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Big East bellwether

Meaghan Veselik | Thursday, March 3, 2011

Becca Bruszewski came to Notre Dame four years ago because it offered her the perfect package. But she never expected that she’d graduate as one of the top competitors Irish basketball has ever seen.

In fact, she refuses to believe it, although Irish coach Muffet McGraw does.

“She is the most amazing competitor I think I have ever coached,” McGraw said after Bruszewski’s final game in the Purcell Pavilion on Feb. 26.

Still, the senior forward refuses to take on that title, saying all she does is come to practice ready to go.

“I don’t know if I’m the most amazing, but I definitely come ready to go every day,” she said.

And this is coming from a girl who hated practice until last summer, when McGraw approached her about being a co-captain.

“She kind of just talked to me about the summer and how I needed to come every day ready to go,” Bruszewski said. “I used to hate practice — I couldn’t stand it. But now I see it more, from a coaching perspective, how necessary it is and how necessary it is for the team to be ready to go out and play and be prepared for the next game.”

Bruszewski has made sure that not only herself but also her teammates are prepared for each opponent they face. From setting the tone in the locker room and at practice to stepping up, both physically and vocally, in games, Bruszewski shares her “will to win” daily with her teammates.

“I never want to lose in any possession, any drill. I never want to know that someone’s better than me. People talk about, ‘Oh, this girl has a lot of hype,’ and I don’t. That really makes me come a little harder to the game because I want to prove people wrong,” she said.

So she does. Standing tall at 6-foot-1, Bruszewski likes to

make sure her opponents know she means business in the post with an average 5.1 rebounds per game, and on offense with an average of 9.2 points in the typical 25 minutes she spends on the court.

Playing for Notre Dame is not the first time that Bruszewski has earned notice on the court, however. A Valparaiso, Ind., native, she had been playing on AAU teams since grade school but brought her talents to South Bend during high school to gain more exposure. Her experience aided in her high school play as well as got her noticed.

“I started playing AAU more in third grade, played it in middle school and then in high school. And then I started playing AAU here in South Bend to get more exposure. Basketball in high school, I was a one through five,” she said. “I was the only girl that played AAU, so whatever we needed to do, I kind of did.”

Bruszewski also started to attend more Notre Dame games in high school, falling in love with the atmosphere even more as a member of the Irish squad.

“My whole senior year of high school, I used to come to every home game. I’ve been in the JACC for every game for five, six years. So it was definitely something I took in, every aspect of it – the fans in the stands, the coaching staff, just running out of the tunnel, just having everyone cheering for me.”

Just like it did in high school and allowing Bruszewski to easily attend home games, Valparaiso’s vicinity to Notre Dame has given college more of a home-town feel for her and a chance to excel academically— the perfect package.

“It was obviously the perfect package — the academics, the tradition here, the fans, the basketball. Just definitely a place that’s close to home. A lot of family members come to games – just a perfect choice,” she said.

Being a student at Notre Dame has not only allowed this marketing student to find her passion in the classroom but to also grow as a player, and as a person.

“I would definitely say it’s made me a lot more mature – it’s made me look at things from a leadership standpoint and just what I do affects other things and people,” she said.

Bruszewski’s leadership skills were what led McGraw to nominate her as a team captain for the second straight year, encouraging and guiding her along the way.

“She’s grown so much as a leader this year. She’s done a really good job of setting the tone for the team, getting them ready for the games,” McGraw said.

But Bruszewski had to earn the title for herself and, with her coach’s guidance, proved it to her teammates through her hard work and dedication.

“[McGraw] just talked to me about what I need to look for, or how I need to help people out, especially with the new people coming in later because we didn’t have our freshman here this summer. The team voted on it — I was really honored by that because my teammates see how I work hard and that I would be a good example for them and the incoming freshmen,” Bruszewski said.

As a captain, Bruszewski has taken a few of her teammates, particularly her fellow posts, under her wing. Even if that post is her classmate, senior forward Devereaux Peters.

“I think the only difference between me and [Peters] is I’ve had that experience that she didn’t have those two years sitting out. She was able to watch from the bench and know and see what we need and where she would fit in,” Bruszewski said.

“Post-wise, she doesn’t really like to bang a lot in the post, so I’ll put her in positions where she’ll make the pass or she can catch it on the drive.”

While Bruszewski does help Peters in setting up the plays, it’s not a one-sided effort with the two starters.

“We know how each other plays, and we know how to read each other. We help each other get into the best situation to succeed,” Bruszewski said.

Another teammate Bruszewski has singled out is freshman forward Natalie Achonwa, who has been a crucial Irish force coming off the bench this season.

“I’ve taught Natalie to come ready to go every single day. Right now, the season is long and it’s tough, and it’s physical. Her watching how I play and how I am — it can be done, it is necessary and it’s something the team needs every day,” Bruszewski said.

But she isn’t trying to be conceited, because she knows she can learn from her teammates, too. In fact, Bruszewski said Achonwa has helped her to learn a key component for success this season — patience.

“Before this year, I wasn’t very vocal but I would just get frustrated really easily. Now, I’m using my words to help people out and let them know where they need to be, trying to take things from their perspective and how they’re learning about the game,” Bruszewski said.

That patience is something that Bruszewski feels will be essential in her future plans of playing overseas. Her presence on the Irish team, though, will be greatly missed.

“She’s really had a great career, really exceeded our expectations. We’re really going to miss her next year – her physical play, her mental toughness, her relentless attitude. She works so hard every day at practice. She has really made her mark on the program,” McGraw said.

Bruszewski knows that leaving Notre Dame will be hard, but she won’t miss 6 a.m. morning practice in the summer.

“It [Notre Dame overall] has been an experience that I was not prepared for, but I learned a lot about myself and other people on the way. It’s made me a better person.”