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Fifth element

Molly Sammon | Thursday, March 1, 2012

During the 2008-09 season, Irish graduate students Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters sat on the bench with matching torn ACLs in their left legs.

But without that time off the court, their careers could very well have ended with losses to Connecticut in the Big East title match and Texas A&M in the national championship game.

Now enjoying their fifth years in Irish uniforms, Mallory and Peters, two parts of the triumvirate of team captains, have another chance to grab both the conference tournament and national championship titles as integral members of No. 3 Notre Dame.

“I think everything happens for a reason. I’m a strong believer in that,” Peters said. “I really believe that I hurt myself so I could play this year and take this team as far as we can. I get an extra year to play with these girls. Since we lost it last year, it’s just another opportunity to get that back.”

After their injuries Peters, a forward, and Mallory, a guard, spent months off the court and underwent multiple surgeries and rehabilitation sessions to build their health back up. Then, each had to recondition herself to the rigors of maintaining a spot on the starting roster in one of the nation’s top programs.

“I have absolutely no regrets about taking a fifth year,” Peters said. ” I would do it again everyday. If I didn’t hurt myself, I wouldn’t be able to play with this team and I really think we have a shot at winning. That wouldn’t be an opportunity that I would have if I had left. I would do it again.”

At the time of her injury, Peters was unsure if she would ever be able to play again, let alone become an integral part of Notre Dame’s success.

“It was tough at first when I injured myself,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I could even play at all. It’s hard going through an ACL once, let alone a second time, right back to back, but I knew it was a decision I had to make right away because of the work that goes into rehab and everything. I took about a week and talked to my family and coaches.”

Mallory’s decision to take a fifth year came after serious contemplation as well.

“I was a little on the fence about continuing on,” she said. “I had been through two ACL [injuries]. I wasn’t sure if coming back for another year was exactly what I wanted. I talked with my family and coaches, and everyone seemed to want me back. I sat down mostly with my brother, who said to stick it out.

“It took a lot of hard work when I came back. Having the team behind me was a lot of help. and once the season started and I started to get my wind back, everything started to fall into place. It seemed like I made the right decision, and I really felt like I made the right one.”

After contributing an extra year to the program, both Peters and Mallory have an advantage in understanding team makeup, team strategy and a general approach to winning.

“When you have players that have been around for five years that have gone through the injury, they really mature,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They learn a lot from that year out. They look at the game from a different perspective. They watch the coaches a little bit more; they’re students of the game a little bit more; they appreciate what they have a little bit more. For that reason, I think they have that maturity and that wisdom that comes with age.”

Mallory said the extra year was especially helpful to not only familiarize herself with what McGraw looks for in various game situations, but why she employs certain strategies.

“When I sat out for that year, you get the see the whole coaching aspect and side of things, and you see where coach is coming from which gives you a whole new look at things. Being a captain and having everyone come to you and trust you with an issue you have, you know Coach [McGraw] trusted me with the ball and being the glue that puts everything together.”

Being thrust into a team leadership role can sometimes result in added pressure, Peters said, especially during high-intensity parts of the season like the Big East championships.

“I think at first [being more experienced] did [add pressure] a little bit,” she said. “It’s hard. If you’re not performing [the coaches are] going to get on you because they know you better and you’ve been here the longest. I’ve been here forever. They might be on your back about it; [Mallory and I] accepted that and have been able to handle that for this year.”

Now well-situated into their roles on the court, Mallory and Peters fill different needs for the Irish, but both will be vital to Notre Dame’s postseason success.

Leading the Irish in rebounds, Peters recognizes her job on the court of bringing defensive tenacity to the frontcourt. McGraw said she has raised the team’s intensity “up to a different level” this year.

The tallest player on the team at 6’2″, Peters has averaged 9.5 rebounds per game in her final season with the Irish and recently broke her career-high mark with 18 boards against South Florida on Feb. 25, perfect timing for Senior Night at Purcell Pavilion.

“It’s about rebounding for me,” Peters said. “My job is to get in there, be crashing the board, making a lot of things happen, make extra opportunities on offense and keep their offense from getting any second chances. I don’t consider myself a scorer, and I think we have plenty of those, but if necessary, if they’re taking the girls away, I know I have to be an option. I think most of them handle that pretty well.”

Peters said she leads most effectively by bringing an experience calm to her captainship rather than being verbally abusive of her younger teammates.

“I think I’m more of a leader by example; I’m not very talkative on the court unless I’m mad, in which [case] they take it pretty well because they know how I am,” Peters said. “I think I’m more about being out there as showing them what to do instead of saying that. Since I don’t talk too much, I think I’ve established that role. When I do say something they listen, they know I’ve been here forever. So I do [talk] a little bit, and I think it’s easier for them to take criticism or advice from me knowing that I’ve been her and been through a lot.”

Mallory boasts the nickname “Mom,” granted to her by the underclassmen on the team and perfectly suggestive of here interpretation of her role on the team.

“I just like making sure that everybody is okay; I hate leaving people without [that],” Mallory said. “It’s just my tendency. I just have to make sure that everything is okay.”

“You get your emotions running wild before these games, especially the big ones,” Mallory said. “Last year before the national championship, I couldn’t sleep I was so excited. But I just need to remember what I’m here to do, what my purposes are, why my goals are [what they are].”

Peters, Mallory and the rest of the Irish have earned two byes before they take the court in the quarterfinals of the Big East championships. After rolling past Connecticut 72-59 on Feb. 27, both remain confident in accomplishing a program first during the final season in Irish uniforms: winning a tournament title.

“I’m very excited right now by this year and by this team. [Our win over Connecticut] showed us a lot about the team, about how we play and what we’re capable of,” Peters said. “I’m very excited for what’s to come.”

 

Contact Molly Sammon at msammon@nd.edu