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Women’s Basketball: Freshmen bring high expectations

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, October 11, 2007

Last year Notre Dame had three freshmen see significant time off the bench. All three were named to the Big East all-freshman team.

This year, the Irish have another strong class of three freshmen – guard Brittany Mallory and forwards Becca Bruszewski and Devereaux Peters – and hope to get the same level of productivity out of them.

“I think it is important. We’ve had our classes ranked in the Top 25 for 12 straight years now, but it really depends on how they mature,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

Last year, the freshmen had to develop very early in the season because the bench was so thin. After the starting five, then-freshman guards Melissa Lechlitner and Ashley Barlow and center Erica Williamson were McGraw’s next best options. But with three starters and three contributing bench players returning this season, playing time may be much more scarce than it was last year.

“This is probably the deepest team we’ve had in terms of talent and it’s going to be a challenge for me,” McGraw said. “Generally we’re going to play eight; this year we have 10 and it’s going to be up to them to get into the rotation early.”

Despite the deep bench, all three current freshmen agreed that McGraw’s willingness to play freshmen right away was a contributing factor in their decision to come to Notre Dame.

“It lets you know that you have a chance because some schools you just come in as freshmen and don’t really get any time,” Peters said. “So it’s nice to know that you have a chance and based on what you do, you can achieve a lot.”

Bruszewski said the people involved with the program were the most important factor in her decision to play for the Irish.

“Actually meeting with the coaches [was important]. Coach McGraw is kind of like my mom, and the other coaches are amazing,” she said. “The girls are so cool and down to earth. We gel really well. And it doesn’t hurt to have an ex-AAU teammate (Lechlitner) on the team.”

Even though they won’t be getting their minutes as early, this year’s freshmen are expected to contribute a lot if Notre Dame is to be successful.

Bruszewski and Peters will add to the team’s depth in the frontcourt, and McGraw hopes that will help the Irish on both sides of the court.

“Devereaux Peters is a highly heralded freshman. She’s got a lot of talent and she’s going to help us in a lot of things that we haven’t been able to do in terms of defense and in terms of rebounding and blocking shots,” McGraw said. “And Becca Bruszewski, she is someone that we are expecting to be a versatile player who can come in and be real physical and play around the basket.”

McGraw said she hopes Mallory will be a strong presence in the Irish offense, especially from beyond the arch.

“Brittany Mallory is a great three-point shooter,” McGraw said. “We’re counting on her to be on from long range, especially against zone. In transition we’re looking to shoot a lot of threes. I hope that she takes the most threes this year.”

Off the court, the team is gelling well, especially the new players.

All three freshmen enrolled at summer school at Notre Dame and spent a lot of time together, Mallory said. Mallory and Bruszewski also roomed together over the summer.

“We [the three freshmen] became really close. We spent a lot of time together; we were in class together,” Mallory said. “So it’s kind of nice getting that preseason in and getting a feel for each other.”

One of the most difficult parts of the transition between high school and college basketball for the freshmen has been the amount of practice – and especially the fitness and conditioning.

While Peters said she never lifted before joining Notre Dame, she feels she has made the transition well.

“The pace is a lot faster, it’s a lot more running, and a lot more physical because people are stronger,” she said. “There’s definitely a difference but I think (the freshmen) are prepared for it now.”

The upperclassmen have also helped Mallory, Bruszewski and Peters adapt to college life at Notre Dame.

“I could relate to them and [the team] treated me as just another player and not just like a freshman coming in,” Mallory said.