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ND Women’s Basketball: Championship team reunites

Molly Sammon | Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The players and coaches of Notre Dame’s 2001 National Champion women’s basketball team will return to South Bend Friday for the 2010 season home-opener to celebrate the 10-year anniversary since they became the first and only team in program history to win the national title.

“They’re the team that lit up the city,” sophomore guard Skylar Diggins said. “I know I’ll see some familiar faces, and it’s going to be good to see everyone come back. I grew up watching that team.”

As a South Bend resident, Diggins remembers watching the championship game when she was nine years old and seeing how the team’s victory impacted the area.

Current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey started at point guard in the legendary 68-66 victory over Purdue in the championship game at the Savvis Center in St. Louis a decade ago.

“It was the biggest highlight of my career, of my life,” Ivey said.

Ivey graduated from Notre Dame in 2001 and played five years in the WNBA, spending four seasons with the Indiana Fever before spending a season with the Phoenix Mercury. Her return to Notre Dame and working with Irish coach Muffet McGraw was preceded by two seasons (2005-2007) at Xavier University under former Notre Dame assistant coach Kevin McGuff.

“For me, being back here and coaching at my alma mater, Notre Dame, under coach McGraw, I feel like this is the greatest opportunity of my life. I can’t believe it, these 10 years have gone by so fast,” Ivey said. “I’m excited just for my old teammates to see how campus, the arena and the Joyce Center have changed over time.”

Ivey also expressed her anticipation for another opportunity that the reunion weekend will bring.

“I’m really excited about the team getting a chance to talk,” Ivey said.

Junior guard Natalie Novesel hopes to use this weekend as a chance to see if this season’s team potentially has what it takes to recreate the success the title team had.

“We’re excited to talk to them about all the effort and all the hard work and all the extra things that have to be part of both in practice and in the off-season to make a national championship team. We’re excited to see if we’re on the same track, if we have the same goals that they had,” Novosel said. “They’re the one team that actually made it. They’ve gone the whole distance. Every team before them had been working for this.”

Senior team captain and forward Becca Bruszewski remembered one moment where National Champion and 2001 NCAA player of the year Ruth Riley took her aside and provided the kind of help that the members of this year’s team are looking for this upcoming weekend.

“I always looked up to Ruth Riley. I wasn’t really getting a hold of the game, [and] she took me aside and said, ‘that was me.’ It really gave me a good perspective on hard work and what it took to win a game. I’m excited about just having them back here to talk about the upcoming season, I hope they’re excited to come back too,” Bruszewski said.

The alumnae will be recognized at the beginning, during halftime and at the end of Notre Dame’s home opener against New Hampshire Friday. They will have an open autograph and photo session at Heritage Hall in the Purcell Pavilion before the game, which is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start. The women will also be recognized at the Notre Dame football game against Utah on Saturday.