NOTRE DAME, Ind. - It's a common phrase that visitors to any Notre Dame athletics event are likely to hear from the University ushers:
"Welcome to Notre Dame!"
Those same words also will be offered numerous times this weekend, as the vast majority of the University's 8,475 undergraduates descend on campus, some for the first time and others for a fourth time or more, all with the goal of getting settled in their residence halls, gathering their books and preparing for the start of the 2014-15 academic year.
Among this enthusiastic throng of collegians is a collection of 13 student-athletes, the members of this year's Notre Dame women's basketball team, including rookies Mychal Johnson (Huntington, W.Va./Huntington St. Joseph), Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel) and Kathryn Westbeld (Kettering, Ohio/Kettering Fairmont), who will arrive with their families in tow to take part in the University's freshman orientation exercises this weekend.
Actually, the Fighting Irish trio isn't entirely unfamiliar with the Notre Dame campus, having spent the months of June and July in South Bend while successfully completing the school's Summer Bridge program. This unique two-month setting allowed all three student-athletes to get an early feel for the structure of college classes and learn important skills such as time management required to balance the rigors of high-level academics and equally high-level basketball, a combination of academic and athletic success unlike that offered by virtually any other college in the nation.
During that summer window, the Notre Dame freshmen were able to get a head start on learning the Fighting Irish basketball system, everything from the playbook and individual development, to strength and conditioning, sports medicine and nutrition. In addition, the newest Notre Dame players got the chance to work with the Fighting Irish coaching staff, getting their first taste of what will be expected of them throughout their four-year careers under the Golden Dome.
As she has done for many of her 28 seasons at Notre Dame, Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw will be holding a season-opening cookout at her home in nearby Granger, a chance for the student-athletes to unwind a bit from the frenzy of activity associated with returning to campus. In addition, McGraw's "back-to-school" barbecues have proven to be an ideal way for the Fighting Irish freshmen players and their parents to get to know the coaches and staff in a relaxed setting.
"(Her husband) Matt and I really enjoy the chance to have everyone over at the house before things get going with the school year," McGraw said. "It's a great way to welcome our players back to campus and for the newest members of our Notre Dame women's basketball family to get to know the coaches and support staff."
Part of this weekend's cookout at McGraw's house will be devoted to introducing the program's newest staff members to the Fighting Irish contingent.
Garret Garcia has been hired as Notre Dame's video coordinator, taking over many of the duties that had been held by Angie Potthoff for the past four years. Potthoff stepped down last month after she was hired as athletics director at Chartiers Valley High School in suburban Pittsburgh.
"We are thrilled to have Garret joining our staff," McGraw said. "He's extremely talented and someone who brings a lot of fresh and creative ideas to the table. We're looking forward to having him build upon what Angie started in that position and add some of his own touches in the coming years."
Garcia is a 2012 University of Toledo graduate who spent the past two years as graduate assistant video coordinator with the Rockets' women's basketball program. While at UT, Garcia coordinated tape exchange with the opposition, assisted with breaking down game film for the coaches and oversaw team manager video responsibilities during practices and games. He also was in charge of creating highlight films throughout the season, as well as maintaining the team's social media outlets and coachcullop.com.
Prior to joining the women's basketball staff, Garcia spent four years as a student assistant with the Toledo men's basketball program. As a student assistant, he oversaw all video operations for the squad and worked directly with the coaching staff in creating scouting reports, video highlights and film databases. Garcia also created various videos that aired during games on the video board, and he handled the end-of-the-season videos and highlight reels for utrockets.com and coachtk.com.
During this same period of time, Garcia spent one year working as the Video Board and Ribbon Operator for two minor league franchises, baseball's Toledo Mud Hens (Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers) and hockey's Toledo Walleye (affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings). In these roles, he was responsible for operating the video boards and ribbons at Fifth Third Field and Huntington Center for all MudHens and Walleye home games. Garcia created and edited graphics that were used during the game and on the television production.
As an undergraduate, Garcia worked two years as a student videographer for the UT Communication Department. He covered football, basketball, women's soccer, tennis and volleyball events and made highlight reels for utrockets.com. Along with creating highlight reels for the school's official athletic web site, Garcia served as a member of the Savage Arena Camera Crew, running the camera for volleyball and women's basketball games.
Garcia attended Liberty Benton High School in Findlay, Ohio, where he was a two-year letterwinner in basketball. As a senior, he earned honorable mention all-conference accolades and helped the Eagles post a perfect 20-0 record in the regular season, finishing first in the 2008 Associated Press Division III poll. A year earlier, Garcia played a key role in helping Liberty Benton to a 26-1 mark and an appearance in the Division III state finals.
A Tower Blue Scholarship Award winner, Garcia graduated from Toledo in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in communications. He is continuing his studies at Toledo, pursuing a master's degree in liberal arts. Garcia and his fiancée, Erica now make their home in the South Bend area.
In addition, a familiar face temporarily joins the Fighting Irish staff this fall, as former All-America forward and 2014 Notre Dame graduate Natalie Achonwa assumes the responsibilities of operations specialist on an interim basis, filling in for Katie Schwab, who is currently hospitalized. Achonwa, who has been living in South Bend for much of the summer while rehabilitating a knee injury suffered during last spring's NCAA Tournament, will help coordinate Notre Dame's travel and its social media coverage, while also assisting the staff with the day-to-day operations of the women's basketball office.
"We're grateful to Natalie for stepping in to help us while Katie is recovering," McGraw said. "As our fans know, Natalie is extremely passionate about Notre Dame women's basketball, and she's very organized, focused and goal-driven, which are three things that make her an ideal fit for this role. This also will allow Natalie to continue rehabbing her knee right here in town, close to the doctors and therapists that she has already been working with, and make sure she's 100 percent in time to join her WNBA team, the Indiana Fever, for the 2015 season."
NEW 2014-15 SEASON TICKETS ON SALE SOON
For the sixth consecutive year, Notre Dame women's basketball registered a nearly 90-percent renewal rate among its season ticket holders, a sure sign that the Fighting Irish remain one of the hottest tickets, not only in town, but throughout the women's college basketball world.
A limited number of season ticket packages remain available for interested fans, with those set to go on sale Sept. 9. Fans wishing to purchase new Notre Dame women's basketball season tickets may do so by contacting the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office (574-631-7356; UND.com/tickets or @NDTIX) weekdays during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET). Fans also are reminded that the season ticket package does include admission to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Maryland on Dec. 3 in Fort Wayne (to be played at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum).
There are numerous benefits to being a Notre Dame women's basketball season ticket holder (contact the ticket office or visit its web site for details), with one of those being the opportunity to purchase single-game tickets two days before the general public. Those pre-sale single-game tickets for season ticket holders go on sale Oct. 21, with the general public sale beginning on Oct. 23.
Last year, Notre Dame tied a program record by ranking fourth in the nation in attendance (8,694 fans per game), and placing among the top five in the country in attendance for the fifth consecutive season (as well as the top 16 for the past 14 years). In addition, the Fighting Irish averaged better than 8,000 fans per game for the fifth year in a row and have had 35 sellout crowds in that time (an average of seven per season).
What's more, Notre Dame fans filled Purcell Pavilion to better than 95 percent of its total capacity in 2013-14, the best of any school in the country. That support clearly produced yet another intimidating home court advantage and led to a perfect 17-0 record on the court, with no team other than the Fighting Irish that reached the NCAA Final Four or NCAA regional finals (Elite Eight) last year even managing to fill their arena to 70 percent of its capacity.
As for the complete 2014-15 Notre Dame women's basketball schedule, the Fighting Irish currently are awaiting the dates and times of their ACC games to be announced by the conference office, something expected to be delivered in the next two weeks. Once that occurs, the University's Faculty Board on Athletics then will need to give its approval to the full Notre Dame women's basketball schedule before it can be released to the public.
KATIE SCHWAB UPDATE
Notre Dame women's basketball operations specialist Katie Schwab has been moved to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where she continues to fight back from after suffering life-threatening complications related to Type 1 diabetes on June 9. Schwab is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary's College and former student manager who is beginning her second season on the Fighting Irish women's basketball staff, coordinating team travel and the program's social media presence, as well as and helping to oversee the popular Notre Dame girls' basketball summer camps.
Schwab, who is still in a comatose state, has had to fight off several infections, as well as some fluctuations in her blood sugar and blood pressure. As doctors continue to study her case and adjust her medications to compensate, Schwab's family hopes she will resume making small, incremental improvements, some of which she has shown in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, Schwab's friends and numerous Notre Dame women's basketball supporters came together at the Linebacker Lounge in South Bend for the Katie Schwab Fundraiser. Between many of the unique and high-profile auction items that were available at the fundraiser, as well as on-site and on-line donations, the group (informally known as "Team Katie") has raised more than $21,000 to help with Schwab's medical expenses.
As a reminder, Schwab's family and friends have set up a page on the CaringBridge web site (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/katieschwab) to provide well-wishers with updates on her condition. Supporters who would like to send Schwab notes, cards or other words of encouragement are asked to send them to the Notre Dame women's basketball office (C113 Joyce Center, First Floor, Notre Dame, IN 46556) or to stop by the women's basketball office located at Gate 1 of Purcell Pavilion weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (ET). Members of the Fighting Irish staff continue to make regular visits to see Schwab and her family in Chicago and will be happy to deliver your messages -- we all believe the support shown by the Notre Dame women's basketball community (and others outside the Fighting Irish family) continues to do wonders to help speed Katie's healing, so thank you and keep those prayers and cards coming!
FIGHTING IRISH IN THE WNBA
Two Notre Dame alums will be playing in the WNBA playoffs, which got underway last night and continue through mid-September. Devereaux Peters ('12) and her defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx have made the postseason for the third time in Peters' three seasons in the Twin Cities, while Kayla McBride ('14) is capping off a stellar rookie campaign with the San Antonio Stars with her first playoff appearance.
As it turns out, Peters and McBride are going head to head in the first round of the WNBA postseason, as Minnesota and San Antonio meet in the best-of-3 Western Conference semifinals. The teams squared off in Game 1 Thursday night in Minneapolis, with the Lynx holding off a late Stars' rally to post an 88-84 win at the Target Center. McBride started and led San Antonio with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while Peters had six points, making all three of her shots in a reserve role for Minnesota.
Game 2 of this Western Conference semifinal series will take place at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday from the AT&T Center in San Antonio, and will be televised live nationally on ESPN2. If necessary, the decisive third game would be played Monday night back in Minneapolis (time and television to be determined).
McBride finished the regular season averaging a team-high 13.0 points per game, and ranked sixth in the WNBA with a .396 three-point percentage. She is a heavy favorite to be named to the WNBA's All-Rookie Team in the coming days, following in the footsteps of Skylar Diggins ('13), who was named to that same squad last year.
Meanwhile, Peters averaged 4.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game for Minnesota during the regular season, finishing 10th in the WNBA in the latter category despite missing the first five games of the year while recovering from preseason knee surgery.
Diggins' Tulsa Shock nearly advanced to the playoffs this year, remaining in contention into the final week of the regular season before being eliminated and ending with a 12-22 record (the most wins for Tulsa since the franchise relocates from Detroit in 2010).
Like McBride, Diggins is a prime candidate for postseason WNBA honors, most notably the league's Most Improved Player award, as well as all-league accolades. She finished second in the WNBA in scoring at 20.1 points per game (more than doubling her 8.5 ppg. output from last season, and ranked fourth in the league in assists at 5.0 assists per game (exceeding last year's 3.8 apg. production).
FOLLOWING THE FIGHTING IRISH
For more information on the Notre Dame women's basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women's basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director