Nov. 7, 1997
Peirick Sees Her Role Change
The last time we saw the Notre Dame women's basketball team, they were in Cincinnati, Ohio, taking on perennial women's powerhouse Tennessee in the national semifinals. Though the Irish fell to the eventual national champions, it was a breakthrough season for Coach Muffet McGraw's squad. The team finished the year 31-7, setting a school record for wins, and finishing fifth in the USA Today/CNN poll.
The leaders of that team were Beth Morgan and Katryna Gaither, the top two scorers in Notre Dame history. They have since graduated, as have fellow starters Rosanne Bohman and Jeannine Augustine. Their departures have left senior guard Molly Peirick as the lone returning starter.
"I definitely need to take more of a leadership role," says Peirick. "As a point guard, I've always had some of that, but this year I have to take more responsibility."
With 86 career starts, Peirick is by far the most experienced player on the Irish roster. Junior Sheila McMillen is second on the team in career starts with merely eight. The lack of seasoned veterans behind her makes Peirick the obvious choice to take the leadership reigns, but that doesn't bother her coach.
"I think Mollie is a natural leader," says McGraw. "It won't be that much of an adjustment for her. She's already done a great job this year in the preseason."
With the added leadership responsibility comes the burden of trying to make up for the 53.5 points per game that the Irish lost through graduation. While the scoring load will have to be more balanced now that Gaither and Morgan are gone, Peirick will be looked at to improve on her 7.9 points per game from a year ago.
"It's different," says Peirick. "This is more of the role that I had as a senior in high school. I need to look to shoot the ball more but at the same time get other people involved in the offense."
Scoring isn't the only thing the Irish will ask Peirick to do. Last season she averaged over four assists and four rebounds a game, making her one of the most complete players on the team. The Eureka, Mo., native will see most of her time at off-guard but will play some point guard, where she was the Irish starter her first two years. This versatility makes her indispensable to the Irish this season.
"Her overall game is very good," says McGraw. "She's a great passer, a good rebounder, good shooter. Whatever you need in that one game, she's going to give it to you."
Notre Dame fans were treated to these talents right away. Coming out of St. Joseph's High School in St. Louis, Peirick was named one of the top 30 seniors in the country by Kodak. The four-time all-state selection stepped right in to direct the Irish offense, starting 22 games her freshman year, including the last 21 in a row. In the second start of her career, on January 9, Peirick impressed the home crowd at the Joyce Center, pouring in a career-high 20 points in Notre Dame's 90-66 victory over Cleveland State. For the year, Peirick led the team with 106 assists, and also averaged 6.3 points and 2.9 rebounds a game. Her performance earned her a place on the Midwestern Collegiate Conference all-newcomer team.
In her sophomore year, Peirick started all 31 games as the Irish advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. She again led the squad in assists with 177 (5.7 per game) and beefed up her other stats as well, averaging 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. After upsetting Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame fell to Texas Tech, 82-67. Though they didn't have great success, their postseason appearance helped pave the way for last year's triumph.
Peirick was a major contributor to that run to the Final Four, scoring in double figures in six of the final 12 games. In the tournament opener against Memphis, she scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished off six assists. Her season-high 11 assists helped the Irish upset Alabama in the regional semifinal and in the regional final she contributed nine rebounds and five assists to Notre Dame's 62-52 victory over George Washington.
"It's so hard to put last year in to words," says Peirick. "One of the things I learned is what happens with hard work. We worked our butts off and we got what we deserved."
While last year's success was unbelievable, it was last year. Peirick and her teammates have to forget about the past and direct their attention to the upcoming season.
With Peirick leading the way, the Irish look to be in good hands.