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ND Women’s Basketball: Narrow focus

Meaghan Veselik | Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Irish were all excited smiles as they sported new uniforms Monday afternoon while taking team pictures during the Notre Dame Basketball Media Day, but there is much more going on behind the scenes with this team.

They have something to prove, and with an intensity that Irish coach Muffet McGraw hasn’t seen in a while, Notre Dame isn’t about to let any team stand in their way.

“I’m really excited about this team because of their intensity and focus,” McGraw said. “This is a team that loves to come to practice, and I’m really looking forward to it. Last year we weren’t really a great practice team, we had a lot of days where we felt that we didn’t get enough accomplished. I feel like since we had such a veteran team they were the type of team that knew they were going to get it done in the game.

But this is a group that really wants to get it right.”

Losing five seniors from last season might slow down some teams, but not this one. With a summer full of pick-up games, weight training, three freshmen and a finally healthy

Devereaux Peters, these Irish players have come back stronger and faster than ever before. The driving force behind the increased Irish focus, however, seems to stem from Notre Dame’s doubters.

“I think it’s people who don’t believe,” senior guard Brittany Mallory said. “I mean, we believe in ourselves, we believe we can get far and I think it’s just, we’re so excited about this season.

“You know we lost five good players, and we’re kind of a whole different team so we’ve just kind of got to prove ourselves, prove we can hang with everybody. We’re just a different team, different look, we have the same goals and everything. We just have to show everybody who we are.”

Proving themselves means everything for this young Notre Dame team that McGraw feels is beginning to come together the return of two freshmen to practice. Natalie Achonwa, a Guelph, Ont., native and the first international player ever in the program’s history, competed with the Canadian Senior National Team in the 2010 FIBA World Championships for Women in the Czech Republic Sept. 23-Oct. 3. It was Achonwa’s second year being chosen for the team.

Classmate Kayla McBride was busy this summer competing for the USA U18 National Team that earned a gold medal at the FIBA U18 Americas Championship in Colorado Springs, where she started in all five games. With those two back on the court, McGraw sees a change in the chemistry on the court.

“Now, I really think they’re starting to gel as a unit, I think they’re really starting to have fun together, which is important,” McGraw said. “They’re pushing each other. They’re a competitive group, and I love that.”

A prime example of this team’s attitude can be seen in senior forward Peters, who has missed time in all of her first three seasons due to two ACL tears. McGraw referred to her development from last season to be like “night and day.”

“I think when you see her, you’re going to be really surprised,” she said. “Just looking at her, she’s in great shape, she has really worked hard in the weight room this summer, she is running the floor extremely well.”

Peters also feels like she is in a better position than ever before and that she’s more prepared than she ever has been.

“I’m just glad I can participate in everything with them this year,” Peters said. “It’s really hard to come back in the middle of the season. A lot of times last year, [Coach McGraw] was on me because I wasn’t really an offensive presence, but I didn’t have the confidence that everyone else did. Now I’ll have more confidence to actually take somebody, or shoot if I’m open, or on defense, little things.”

Having something to prove also plays a lot into what Peters knows her team is ready to do.

“I think we’re just a young, fresh team,” she said. “A lot of people think that’s a bad thing, because we graduated five people, and they think we’re young, we don’t really know any better. I think everybody’s just really excited for this year.”

Sophomore guard Skylar Diggins, who will be taking over as the lead point guard this year, is extra anxious to start the season as well, especially after a successful summer of learning one another’s playing style.

“I’m just anxious. I’m ready to get out there,” she said. “I’m excited to get out there with this squad because I know that they want to win, they’re willing to learn, and they work hard in practice. You know, the cohesiveness of this team is amazing.”

Notre Dame will begin its preseason Nov. 3 when it hosts Michigan Tech in an exhibition game and will start the regular season against New Hampshire on Nov. 12 at the Purcell Pavilion.