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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish to take on Fordham on the road in season opener

| Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team will be opening its season Tuesday against Fordham University. The Irish departed to the Bronx late Monday afternoon and are scheduled to play in the Rose Hill Gymnasium at 7 p.m. This is the team’s first away season opener since 1996, when the Irish traveled to Washington, D.C. to play against Georgetown.

In an interview before Monday’s practice, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw shared insights on the team and the challenges that await in New York.

Anna Mason | The Observer

Former Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale dribbles the ball down the court during Notre Dame’s 82-81 loss to Baylor in the 2019 NCAA Women’s National Championship.

“Fordham is a great team; they’re an NCAA tournament team,” McGraw said. “[Fordham head coach] Stephanie Gaitley has done a fabulous job with them. … We have a couple recruits out that way that can come see the game, and of course [sophomore forward] Danielle Cosgrove’s parents can come see the game as well.”

McGraw has not opened up a season with a road game in more than 20 years. Her biggest concern heading into this game, she asserted, is having to travel with such a young team. That being said, McGraw believes her entire roster of players is going to grow from the experience.

“We’re going to learn in progress,” McGraw said. “I think that it is going to be a work in progress. We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves, but we just need game experience and there is no way to get it except to have a game. We’re going to take a lot of bumps, I think, in the early going.”

In the days leading up to fall break, Notre Dame sophomore guard Abby Prohaska was diagnosed with bilateral pulmonary embolism — blood clotting in her lungs — and did not travel with the team. This is a huge blow to the Irish women, especially so early in the season. With a roster full of young players, anybody with experience playing in college is invaluable to the team. McGraw commented on what losing Prohaska for the season means to the team.

“She is probably one of two players with game experience coming into the season,” McGraw said. “She is also somebody who gives energy, because she comes in and she takes charges and hustles. She is somebody you can point to for the freshmen to look up to and say ‘This is how you’re supposed to practice, this is how you’re supposed to play.’ We’ve lost that experienced player that we had. … We are hopeful that she will return to the team.”

In best case scenario given Prohaska’s condition, the Irish will have to play without her until at least January. 

Looking ahead to the lineup against Fordham, the starting five are freshman guard Anaya Peoples, freshman forward Sam Brunelle, junior center Mikayla Vaughn, graduate student guard Marta Sniezek and graduate student guard Destinee Walker. Sniezek and Walker transferred to Notre Dame from Stanford and North Carolina, respectively. Starting center Vaugn is the only player in this lineup with real experience playing for the Irish. 

McGraw explained why transfer students are so unique under her coaching style.

“The problem is they’re all freshman, because our system is different,” McGraw said. “Destinee hasn’t played in two years, so she has only really had a year and a half of playing experience. She is more like a sophomore. Marta, of course, had three years, but did not play last year, so she is probably the most experienced and understands the game the best.”

A new team means new strengths and new weaknesses for McGraw and her assistants.

“Last year, no matter what, we knew that we could score,” McGraw said. “This year, we are not sure what our identity is yet.”

Matching up against Fordham will be an opportunity for the team to evaluate its entire game. The Irish are heading to the Bronx with a lot of goals, as well as many unanswered questions.

“I think that we are looking for execution,” McGraw said. “We have got to box out and rebound. We can’t give another team more than one shot at the basket. We want to try and run. We want to see what the transition game looks like. Defensively, we have got a lot of holes. We are trying to look and see what our zone looks like at this point in the season, what the man to man looks like. Who can we count on to score? Who is going to be the one to give the ball to late game? What is going to be our strength going down the stretch is a big question.”

With so many questions on the defensive end for Notre Dame, a big one heading into the Fordham game is who gets the challenge of guarding Bre Cavanaugh. McGraw spoke highly of Fordham’s junior guard and her ability to dominate on the court.

“I hoped that she would be starting for us — she is phenomenal,” McGraw said. “She can get her shot. She can score from so many different places. Good 3-point shooter. Can get to the basket. Leading scorer last year. She is coming is with a lot of game experience. Definitely a player they want the ball in her hands as much as they can.”

Even with uncertainty ahead, McGraw was adamant the entire team is excited to get out of practice and play its first game. The women are ready to bring a high level of energy and intensity to their first opponent. All of the new faces want to show that they have what it takes to play for the Irish, McGraw emphasized. 

Tip off will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Rose Hill Gymnasium in New York City.

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