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WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Building to last

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, October 13, 2005

With the departure of their leading scorer and an injury to their key freshman at the end of last season, the Irish have uncertainty their program. But the one thing that will carry over from last year is the leadership of senior point guard Megan Duffy.

“I think the younger players are going to look at her and just draw on her confidence,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said at Wednesday’s media day. “She is just a great leader. She’s one of the best leaders we’ve ever had in our program. She’s done so many great things for us.”

With practice starting on Saturday, Duffy leads a team in somewhat of a rebuilding phase after losing leading scorer Jacqueline Batteast and Teresa Borton to graduation. Sophomore Charel Allen is on the mend from the torn ACL she suffered at the end of last season.

Allen, named to the All-Big East Freshman team, said she will be back by the first game of the year, Nov. 18 against Michigan. And if the Irish win this game, it will be McGraw’s 500th win in her 23 years of coaching.

“I’m doing pretty much everything but just slower than everyone else is,” Allen said. “I’m working on it – it’s getting there.”

McGraw said she just wants to get a feel for how Allen has recovered from the injury, as the sophomore has been anxious to get back on the court this fall.

“I don’t know how long she’ll play, I don’t know how effective she’ll be, we just want to get her out there and hope that by January she’s laying like she did last year,” McGraw said.

Another key for the Irish will be senior forward Courtney LaVere. LaVere has been plagued by injuries most of her career, but McGraw thinks she needs to have somewhat of a breakout season in the post.

“I think that she’s really got to come in and do a lot of scoring for us down low,” McGraw said. “I think she’s somebody that needs to have a good year.”

But these three players are not the only ones who will lead the Irish this year.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore Melissa D’Amico will play a key role after the Irish lost their two starting post players to graduation, as will much improved point guard Tulyah Gaines. Freshman Lindsay Schrader is sure to contribute on offense, as she averaged 20.7 points per game en route to winning Illinois’ Ms. Basketball as a senior.

“I think our strength is going to be in our balance,” McGraw said. “This team has a lot of talent but they weren’t really able to make a big impact. This year will be one where we really look for each player to contribute and conversely, that’s sort of our weakness because what we lacked last year was some consistency from them. So we’re hoping they can maintain a constant level of good things.”

Notre Dame will need this depth facing a new and improved Big East conference. Its new conference opponents include Marquette and South Florida at home and Louisville and Cincinnati on the road. The Irish play DePaul both at home and on the road.

Non-conference opponents include Big Ten foes Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Purdue, as well as 2005 Final Four participant Tennessee.

“I think we have challenged ourselves for sure this year with the schedule we have,” McGraw said. “I think the Big East has gotten better and will be very strong this year. I think the teams coming in this year have added a lot to replace the ones we lost. It’s going to be a very difficult year in that our schedule is going to be very demanding, we really have to be ready.”

And for Duffy, this offseason can’t be over soon enough.

“It can’t come soon enough,” she said. “The offseason takes forever.”