Jan. 23, 2001
By TOM COYNE
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Ruth Riley remembers walking on campus and seeing an 8-foot high No. 1 sign illuminated atop Grace Hall, signifying that an Irish team was top-ranked. She wondered how it would feel to be on such a team.
She need not wonder any longer. The All-America center and her Irish teammates on Monday became the No. 1 ranked team in women's basketball for the first time. The accomplishment came a week after previously top-ranked Connecticut lost to then-No. 3 Notre Dame, 92-76.
Notre Dame plans to pull the No. 1 sign out of storage and have it atop Grace Hall by Tuesday night. The sign was last out atop the administrative building in the fall, when the women's soccer team was ranked No. 1.
``I'll have to grab a couple of my teammates and go out there and walk past it,'' Riley said. ``We walked past it when it was lit for the soccer team and it was in the back of our minds that we hoped we could reach that, too.''
Not only had the Irish (18-0) never been No. 1 before, they had never been No. 2. And they had never been higher than No. 4 before this season.
``We've made a giant step forward,'' said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. ``There haven't been that many teams that have been No. 1 in the country at any time. I think we're just thrilled to be there right now.''
The Irish are only the seventh team to hold the No. 1 ranking since the 1994-95 season and just the 19th in the 25-year history of the poll.
``It's a good statement about how far our program has come in the last couple of years,'' Riley said.
McGraw, who had said previously that rankings during the season weren't important, admitted she was excited. She celebrated by handing out cookies with No. 1 on them.
``It's a great feeling. I'm thrilled. I'm not sure how to explain the feeling,'' she said.
The Irish had the day off after beating Seton Hall 72-47 Sunday. McGraw said she should have practiced because so many players showed up waiting to hear whether the Irish were indeed No. 1.
``It feels great,'' said forward Kelley Siemon. ``I still don't think it's hit me, but it's really nice to finally be the No. 1 team in the nation.''
The Irish said the ultimate goal is to be No. 1 when the season ends, but reaching the top of the poll was worthy of celebrating.
``Just because this is a first for our university, that makes it something special,'' Riley said.