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ND Women’s Basketball

Freshman, vets develop chemistry before exhibition opener

| Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You have to dig back to the 2009-10 season to find the last time Notre Dame didn’t make at least the Final Four.

Irish sophomore Taya Reimer goes for the block during Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory over Baylor on March 31.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish sophomore Taya Reimer goes for the block during Notre Dame’s 88-69 victory over Baylor on March 31.
In three of the past four seasons since then, the Irish have reached the championship game, missing it just once with a loss in the Final Four.

This year, Notre Dame’s expectations remain as high as always with a roster full of underclassmen. The three Irish freshmen, guard Mychal Johnson and forwards Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld, get their first taste of home-game action and atmosphere Wednesday in an exhibition against Ferris State.

“I think for us, we’re so young that I’m just excited to get the uniforms on, have a game-day experience, what it’s like in the locker room and how we come out and the fans, really the big picture for the freshmen,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said.

McGraw added she was pleased with the progress the freshmen made during the preseason.

“I’m so happy with the freshmen right now,” McGraw said. “… I think the more comfortable they get — and they’re not there yet — but the more comfortable they get, they are really going to be really good players for us.”

Johnson dealt with injuries during the preseason, so she hasn’t had as much of an immediate impact in practice as Turner and Westbeld, McGraw noted, but all three have potential to contribute this season.

Junior guard Jewell Loyd, a scoring leader for the Irish since her freshman campaign, said she is not too worried about the freshmen taking on their first collegiate-game action.

“I think the freshmen that we have now, they aren’t intimidated by anything,” Loyd said. “I mean obviously you walk in the gym, and you see everyone cheering, and it’s really loud, that’s something that’s overwhelming. But once the ball’s in the air, and you tip, it’s go time, and I think that we do a great job in practice of making sure that they’re ready for that.”

Loyd is positioned to serve as one of the leaders for this group, along with junior guard Michaela Mabrey and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen, McGraw said.

Last year, Allen impressed as a first-year point guard and strengthened her game in the off-season, improving her ability to attack the basket, McGraw said. Allen’s biggest challenge, however, will be guiding a younger team as point guard.

“I think for her, this year is actually going to be harder in some ways because last year, playing with a veteran team who knew where to be and always in the right spots, she didn’t have to lead or direct them,” McGraw said. “Now, she’s looking at really helping people get in the right spots … so I think mentally, it’s gonna be a bigger challenge for her this year.”

The team’s chemistry has not been tested in regular-season competition yet, but so far, the signs point to a positive group dynamic, Loyd said.

“We’re goofy,” she said. “We have a group text going around; we stay in contact with each other; we make jokes, and even when things get hard, we know someone’s going to make us laugh and kind of loosen up the air and loosen the tension up a little bit, and I think with this group, no one’s really scared of anything.”

McGraw agreed the team has meshed well.

“They get along great,” McGraw said. “The chemistry’s terrific. Actually, I would like to see a little more intention, a little more competing. I think I would like to see that more because this is just a team that really gets along so well. They’re so nice. I’d like to see that mean streak every now and then.”

The Irish tip off for their exhibition against Ferris State on Wednesday at 7 p.m., in Purcell Pavilion.

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