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ND Women’s Basketball: Irish enter ACC unsure of identity

Samantha Zuba | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

“We are ND.”

It’s a common cheer at womens basketball games, but the Irish will now have to decide what it means to be ND in the ACC.

Notre Dame will form a new team identity as its first season in the ACC develops, Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

“We’re still looking for our identity,” McGraw said. “I don’t think we’re exactly sure what our M.O. is going to be. What are our strengths? We know some of them individually, but as a team, what is really going to be the strength of this group?”

Four of last season’s starters will return for Notre Dame. Senior guard Ariel Braker, sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, senior guard Kayla McBride and senior forward Natalie Achonwa led the Irish to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament last season.

McGraw said Achonwa and McBride will provide leadership for a team whose senior class has advanced to the Final Four in three straight seasons.

 “Natalie Achonwa is the leader of the team,” McGraw said. “I think she’s the most vocal and certainly has the experience to do that, and Kayla also has the experience and the maturity to lead. I think those two are really our leaders on the team.”

Final Four
Achonwa and McBride will try to lead the Irish back to where they’ve been before. If Notre Dame returns to the Final Four, its senior class will become the first ever to make it to the Final Four in four straight years.

Achonwa said she wants Notre Dame to push even further and win it all.

“We’ve been to three Final Fours,” Achonwa said. “You might as well come back with a ring, so I think our main thing is to make it to the national championship game again and to win it.”

McBride said she expects to return to the Final Four as the team shares her competitive pride.

“I’ve had three Final Fours, and anything less than that this year would be a failure in my eyes, being the competitive person that I am,” McBride said. “I know my fellow classmates feel the same way.”

Wade Watch and the ACC
The ACC boasts consistent tournament contenders and talented players worthy of consideration for the Wade trophy, awarded each year to the best player in NCAA Division I.

The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association announced its preseason “Wade Watch List” and named more players from the ACC than from any other conference. Achonwa and McBride both made the list.

Overall, the Irish are excited for new challenges and a chance to add their talent to the best conference in women’s basketball, McGraw said.

“I think there’s a lot of good things we’re looking forward to,” McGraw said. “It’s a change of scenery in a way. We’re looking at a lot of new teams that we don’t know a lot about or haven’t played before … So I think there’s a little bit of apprehension and anxiety until you really get to see them in person, but I think it’s a great time for us to go into a new conference, especially one that’s going to be the best in women’s basketball.”

McBride said the Irish will adjust to the ACC without losing their team philosophy.

“The guards are getting up and down, and even the posts are getting up and down [in the ACC],” McBride said. “Coach has been harping on our conditioning, making sure we’re in the best shape because we’re still going to be doing our same principles, which is transition, get up and down the court … I don’t think our philosophy changed, but I definitely think the ACC is a lot faster.”

Big play Kayla
McBride had a breakout season last year and came out strong during Notre Dame’s 10-day European tour in August. McBride posted 14 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the international exhibitions.

Notre Dame had its first day of official preseason practice on Oct. 1, but McBride is already in the full swing of basketball, McGraw said.

“I’m expecting big, big things from Kayla,” McGraw said. “I think she is just in phenomenal shape. She’s lean; she’s strong.  She looks fantastic. She actually is head and shoulders above the rest of the team right now. She’s playing such great basketball … I think she’s going to be the one we count on to do just about everything.”

Contact Samantha Zuba at [email protected]