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ND Women’s Basketball: Freshmen debut at Purcell

By Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It will be more than life-after-Diggins for the No. 2 Irish this season.

Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame at point guard for four years, but now a new class of leaders will take over for the Irish. 

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said the Irish upperclassmen would help the team find a unique identity as the season progresses. 

“Each team has its own identity, and it generally takes on the personality of the upperclassmen and the senior class,” McGraw said. “That identity is still forming. We’re not sure what it is yet, but we’re in good hands with the senior class.”

Notre Dame enters the 2013-2014 season with a promising crew of freshmen and an experienced senior class. The Irish will welcome freshmen guard Lindsay Allen, forward Kristina Nelson, forward Taya Reimer and center Diamond Thompson this season. Forwards Natalie Achonwa and Ariel Braker and guard Kayla McBride return as seniors for Notre Dame.

McGraw said she expects contributions early from the freshmen, particularly Allen, who will replace Diggins at point guard, and Reimer, who will add a post presence to the roster. 

The seniors have helped the freshmen settle onto the court, McGraw said.

“The seniors are doing a great job of helping the freshmen along in any way they can,” McGraw said. “Lindsay is going to start at point guard; Reimer is going to play a lot in the post, and the others are improving every day.”

The Irish will count on McBride and Achonwa for consistent scoring because of their experience. Achonwa, a native of Guelph, Ontario, played for the Canadian national team, which won the silver medal at September’s FIBA Americas Championship in Xalapa, Mexico.

“We’ve got people we can rely on to score,” McGraw said. “We’ve got people who have played big minutes in big games. I think Kayla McBride is going to have a fantastic season. She should be up for [national] player of the year, certainly. I think she’s one of the best players in the country. Natalie Achonwa, coming off that silver medal down in Mexico just recently, has got some great experience.”

At the team’s media day on Oct. 8, McGraw said she expects continued production from sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, the reigning National Freshman of the Year.

“I don’t really expect her role to change too much because we relied on her so heavily last year as our best defender,” McGraw said of Loyd. “She was one of the leading scorers on the team. She did so many good things for us … we’ll continue to use her as a defensive stopper.”

The Irish play an exhibition game against Division II opponent California University of Pennsylvania tonight at Purcell Pavilion. The exhibition will give the freshmen their first opportunity to experience a college basketball game day and play with the veterans in front of a home crowd.

“[Wednesday night is] pretty much a practice game,” McGraw said. “It’s a dress rehearsal for the season. The biggest thing is for the freshmen to get acclimated to what game day is all about, get the jitters out and get the uniform on for the first time and play in front of the fans. Defense is our main goal. We want work on our man-to-man defense. On offense, [we need to] just execute. We’ve learned a lot, so we just want to execute.”

Allen will receive her first start as point guard in the exhibition. Notre Dame’s strong veteran core should help Allen adjust quickly, McGraw said.

“We’ve got a freshman point guard, so this is a great first test,” McGraw said. “[Allen is] doing really well. She has picked things up really quickly, and with a veteran group around her, I think she’ll do well.”

Even though the upperclassmen will lead this year’s team, the Irish freshmen have the potential to contribute, according to McGraw.

“I think we expect the vets to carry the load,” McGraw said. “I think the freshmen will contribute on both ends of the floor, especially the point guard. We have expectations for the entire freshman class.”

The Irish take the court Wednesday at 7 p.m. against California (Pa.) at Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu