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ND Women’s Basketball: Taking the court

Meaghan Veselik | Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Notre Dame is ready to jumpstart the season tonight when it hosts Michigan Tech in an exhibition game at the Purcell Pavilion. After one of the program’s most successful seasons last year, the No. 12 Irish are ready to get the first game jitters out and put on their new uniforms.

“I’m really excited to play against some new faces,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think we all are ready to just get the kinks out, get in the uniforms, get in front of the crowd, see what the Jumbotron is going to look like, the atmosphere of the game. Especially for the freshman, just being in the uniform for the first time, it’s a big deal. So we’re really excited to get the opportunity to get in front of our fans.”

The team that will be on the court tonight is very different from last year’s, so the exhibition will give the team a chance to see just how well they can play together, against someone other than themselves. The differences from last year are striking, especially in light of the fact that the 2009-2010 squad posted a 29-6 record. The current Irish lost five players to graduation, and have added three freshmen.

McGraw has seen definite areas of improvement in all sides of the game, especially in this year’s speed.

“Every team is a little bit different,” she said. “I think this team is going to be a little faster than we were last year. I think we’re just a little better defensively, I’m not sure if we’re there right now. I think we can see that we’re going to be a little better transition team. I like the way we’re running, I think things are very up-tempo.”

Other central areas in which McGraw has noticed the Irish grow are in ball handling, scoring and a revived post game.

“I think with Skylar [Diggins] having the ball in her hands a lot I think we’re going to go a lot and really move the ball in,” she said. “I think we’re shooting the three-pointer a lot better than I think we’ve shot it last year. I think we have more weapons from the three-point line than we did last year. I’m excited about the post game. I think our post game is better than it was last year. You know, we have more bodies, we have more depth.

“I think last year, we didn’t have the depth, but now with Erica Solomon, Natalie [Achonwa] and Ariel [Braker], as those two are freshmen, you know, we get three new post players,” McGraw said. “We’re really happy, we’re young, we’re going to have some ups and downs, but I think overall I’m excited about the season.”

Many of the team’s ups and downs will be coming from the loss of guards Lindsay Schrader, Ashley Barlow and Melissa Lechlitner, who started most of last season’s games, and of center Erica Williamson, who was a steady presence for the Irish, McGraw said.

McGraw said the team was “absolutely” going to miss their experience and the skills they brought to the team.

“You have a player like Melissa Leichlictner, who’s an outstanding leader. She was the general, she ran the team,” McGraw said. “That’s a big void to fill with one person, so we have a couple people trying to fill that void. We lose Lindsay Schrader, who could really score on the block, the leading rebounder. We’re not a good rebounding team right now, so we’re really going to miss her. Erica Williamson, you could really count on her to take the charge if you got beat. Ashley Barlow was just steady, a good defender. We really lost a lot.”

Among the current Notre Dame players stepping up to fill the voids left by the graduated seniors are senior forward Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters and senior guard Brittany Mallory.

“[Mallory is] going to be like the ‘glue player’ for us, kind of like Lech was last year for us,” McGraw said. “She’s going to be the one we need in the game to keep us all together,” McGraw said. Peters, who has been out for two weeks with slight tendonitis and is “a little rusty coming in,” will have big things expected from her. Until she is healed, however, Peters will be playing in limited quantities, and may not appear in tonight’s game.

McGraw also mentioned that many freshmen would be coming off the bench as well.

“They [the freshmen] give us great depth. We have nine players right now that we can really count on,” she said.

Notre Dame’s depth will be on display tonight as the team is ready and excited to start the season. McGraw said she’s looking for a few specific things from her team tonight, which is mostly having a lot of fun.

“They’ll come out hard, because it’s game day and that’s exciting for them,” McGraw said. “We want to see intensity but a lot of excitement. We want to see up-tempo, we want to see a lot of scoring, we want them to have fun while they’re playing, and look like they’re having fun by playing hard and by playing great defense, and diving for loose balls, and taking charges. And having that kind of energy that we need to have.”

The Irish will face Michigan Tech at 7 p.m. tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.