March 21, 2015
Madison Cable, Whitney Holloway and Markisha Wright will be stepping onto the basketball court at the University of Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion for the final time Sunday night for a Fighting Irish women's basketball game.
Emotions, though, will take a backseat for the three Irish seniors, when the No. 1 seed Irish (32-2) take on No. 9 seed DePaul (27-7) at 9 p.m. Sunday in round two of the NCAA Women's Basketball Championships.
Cable, Holloway and Wright are locked in to doing whatever it takes to help the Fighting Irish be successful, and in this case helping the Irish advance to their sixth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. Of course, Cable, Holloway and Wright always are locked in to doing whatever it takes to help the Fighting Irish, as they have been throughout their careers.
Although Cable, Holloway and Wright have only heard their names ring out a combined 13 times in their careers, they will leave with more career victories than any other Fighting Irish women's basketball class.
Cable, Holloway and Wright have helped Notre Dame carve out a 139-9 record in their four seasons (.939), topping the previous mark of 138 wins set by last season's senior class. Natalie Achonwa, Ariel Braker and Kayla McBride helped Notre Dame win 138 games in their careers (138-15, .902).
Cable, Holloway and Wright hope to follow Achonwa, Braker and McBride into the record books at Notre Dame by participating in four NCAA Final Fours in their Irish careers. Cable could actually return next season, since she sat out her freshman season with an injury. This season's seniors were part of two BIG EAST Conference titles and two Atlantic Coast Conference championships, and they currently have a 51-7 record against ranked teams.
"If we make it to the Final Four, being four for four is definitely our greatest accomplishment at Notre Dame," Holloway said. "We don't know what it's like to not go to the Final Four. It will be amazing for us to go there, and it will be a big mark for us."
Irish coach Muffet McGraw said this class of seniors has made its own mark in putting the Irish into the nation's elite.
"I think this group of seniors is a little unusual for us, not having a senior starter for the first time in about 10 years," McGraw said. "It was really important that they embrace their roles on the team, to be positive influences in the locker room, to be really hard workers on the court to get us better and to get us where we needed to go.
"They had to be leaders in other ways, such as the locker room or the classroom, getting the underclassmen to understand what it's like to play here and how to accept your role and try to be the best you can at it. That's a difficult thing to do. For all of them to give us positive energy in practice very day has really been important to the success of our team."
Achonwa was part of a senior class last season that taught Cable, Holloway and Wright about leadership. Now that she is Notre Dame's director of basketball operations, Achonwa is seeing the current seniors apply their leadership skills.
"I think the best thing about this senior class, they all lead in different ways," Achonwa said. "Madison Cable is the one who will be on the floor, giving the effort play, giving 100 percent on every play, every possession, every practice, trying to get the momentum up and giving the energy in practice. Whitney I would compare to Kayla McBride, the emotional leader, the one who will give you the happy when you need it, give you the comforting when you need it. That's also Markisha. The way they work off each other, the way they balance each other out, that's something I'm proud that Ariel Braker, Kayla McBride and I were able to pass down to them."
Achonwa said taking on senior leadership is challenging, but that Cable, Holloway and Wright have excelled in their roles.
"I think the beginning of the year is the hardest," Achonwa said. "You become a senior and, all of the sudden, overnight, you're supposed to grow, learn and become a leader. The way this year's seniors have embraced the challenge and continued to grow all year has been outstanding. They knew they weren't perfect at the beginning of the year, and they know they're not perfect now, but they've worked together to get to this point, and it's been great to see them grow and develop over the course of the year, learn how to lead and always stay together."
Holloway said the three seniors have taught the Irish closeness.
"I think the three of us have always been together and been close," Holloway said. "We've never had any drama among us. We really know what it is to be good teammates. We have really good team chemistry this season, and I think it's a lot because of our leadership. The seniors interact with each other really well, and I think the younger players see that and learn from it. We work hard, we're really good teammates and I think our team has noticed that.
"That's definitely important for the younger players to see. Team chemistry is what it's all about. When you're out there on the court, you can't be selfish. You have to know how to play together. You can't play for yourself. We're friends on and off the court, and that's so important."
Cable agreed that the friendships she has made matter as much as the wins the Irish have racked up with her, Holloway and Wright in uniform.
"I think, both on and off the court, we were really good friends and that helps," Cable said. "We tried to be really good teammates to everyone, and we wanted the younger players to see that and understand how important that is. I think it's really important for the younger players to see the older players getting along and being good teammates. I think we were good friends with the younger players.
"What I'm going to cherish the most is my teammates, all the good times we had, the memories. Winning is part of that, but besides that I made a lot of good friendships."
Wright said she appreciates the Notre Dame experience, on and off the court.
"It's been a blessing in my life to come to Notre Dame," Wright said. "I would not have the things I have in my life now, I would not have met the people I've met, I would not have the doors open to me that are now open, if I wouldn't have come her. The girls I've met on this team are truly my sisters for life.
"I think what we've done as a class is been there for everybody. Being a good friend, being a good teammate, looking out for everybody else, I'm really proud that we've done that. That's a really important thing for a basketball team, for everybody to know that they are cared for and that people are looking out for you."
Sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen said the younger players have always looked to the seniors for stability.
"Our seniors brought a steadiness to our program, and they taught us to compete day in and day out," Allen said. "We know we can depend on them. They approach practice and games the same way. They are all people we can really count on all the time."
According to Holloway, the life lessons she learned will mean as much to her as the win-loss records.
"I got so much working in the weight room with Craig Cheek, our trainer," Holloway said. "He taught us a lot about pushing yourself, not giving up and not feeling sorry for yourself. Our coaches teach us that, too, but he does, too.
"Sometimes, you go in the weight room, you just had a two-hour practice and you don't feel like lifting, and he is always encouraging you. He helped instill in me a mentality to work hard and never feel sorry for myself. There are so many important things I'll take away from Notre Dame, and that's one of them."
Cable said the Irish seniors have made their own marks in their own ways.
"We're not a typical class," Cable said. "We don't have a superstar. It doesn't bother us. We just try to go out, be good teammates, work hard and try to help the team."
And on Sunday, Cable, Holloway and Wright will do what they can to help the Irish stay on track for a fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Final Four.
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent