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ND Women’s Basketball: Christiansen earns expanded role

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The familiar cheer erupting from the stands of Purcell Pavilion during the fourth quarter of an Irish victory usually means one of two things — either freshman guard Skylar Diggins just hit another jumper from behind the arc, or senior guard Alena Christiansen is walking to the scorer’s table.

The roar of the crowd has become the calling card for Christiansen, the team’s only walk-on. A fan favorite, Christiansen’s impromptu promotion from the practice squad to varsity last season was not lost upon the Irish spectators.

“I didn’t think anybody knew my name because it was so last minute, but to hear the crowd cheer my name, it was surreal,” Christiansen said. “I was super nervous, I didn’t know any of the plays, but just to know that the crowd is behind you and everyone wanted you to do the best. That was awesome.”

Earning all-state honors in the state of Florida, Christiansen was recruited to play basketball for several colleges along the east coast, but was never given an offer to suit up for the Irish. Although her dream of coming to Notre Dame seemed to put basketball out of the question, she says she never lost her passion to play.

“It sounds a little corny, but this is a lifelong dream of mine,” Christiansen said. “I wanted to go to Notre Dame ever since I was really little, and I wanted to play basketball, and I wasn’t going to give up one of those. I wasn’t going to go to another school and play basketball because I didn’t want to. I wanted to come here and do that.”

Christian’s transition from Bookstore Basketball to the Big East began in a cubicle, working as an assistant to Stephanie Menio, director of women’s basketball operations, as a freshman. Within her first few weeks she received and accepted an invitation to join the “Sixth Man Team,” the women’s practice squad, as the only female member.

“My first day of practice I was so nervous,” Christiansen said. “To be on the court playing with a team that you’ve always followed, with a coach that you’ve always known, this is crazy. Practice is tough. I mean they always beat up on you because you’re a practice player, but it was just awesome to say that you’re a part of that.”

After an NCAA regulation prevented Christiansen from rejoining the practice squad in 2008, her journey seemed to be cut short. But when juniors Brittany Mallory and Devereaux Peters suffered ACL injuries, the stars realigned. Irish coach Muffet McGraw asked Christiansen to push back her flight during Christmas break, and a few days later she was suiting up in a jersey without a name on it.

“Well I thought I was dreaming first of all, and I still couldn’t believe that it happened,” Christiansen said. “Just to make it through the first two years, not being part of the team, wanting to so bad, and finally it’s the luck of the draw coach calls on me to be the walk on and help the team out. I never would have expected that, I never would have guessed it.”

The chances Christiansen’s story becomes immortalized in a movie are slim, but McGraw said she has embraced her role as a valuable member of this year’s team.

“Every minute that she’s at practice, she just wants to be a part of the team and help in any way that she can,” McGraw said. “She’s found a great role for herself. She’s the first one off the bench cheering, giving everyone a pat on the back and encouragement if they’re not playing well. They love her as a teammate.”