April 22, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride (Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy) was chosen as the recipient of both the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player and Woody Miller Player of the Year awards, it was announced Tuesday night during the 2013-14 Notre Dame Women's Basketball Awards Banquet in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. In addition, five other Fighting Irish players received individual honors as part of the year-end celebration.
The banquet program got off to an exciting and unexpected start on Tuesday, as representatives from the office of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who currently is on active military duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy Reserve) were on hand to present head coach Muffet McGraw and the 2013-14 Fighting Irish team with the key to the City of South Bend.
Other honorees at Tuesday night's banquet (as chosen by a vote of their teammates) included: senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic), who received the team's inaugural Outstanding Leadership award; sophomore guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West), who garnered the team's Defensive Player of the Year honor for the second consecutive season; sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan), who was tapped as the team's Most Improved Player; and junior guard Whitney Holloway (Plainfield, Ill./Montini Catholic), who took home the Spirit Award. In addition, sophomore guard Hannah Huffman (Diablo, Calif./Carondelet) earned this year's Rockne Student-Athlete Award from the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley.
All three graduating members of the senior class -- McBride, Achonwa and fellow tri-captain Ariel Braker (Grosse Pointe Woods Mich./Grosse Pointe North) -- along with student managers Megan Golden and Kelly Harmon, delivered poignant speeches about their careers at Notre Dame, bringing down the curtain on the most successful four-year run in program history, including a school-best 138-15 (.902) record and an average of 34.5 wins per season (prior to the arrival of the 2013-14 senior class, the school record for wins in one season had been 34 in 2000-01, a mark this year's group topped each of the past three years). In addition, the current seniors posted a 60-4 (.938) record in regular season conference play (70-6, .921, when counting league tournaments), while leading the Fighting Irish to three NCAA national championship game appearances, four NCAA Women's Final Four berths, three conference regular season titles (two in the BIG EAST, one in the ACC), and two conference tournament crowns (one each in the BIG EAST and ACC). A senior video tribute and the always-popular season highlight and program history videos rounded out the evening's festivities.
An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 1,000 people was in attendance, as Notre Dame celebrated one of the finest seasons in program history in 2013-14, piling up a program-best 37-1 record, including a school-record 37-game winning streak (the longest by any Fighting Irish squad in a team-based sport since World War II), and the school's fourth consecutive NCAA Women's Final Four appearance (sixth overall) as well as its third trip to the NCAA national championship game in the past four seasons (fourth all-time), becoming just the fifth program in NCAA Championship history to pull off that feat.
In addition, the Fighting Irish claimed their third consecutive outright conference regular season title (first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference) with a perfect 16-0 record, stringing together three outright league championships in a row for the first time in the program's 37-year history. What's more, Notre Dame won the ACC regular season title by a staggering four-game margin (just the fourth time in the conference's 37-year women's basketball history a team has won by that margin and largest since 2001-02), while averaging 86.5 points per game in ACC play (the highest scoring margin by a conference team in the regular season since 1990-91).
Notre Dame then chalked up three more wins to secure the program's first ACC postseason crown, marking the first time since 2002-03 that an ACC team went 19-0 in regular season and tournament play. It also was the first time since the ACC began sponsoring women's basketball in 1977-78 that an ACC team won both titles in its inaugural conference season, and it was the first time it was ever pulled off by an ACC member school outside the Triangle (the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., area).
What's more, the Fighting Irish set or tied no fewer than 19 single-season school records -- most wins (37), highest winning percentage (.974), fewest losses (1), highest conference winning percentage (1.000), longest winning streak (37), longest winning streak to begin a season (37), most wins at home (17), most wins over top-10 opponents (8), most points (3,271), highest scoring average (86.1 ppg.), most 80-point games (29), most 90-point games (12), most 100-point games (5), most field goals made (1,227), most field goals attempted (2,423), most three-point field goals made (190), most assists (765), highest assist/turnover ratio (1.39) and fewest times fouled out (3).
Notre Dame led the nation in field goal percentage this season (.506), marking the first time the Fighting Irish won an NCAA statistical national championship (in a category other than won-loss percentage) since 2000-01, when they led the country in field goal percentage defense, three-point percentage and blocked shots.
Led by its sharp shooting numbers, Notre Dame placed among the top 20 in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories, including top-five rankings in field goal percentage (1st - .506), scoring offense (2nd - 86.1 ppg.; the program's second consecutive season as the nation's second-highest scoring team), scoring margin (2nd - +24.4 ppg.), three-point field goal percentage (2nd - .402; the program's best mark from distance since a school-record .464 in 2000-01), assists (2nd - 20.1 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (5th - 1.39). The Fighting Irish also ranked 12th in the nation in rebounding margin (+9.1 rpg.) and 19th in free throw percentage (.756).
Notre Dame piled up a 14-1 record against ranked opponents this season (earning 13 of those 14 victories by double figures), including the aforementioned eight wins against top-10 teams. What's more, Notre Dame appeared in the top five of both major national polls for 16 weeks this season, including the final 13 weeks as the consensus No. 2 team in the nation (the second consecutive year the Fighting Irish wound up second in both major polls at season's end, as well as the fourth year in a row they were No. 2 in the final Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today poll taken after the NCAA Championship).
On top of that, Notre Dame placed fourth in the final NCAA attendance rankings by averaging 8,694 fans per game (tying the program's highest-ever NCAA attendance rank first set in 2009-10), while registering five sellouts this season, including both sessions of the NCAA Notre Dame Regional at Purcell Pavilion (the only 2014 NCAA regional site to sell out both sessions). It marks the fifth consecutive season the Fighting Irish have been ranked in the top five in the nation in attendance, as well as the 14th year in a row they have placed among the top 16 in the final NCAA attendance rankings. Furthermore, Notre Dame continues to be fueled by one of the nation's most loyal and dedicated fan bases, with the Fighting Irish having drawn at least 8,000 fans to their last 52 home games (dating back to the 2010-11 season), and at least 5,000 fans to 207 of their last 209 home games, covering a stretch since the midpoint of the 2000-01 season.
Notre Dame is expected to return two starters and 10 monogram recipients from this year's squad, led by Loyd, a consensus All-America selection in 2013-14. The Fighting Irish also will welcome a three-player incoming class that has been ranked as high as third in the nation by several national recruiting services, and includes the 2013-14 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and 2014 McDonald's High School All-America Game Most Valuable Player, forward Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel).
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Here's a closer look at the 2013-14 Fighting Irish women's basketball award winners:
Kayla McBride (Sr., G, Erie, Pa./Villa Maria Academy)
Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP
Woody Miller Player of the Year (voted by media)
McBride saved her best for her final college season in 2013-14, earning consensus first-team All-America honors, in addition to being named the ACC Player of the Year by the conference's 15 head coaches and a finalist for every major national player of the year award. She averaged career highs of 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with one double-double and a team-high 14 20-point games. She also ranked among the top 10 in the ACC in free throw percentage (2nd - .880; 13th in nation), assist/turnover ratio (6th - 1.78), assists (9th), scoring (10th) and three-point percentage (10th - .366). In addition, her 669 total points rank fifth on the school's single-season scoring list, and her 23-game double-figure scoring streak earlier this year is the fifth-longest in program history.
For her career, McBride ranks fifth on Notre Dame's scoring list with 1,876 points, as well as first all-time in free throw percentage (.882), sixth in games played (133) and double-figure scoring games (100), seventh in minutes played (3,735) and tied for ninth in games started (114).
On April 14, McBride was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round of the 2014 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Stars, becoming Notre Dame's third WNBA Draft lottery (top-four) selection in as many years (the Fighting Irish are the second team ever to pull off that feat) and matching the highest choice in program history (Devereaux Peters ('11) was chosen third by the Minnesota Lynx in 2012, and Skylar Diggins ('13) was selected third by the Tulsa Shock in 2013). When she arrives in Texas this weekend, the Erie, Pa., native will be one of six Fighting Irish players on WNBA training camp rosters, joining Peters, Diggins, Achonwa with the Indiana Fever, and Ruth Riley ('01) with the Atlanta Dream.
Natalie Achonwa (Sr., F, Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic)
Outstanding Leadership Award
One of the most gifted versatile posts and vocal leaders in Fighting Irish history, Achonwa earned Associated Press third-team All-America honors and was a second-team all-ACC choice in 2013-14 while starting 33 games despite a pair of knee injuries. She also averaged career highs of 14.9 points and 2.8 assists per game along with 7.7 rebounds per contest, a career-best .611 field goal percentage (seventh on the school's single-season charts) and a team-high eight double-doubles. What's more, she placed among the top 15 in the ACC in field goal percentage (2nd; 3rd in nation), defensive rebounds (tied-4th - 5.6), rebounds (7th), blocked shots (10th - 1.2 bpg.) and scoring (15th).
In 145 career games at Notre Dame (third-most in program history), Achonwa ranks 12th on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,546 points and fourth on the school's career rebounding chart (970), making her one of just four players in program history with 1,500 points and 750 rebounds in her career (the others being Riley, Katryna Gaither and Jacqueline Batteast). In addition, Achonwa is tied for fifth in school history with 28 career double-doubles, and her .562 career field goal percentage stands sixth on the program's all-time list.
Last week, Achonwa was chosen with the No. 9 overall pick in the first round of the 2014 WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever, giving Notre Dame two WNBA first-round selections in the same draft class for the second time in three years (also 2012 with Peters and Natalie Novosel, who was chosen eighth by the Washington Mystics), as well as five total first-round picks (all ninth or higher) since 2012. Achonwa underwent successful surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee on April 18 and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2015 WNBA season.
Jewell Loyd (So., G, Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West)
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Loyd takes home the team's Defensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year after once again proving herself as one of the top on-ball defenders in the ACC, if not the country. In addition to her larger role as a primary offensive threat for the Fighting Irish, the second-year standout from Lincolnwood, Ill., was given the assignment of defending some of the opposition's best perimeter threats and thrived in that role.
Among the many players shut down by Loyd's defensive efforts this season were three 2014 WNBA Draft picks, most notably Maryland's Alyssa Thomas (a WNBA draft lottery selection), whom Loyd deftly handcuffed in the NCAA national semifinals, holding Thomas to just 14 points (5-13 FG) and six rebounds. Loyd also largely shut down Penn State's Maggie Lucas (seven points on 1-8 FG) and Duke's Tricia Liston (13 total points on 5-19 FG in final two games vs. Notre Dame) as part of her assignments this year.
Loyd was a consensus All-America pick in 2013-14, joining McBride on the WBCA Coaches' All-America Team, the second consecutive year in which Notre Dame has placed two players on that prestigious squad. In addition, she earned a spot on the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), Associated Press and espnW All-America teams (making the second squad on the latter two rundowns).
Loyd was a first-team all-ACC pick as well as the Most Outstanding Player of both the NCAA Notre Dame Regional and the ACC Championship, started 37 games this season (she missed one due to injury), while averaging career highs (and team bests) of 18.6 points and 1.6 steals per game, as well as 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, with five double-doubles, 13 20-point games and a school record-tying three 30-point games (the first time a Fighting Irish player has had multiple 30-point games in the same season since Riley in 1999-2000).
Loyd also ranked among the top 20 in the ACC in five statistical categories -- scoring (6th), free throw percentage (8th - .808), field goal percentage (10th - .517), steals (13th) and rebounding (17th). Overall, she placed among the top 10 on eight of Notre Dame's single-season charts, including double-figure scoring games (tied-1st with 37), consecutive double-figure games in the same season (1st), 30-point games (tied-1st), field goals made (2nd - 267), points (3rd - 687; most since Gaither's 776 and Beth Morgan's 696 in 1996-97), field goals attempted (4th - 516), double-doubles by a guard (tied-4th) and scoring average (7th).
Loyd, who has scored in double figures in 43 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in program history, is the third-fastest Fighting Irish player ever to score 1,000 career points, doing so in only 67 games to trail only Morgan (56 games from 1993-97) and Shari Matvey (66 games from 1979-83). What's more, Loyd has scored more points in her first two seasons at Notre Dame (1,137) than anyone in program history, and she is just the third Fighting Irish player to score 1,000 points before the end of her sophomore year (along with Morgan in 1994-95 and Diggins in 2010-11).
Michaela Mabrey (So., G, Belmar, N.J./Manasquan)
Most Improved Player Award
Mabrey made tremendous strides in her second season at Notre Dame, emerging as one of the top Fighting Irish reserves and one of the nation's elite perimeter shooters. The Belmar, N.J., product appeared in all 38 games (earning her first start in place against Miami on Jan. 23 of an injured Loyd) nearly tripled her scoring and assist averages from a year ago to 8.6 points and 2.2 assists per game (both fourth on the team), while scoring in double figures 17 times after reaching that mark three times during her freshman season. However, her biggest impact on Notre Dame's fortunes came via her success from beyond the arc.
Mabrey ranked fourth in the ACC in three-point percentage (.421) and 11th in three-pointers per game (1.9), fueled in part by making multiple treys in 23 games. She also ranked among the top 10 on the Fighting Irish single-season lists for three-pointers made (4th - 72; most since Alicia Ratay's 81 in 2000-01), three-pointers attempted (5th - 171; most since Sheila McMillen's school-record 247 in 1998-99) and three-point percentage (8th; best since Ratay's .463 mark in 2002-03).
Mabrey scored a career-high 19 points in the season opener against UNC Wilmington on Nov. 9, and canned a career-best six three-pointers on 14 tries against Syracuse on Feb. 9, the latter performance tying the Purcell Pavilion record for triples in one game.
Whitney Holloway (Jr., G, Plainfield, Ill./Montini Catholic)
A prime example of a veteran sacrificing herself to help her team reach its collective goals, Holloway sparkled behind the scenes for Notre Dame, as both a locker room leader and a tenacious force in practice, often times competing on the Fighting Irish scout team as the opposition's top player.
Incredibly popular with her teammates and rarely found without a smile on her face, Holloway saw action in 32 games for Notre Dame this season, averaging 1.1 points, 0.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game, including a season-high four points on five occasions, the last against No. 14/17 North Carolina State in the ACC tournament semifinals. She also ranked second on the team with a 1.93 assist/turnover ratio, and off the court, she was the women's basketball team representative on the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), along with McBride, who served as the body's vice president in 2013-14.
Hannah Huffman (So., G, Diablo, Calif./Carondelet)
Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Huffman is a blue-collar, physical player whose non-stop energy and work ethic has made her a favorite of her teammates, coaches and Fighting Irish fans everywhere. She appeared in 32 games for Notre Dame this season, averaged 1.1 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, including a season-high four points three times, most notably in the win over No. 11/9 Maryland at the NCAA Women's Final Four in Nashville, Tenn. Huffman also grabbed a career-high five rebounds on four occasions, the last against No. 14/17 North Carolina State in the ACC tournament semifinals.
In the classroom, Huffman works just as hard as she does on the court, holding a 3.296 cumulative grade-point average as a finance major in Notre Dame's top-ranked Mendoza College of Business. She also earned a spot on the 2012-13 BIG EAST All-Academic Team.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director