July 23, 1999
by Tom Kolbe
Heading into her junior year at Notre Dame, Ruth Riley has accomplished more than the average women's basketball player does in four years. In just two seasons at Notre Dame, the Macy, Ind., stands first in the Irish record books in blocked shots with 172, 31 more blocks than second place Katryna Gaither had in four years. Riley also ranks first in field goal percentage (64.6), second in rebound average (7.8) and first in blocked shot average (2.73). She also is on pace to become Notre Dame's leading scorer.
Riley recently competed in the World University Games in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, where she helped the USA to the silver medal. Riley started four of the six games and finished third in scoring average (10.3) and was second in rebounding (5.2). Against South Africa on July 6, Riley scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Overall, she scored in double figures four times and led the team in rebounding twice.
Last summer, Riley was a member of the USA Women's Basketball Select Team that traveled to Puerto Rico, Poland and Spain. She was the team's second leading scorer and leading rebounder, but Riley did note a difference in the two teams.
"It was a lot different from last summer just because there were a lot of different teams, different sports and there were more people from different countries," says Riley.
With the experience from the USA teams she has played for, Riley believes it will help her next year at Notre Dame.
"Playing over the summer, regardless of where you play, will help you improve for next season," Riley said, "but to play with an elite group of athletes, against the elite group from other countries, I think the experience will help the most."
After wearing the red, white and blue of the United States, Riley eagerly awaits wearing the blue and gold of Notre Dame once again. The 1999 first-team BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, who was also the only unanimous all-BIG EAST selection, led the nation with a 68.3 field-goal percentage last year. After averaging 11.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in her initial campaign, there certainly has not been a letdown after being named to the '97-'98 BIG EAST all-rookie team. As a sophomore Riley led the Irish in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (8.4) average. Her 68.3 field goal percentage and 101 blocks were also team-highs. Riley recorded 12 double-doubles and was named the BIG EAST player of the week three times.
With eight returning players, including four starters, Riley likes her team's makeup for next year.
"I think we should be good. We're losing Sheila (McMillen) and Diana (Braendly) and that will definitely hurt us in the shooting position, but I think with Niele (Ivey) coming along in her recovery and a good group of freshman coming in , we should be set," says Riley.
Some extra motivation was added last season when the eighth-ranked Irish fell to Louisiana State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. That loss, however, leads Riley and her teammates to higher aspirations for next season.
"The way we ended the tournament last season was disappointing. I think the Final Four is on all our minds. With the people we have returning and the experience we have coming back, it should be an obtainable goal," says Riley.
While playing on a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 her freshman year and the second round last year, Riley hopes to take the Irish to a place only senior Julie Henderson has been -- the NCAA Women's Final Four. The Irish last appeared in the Final Four in 1997 when they fell to Tennessee in the semifinals. Riley also hopes the Irish can capture their first BIG EAST title.
"Every year we come so close, but I think we need to build on our previous experiences in order to go further next year," says Riley, "I think winning a conference championship would be a good first step towards a national title."
When asked how much the national championship would mean in comparisons to all the records she will be able to break, Riley would gladly trade all her records for being number one.
"Oh, definitely. To think you are the number-one team out there. It means a lot, much more than any record," says Riley.
With an experienced team that knows what it takes to win, the determination to go to the next level is something that Riley sees from her entire squad.
"We're all very determined and on the same page. We know what we have to do. Everyone is working hard in the offseason and when November comes, we'll be ready."