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ND Women’s Basketball: Their Last Dance

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anyone who saw Notre Dame play the last two seasons noticed something different down low.

Last year, the center position was effectively shared by then-junior Melissa D’Amico and then-freshman Erica Williamson. This year, however, D’Amico saw consistently fewer minutes as the season wore on, in large part due to factors beyond her control.

But don’t think her role has diminished – it’s just changed.

During here senior season, D’Amico has been an important presence on the bench, in practice and in the locker room for her teammates.

“This year I tried to take on more of a leadership role now that I’m a senior – just being there for the girls, especially the freshman,” D’Amico said. “I definitely wanted to be out there more senior year.”

Irish coach Muffet McGraw said she thought D’Amico has adapted well to the change, especially considering that the change happened during her senior year.

“We had to adjust her role, and certainly as a senior that’s not something you want to do,” McGraw said. “But she handled it pretty well in terms of [that] her work ethic in practice never changed. she still was working hard trying to get back into the rotation, and I think you have to give her a lot of credit for that.”

D’Amico said she accepted the new role because she understood that the team’s needs came first.

“If my role’s going to change, if that’s what the team needs, then that’s what it needs,” she said. “The most important thing is the success for the team.”

McGraw said D’Amico’s decreased playing time was no fault of her own, just that Williamson improved considerably since her freshman campaign.

“E[rica] has a little more of a presence and does a lot of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. She’s a really good screener and is someone that talks – she communicates with the guards really well,” she said. “She’s more of a shot blocker, and again the willingness to take charge, that’s really big. She’s smart: when she screens and her man goes to double, she sees it and goes right to the basket.”

Despite her decline in minutes, D’Amico has still been the leader for Notre Dame’s bigs, never getting jealous of Williamson or freshman Becca Bruszewski, who also took some of D’Amico’s minutes.

“I think all three of us go in there every day in practice and push each other to get each other better,” D’Amico said of her relationship with Bruszewski and Williamson. “Whoever [McGraw] wants to play that game that’s who s going to play, whoever’s playing better, that’s who’s going to play.”

D’Amico is used to playing a leadership role in the post, having already helped to get the two younger Irish big men ready for college ball. Before last season, D’Amico and Williamson were roommates in summer practices, where D’Amico said she helped get Williamson ready for the faster-paced college game.

“Getting her up in the morning for workouts, getting her mentally prepared, when you come in as a freshman you don’t really know,” D’Amico said of rooming with Williamson. “Physically, you’re going to have to push yourself a lot. She had a little trouble with conditioning, and she worked very hard to get that up. She’s improved a lot. I’m proud of her.”

McGraw said that D’Amico’s work with the younger players shows maturity especially considering she is helping tutor the players that took her minutes.

“It’s great that you want to see someone else do well when you’re not playing. It shows a lot of maturity, but it’s got to be really hard. I definitely have a lot of respect for her,” McGraw said.

D’Amico said Notre Dame was one of her first choices to play college basketball, but that it was an opportunity she almost didn’t get.

“The first thing I got [from Notre Dame] was a rejection letter. Not [really] a rejection letter, but it’s really hard to get in here, things like that,” she said.

Later, D’Amico played well at an Adidas top 10 all-American camp and started getting an increased look from McGraw.

“I think when I called her and told her I was coming she was really excited. I talked to Coach [McGraw],” D’Amico said of signing day. “They put [former Irish center] Ruth Riley on the phone, she was someone that I watched a lot, so it was exciting.”