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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish open season against UMass Lowell

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

Coming off a lopsided, tune-up victory last week, Notre Dame kicks off its regular season with a home matchup against UMass Lowell on Friday.

The Irish hit the court at Purcell Pavilion with hopes of advancing to their fifth straight Final Four. However, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she does not expect the road to Tampa, Florida, to be as smooth as it was during last year’s perfect regular season.

Irish senior forward Markisha Wright goes up for the rebound during Notre Dame's 92-32 exhibition win over Ferris State on Nov. 5. Jodi Lo | The Observer

Irish senior forward Markisha Wright goes up for the rebound during Notre Dame’s 92-32 exhibition win over Ferris State on Nov. 5.

“We thought there’d be growing pains last year, too,” she said. “This year, I really mean it: we’re gonna take some lumps early. I mean, we really are young. We’re so different than last year.”

Notre Dame will debut a new look after losing three starters from last season’s national runner-up squad to graduation. In the Nov. 5 exhibition against Ferris State, sophomore forward Taya Reimer, freshman forward Brianna Turner and junior guard Michaela Mabrey joined junior guard Jewell Loyd and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen — both starters last season — on the court for opening tip, and McGraw said she will go with the same starting five tonight.

Reimer led the Irish charge in the preseason 92-32 victory, collecting a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. McGraw said she will look to Reimer to play a bigger role for Notre Dame this season after primarily coming off the bench as the sixth man last year.

“She’s really played well,” McGraw said of Reimer. “She’s come in with a new attitude, a new mindset, much more aggressive offensively. She’s doing so many good things.”

After the Ferris State game, McGraw said she was still deciding which reserves would see regular playing time alongside the starters and the sixth and seventh players in the rotation, senior guard Madison Cable and freshman forward Kathryn Westbeld . Now, she said new players have stepped up to fill those roles.

“I think [freshman guard] Mychal Johnson made a great case for herself,” she said. “I think she’s definitely going to be in that next spot. And then [senior forward] Markisha Wright is really coming along. So I think going into this Friday, we’ve got nine [players] that are really solid.”

The Irish bring that expanded rotation into their game against UMass Lowell, which also opens its season tonight. The River Hawks struggled last year en route to a 5-23 record. Four of those wins came against fellow America East opponents and only two were on the road.

While UMass Lowell might not present a huge challenge for a Notre Dame team coming off a near-perfect season, McGraw said the Irish would not have trouble finding pregame motivation.

“It’s really easy to focus on the first game, I think, because there’s just so much excitement for the freshmen and really for the fans and the whole team,” she said. “So this is going to be a good time for us to really just figure out what it’s like to play at home in front of the crowd, to get the game day down for the freshmen because so many of them are going to be playing that it’s really important for us to kind of set that tone.”

However, McGraw joked that the season opener has come too soon for her and her staff.

“I’d like to stay on the practice floor,” she said. “I love practice, but them, I think the fun for them is going to be playing in games, and certainly Friday can’t come too soon for them.”

The Irish start their 2014-15 campaign tonight against UMass Lowell at Purcell Pavilion. Opening tip is at 6 p.m.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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