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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish play in most unique setting yet

By Vicky Jacobsen | Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Irish junior forward Ariel Braker said she doesn’t play much outdoor basketball – and not even a game on an aircraft carrier could convince this Michigan native that she should spend more time on the hardtop.

“I play an indoor sport for a reason, and I saw that out on the aircraft carrier,” Braker said, referring to the wind and other elements the No. 6/7 Irish (1-0) dealt with on the deck of the USS Yorktown during Friday’s 57-51 win over No. 19/21 Ohio State (0-1) in the Carrier Classic in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “I love playing outside, but I’m glad we play indoors.”

Braker might not have enjoyed the exposure to the elements, but she said she did enjoy the game’s unique cheering section.

“We didn’t have a lot of fans there and they didn’t have a lot of fans there, it was mostly Navy [personnel],” Braker said. “It was just nice for us to go back and give all our profits back to the Army and the Navy, so I thought that was really cool.”

Irish junior forward Natalie Achonwa said she was just happy Notre Dame’s first road trip of the season gave the Irish the opportunity to thank veterans, including former Irish basketball player Danielle Green, who lost her arm in Iraq in 2004 and attended the game.

“It was great to be able to do that for them, and give back to them, because they’ve given so much,” Achonwa said. “But also just the environment was pretty cool – playing outside, there were definitely some elements and definitely some distractions, but it was a great atmosphere and a great environment.”

Both players said they enjoyed the opportunity to explore the carrier. Notre Dame’s makeshift locker room – sleeping quarters co-opted for the event – gave the team a good idea of the cramped quarters naval personnel live in while on the ship.

“Actually our locker room was pretty funny,” Achonwa said. “We literally had a little white board the size of coach’s hand, and it was pretty cool, just to see what they go through and how they stay in those conditions for months at a time for this country.”

Braker said she preferred the part of the tour that took place above deck.

“I think the coolest thing was the flight deck, where they had all the planes and [where the] planes used to land,” Braker said. “I think that’s really cool. And we got to play on part of it, too.”

The trip to the USS Yorktown, which is docked in Charleston, S.C., was just one in a series of interesting trips the Irish have made in recent years. Last year, the team traveled to the Bahamas for the Junkaroo Jam over Thanksgiving break, where they beat USC and Duke.

“That was a vacation; that was an awesome experience,” Braker said. “I’d never been to a tropical place like that before, so it was cool, enjoying the nice island weather.”

Achonwa said she was glad that her coaches made sure their athletes saw the sights outside of the gym.

“Our coaching staff – they’re great about allowing us to do other things and making sure that we’re enjoying our time as students and athletes, and as young adults as well,” Achonwa said. “So we got to do some jet-skiing, we got to do some swimming with the dolphins, we got to do some stuff outside of basketball as well as [playing in] a great basketball tournament.”

Although the Bahamas serve as a tropical paradise for tourists, Braker said many residents struggle with poverty. The junior said the hospitality and enthusiasm of the islanders left an impression on her.

“It’s a different environment down there, it was cool to play in their gyms and see all the kids that were there that were excited to have us play, even though they probably don’t even know much about Notre Dame or any of the other schools,” Braker said. “They were excited just to have us there.”

Braker said the Irish have tentative plans to travel overseas again this summer, probably in Europe. Until then, they will be sticking to good, old-fashioned indoor courts. Braker, for one, should be fine with that.

The Irish will take on Massachusetts in their home opener at the Purcell Pavilion at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]