whether playing or writing about it) and going to college in general is just a stepping stone in life to that next big phase. And if what I have seen is any kind of an indication, this team and these girls are going to be just fine.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Jared Jedick at jjedick@nd.edu