ND Women’s Basketball: McGraw ready to take on new underdog role
Eric Retter and Ken Fowler | Thursday, October 12, 2006
The gym is open, and Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw is confident her young, new team is ready to fill it with victories.
Unlike years past, the Irish will enter those contests as underdogs, as they are set to tackle one of the toughest schedules in the country. According to McGraw, the schedule is an opportunity for the Irish to prove how good they are.
“We don’t deserve to be ranked,” McGraw said during Notre Dame’s media day Wednesday. “I think we’ve got to earn it this year. That’ll be better for the team to come in as the underdog. I think the pressure will be off of them.”
Six of Notre Dame’s opponents finished the 2005-06 season in the top-25, and 10 finished with 20 or more wins. And the big games in which the Irish can creep up the rankings start early.
The Irish travel to University Park, Pa., to take on Penn State Nov. 16. Eight days later, they travel to Los Angeles for a showdown with Southern California.
“I think we have some major challenges, and really everybody [on our schedule is] good,” McGraw said. “It’s really hard. We can’t overlook anyone.”
Notre Dame hosts 2006 NCAA Tournament No. 4-seed Purdue Dec. 6 before traveling to Knoxville to take on perennial power Tennessee.
After winter break, Notre Dame will begin a Big East schedule that includes a road game at Connecticut, which ended last season ranked No. 8, and a home game against Rutgers, which finished No. 9.
“Last year I was scared in some games, but this year I am fearless,” Irish sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader said. “When Tennessee came into this building last year, sellout crowd, I was scared … but this year it’s all gone.”
For returning players, that might be the mentality. But with Notre Dame’s schedule and four freshmen on the team, McGraw said her ability to stay patient with the Irish will be crucial.
“I think they’re so young, that’s the only word that keeps coming to mind,” she said. “I think they’re a group you’re going to have to be patient with. … They are really going to need a lot of encouragement.”
Notre Dame’s freshmen are reloading a squad that featured senior point guard Megan Duffy and senior forward Courtney LaVere last season.
Ashley Barlow, a 5-foot-9 product of Indianapolis (Pike High School) and Melissa Lechlitner, a 5-foot-7 native of Mishawaka (St. Joseph’s High School) join the team at guard. Barlow and Lechlitner will start the season behind Notre Dame’s co-captains senior Breona Gray and junior Tulyah Gaines at guard.
“I think that our two freshman guards, Ashley and Melissa, are going to see quality playing time,” McGraw said. “Initially, we have a veteran group of guards, so they are going to have to find a role. … I think it would be tough to break into the starting lineup, but I’m excited about both of them.”
McGraw is also excited about the Irish freshmen who will be playing on the inside. Danielle Ben-Tsvulun of Fort Wayne (Harding High School) and Erica Williamson of Charlotte, N.C. (South Mecklenburg High School) enter the season with high hopes from McGraw on their shoulders.
Six-foot-five junior Melissa D’Amico likely will play a key role on the inside for the Irish this season, but Ben-Tsvulun and Williamson both bring adequate size to the position.
“We’re going to have a lot more depth and we’ll be able to run people in and out,” McGraw said. “We’re probably going to play a four-guard lineup. We don’t anticipate playing a lot of double posts, but if [Ben-Tsvulun and Williamson] are playing well, and that’s what it takes for us to match up against the opponent, then that’s what we’re going to do.”
u Irish junior guard Charel Allen, who missed the beginning of last year after suffering a torn ACL and MCL in Notre Dame’s 70-61 loss to Arizona State in the second round of the 2005 NCAA tournament, said she was “100 percent” healthy to start the 2006-07 campaign.
“I worked a lot going off one leg again [for layups] because I know a lot during last season I was going off two feet,” Allen said. “It feels very good. Very seldom do I have pain.”