July 1, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the second time in the past three Summer Olympics, a Notre Dame women's basketball player will represent her country on the world's biggest athletic stage, as junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary's Catholic) and the Canada Senior Women's National Team successfully qualified for the 2012 London Olympics on Sunday afternoon with a 71-63 win over Japan in the final game of the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey.
Achonwa (pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh) follows in the footsteps of former Notre Dame All-America center and 2001 consensus National Player of the Year Ruth Riley, who earned a gold medal as a member of the 2004 United States Olympic Team, that rolled through the competition in Athens, Greece. It will be Canada's first Olympic appearance since 2000 Sydney Olympics (when it finished in 10th place), and this year's Olympic bid was made all the more sweet as it came on Canada Day, a national holiday that is largely equivalent to Independence Day in the United States.
Achonwa played in four of Canada's five games at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament this past week in Turkey, missing the final game with an ankle injury suffered Saturday during her team's 58-41 semifinal win over Argentina. Prior to her injury, Achonwa averaged 4.5 points per game in a reserve role for the Canadians, and she is expected to be cleared to resume competition well before her country begins action at the Olympics later this month.
Following Sunday's win over Japan, it was announced that Canada has been placed in Group B for the 12-team London Olympic tournament, joining Australia, Brazil, France, Great Britain and Russia in that division. The Canadians will open Olympic play against Russia at 6:15 a.m. (ET) July 28 inside the Olympic Basketball Arena in London. The full schedule for this year's Olympic Basketball Tournament can be found on-line at london2012.fiba.com.
Achonwa is coming off her second season at Notre Dame, averaging a career-high 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with a .557 field goal percentage while helping the Fighting Irish to their second consecutive NCAA national championship game appearance. As one of Notre Dame's top reserves last year, she scored in double figures 10 times, including a career-best 20 points at Creighton on Dec. 4, and a critical 18-point, seven-rebound performance in Notre Dame's 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final on March 27 in Raleigh, N.C.
In her two-year career, Achonwa is averaging 7.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with a .561 field goal percentage, which would rank as the sixth-best career shooting ratio in school history (she needs eight more field goal attempts to qualify).
Achonwa is one of eight athletes with Notre Dame ties who will be competing in this year's London Olympics. Also representing the Fighting Irish will be women's soccer alums Shannon Boxx (United States), Candace Chapman (Canada) and Melissa Tancredi (Canada), track & field standout Molly Huddle (United States/5,000 meters) and American fencers Courtney Hurley (individual and team epee), Lee Kiefer (individual and team foil) and Mariel Zagunis (individual sabre). In addition, three others athletes with Notre Dame connections are listed as alternates for Team USA in their respective sports -- Kelley Hurley (fencing/women's team epee) and Gerek Meinhardt (fencing/men's team foil) and Mary Saxer (track & field/pole vault).
Achonwa also will be one of two Notre Dame women's basketball players to represent her country on the international stage this summer. Incoming freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) will suit up for the United States Under-18 National Team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship Aug. 15-19 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.
In the fall, Achonwa and Mabrey will be part of a Notre Dame program that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that includes Mabrey and was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It's the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.