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For the women's basketball team, the core of this preseason storyline is the same as always: a national championship is the ultimate goal.
Two veteran players leading the way towards that goal this season are Madison Cable, a graduate student, and Hannah Huffman, a senior finance major.
Cable and Huffman are not only two of the more experienced players on this basketball team but also two of the more interesting personalities as well (just check out this picture of the two wearing t-shirts with pictures of their pets on them.)
The two leaders are also no stranger to the preparation and hard work it takes to make it to a national championship, playing in the title game each of the past two years. In their time at Notre Dame, that preparation has always included summer school to help stay on track with classes during the season and be able to train and workout alongside their teammates.
This summer, however, was different for Cable and Huffman as they chose not to attend summer school but to return to their home states for a summer internship. While the internship experience is pretty standard for Notre Dame students, it is not as common for those on the basketball team.
Maddie Cable, a Pennsylvania native, took advantage of the opportunity to return home and work in the Pittsburgh Penguins front office. "It was a cool time to be there because the team was for sale this summer," said Cable. "I saw the logistics of what went into that and the preparation it takes for somebody to buy a team."
Also, being there in the summer meant Cable was able to experience the heart of the free agency period. "I was there on a big day when we got one of the best guys on the team, Phil Kessel," said Cable. "So, everyone was really excited that day."
For Cable, someone who has been an athlete for the majority of her life, getting a glimpse of the alternate, business side of a sports team was an opportunity she couldn't pass up. "It was just cool to be around and to see the logistics of a sports organization on the other side of not being a player," said Cable.
Leaving the world of sports, Hannah Huffman put her business major to work while employed within technology consulting at Deloitte back home in her native San Francisco. "I was put on the Hewlett-Packard project over the summer," said Huffman. "[HP] is currently splitting into two Fortune 500 companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. So, deloitte was asked to go to HP and help separate the two companies and set up their IT infrastructure. The HP project was Deloitte's biggest project so I was actually really fortunate as an intern to be assigned to that project."
While at Deloitte, Hannah was also really fortunate to be able to meet the organization's CEO Cathy Engelbert, the first U.S. female CEO of a Big Four firm and a graduate of Lehigh University. Another cool fact? Engelbert played basketball under Coach McGraw while she was at Lehigh.
"We had a great conversation about Coach McGraw and her time at Lehigh and her love for sports - she's an absolute huge basketball fanatic," said Huffman. "As an intern, to be able to say I had a conversation with a CEO of the whole organization was just a huge highlight of the summer."
In addition to meeting the CEO, Huffman was also offered to return to the organization full-time once she graduates this coming May.
While going away for the summer is something that is not necessarily the norm for basketball players, that doesn't mean it's frowned upon, especially not for older players who have become accustomed to the routine of the program.
In fact, getting Coach McGraw's 'OK' to leave for the summer was not too challenging of a task.
"I think she definitely supports us in internships and she wants us to go out and get experience and make networks and connections," said Cable.
And for Huffman specifically, the opportunity to leave for an internship during the summer before her senior year was a large part of her decision to play at Notre Dame.
"When I was being recruited here that was one of the first questions I asked," said Huffman. "Especially in the business world, it's really crucial to have that work experience. [Coach McGraw] really wants us to not only be great basketball players but have a great professional life. Going away from the team for 3 months made it easier with her support behind us."
The transition back so far this fall has been, as you might expect, fairly easy for these veteran players who have been here before.
"We have such an intense schedule when we're here, which is good because it keeps us focused and everything," said Cable. "When we go home, we're on our own time. But, once we get here, it's not that hard. You just jump right back into it and it's nice to be around our teammates again."
For Huffman, a new experience in the workforce, a job offer, and a stronger appreciation for Notre Dame were all gained when she decided to step away from campus for the summer.
"[It was] the longest I've been away from Notre Dame and it kind of gave me a chance to really appreciate how much I love going here," said Huffman. "When you go and do things for the last time you appreciate them in a whole different light."
For now, it's back to the grind of balancing schoolwork and basketball and, as always, focusing on winning a national championship.