Irish Expected To Remain Among Nation?s Elite|
Sept. 1, 1999
And the beat of the Notre Dame women?s basketball team goes on and on.
Over the past several seasons, winning has become the norm for the Irish women?s basketball program. In earning a spot among the nation?s elite women?s basketball programs, the Irish have compiled an impressive 79-22 record and won more than 78 percent of their contests over a three-year period.
Last year, Notre Dame produced its best season ever in terms of winning percentage in compiling a 26-5 mark (.839). The 1998-99 campaign was highlighted by a school-record 16 consecutive weeks spent in the top 10 of the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls.
The 1999-2000 campaign will produce much of the same results or better as the Irish lose just one starter from a year ago. Sheila McMillen, who finished her career as Notre Dame?s all-time career three-point leader, is the lone starter lost on team that will once again have great balance and athleticism.
Irish head coach Muffet McGraw, who will enter her 13th season along the sidelines, knows that her team will have a target on its back this year. No longer is Notre Dame?s success a surprise, now it is expected.
?Last season we were the hunted, and every time we went out to play, we were a target for other teams,? McGraw says. ?I anticipate that this season there may be even greater expectations placed on us. I think we handled the pressure well last season and never let anything get in the way of us accomplishing our goals.?
This veteran squad, which will return two seniors (Danielle Green and Niele Ivey) and two juniors (Ruth Riley and Kelley Siemon) in the starting lineup, awaits the challenges of the upcoming campaign with great anticipation. It is a seasoned squad with a great deal of confidence in its ability to exceed last season?s achivements. Three highly-rated freshman, which McGraw rates as her best recruiting class in school history, will benefit from the experience and leadership of this year?s returning players
?No team is capable of success without having great leadership,? McGraw says. ?Our veterans have a great attitude, and I think that will carry over to the freshman. There is a level of expectation now, and everyone understands the level at which they have to perform. The bar has been raised for the program.?
Riley, arguably the best center in women?s basketball, returns for her third season, and is one of the top contenders for national player-of-the-year honors. The 1999 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, she led Notre Dame in both scoring and rebounding as a sophomore. An imposing player inside, she has the ability to dominate both ends of the floor.
?Ruth is certainly the key to our inside game,? McGraw says. ?We expect her to be dominant every time she takes the court. This past season, she had some games where she didn?t take a lot of shots. We have to get her the ball more on a consistent basis.?
With the long-range shooting of McMillen gone, Notre Dame?s inside game will be an important factor early on in the campaign. Siemon, a two-year starter, will be a key frontcourt player. An extremely athletic player, McGraw expects her to become more of an offensive threat this season.
The Irish backcourt tandem of Green and Ivey once again will cause havoc for Irish opponents. They are two of the most athletic players in the BIG EAST and have proven they are extremely versatile players both offensively and defensively. Green has an all-around game and was the team?s third leading scorer and second leading rebounder rebounder a year ago.
?Danielle is one of the best rebounding guards in the game,? McGraw says. ?There aren?t many guards who have the ability to get to the boards as well as she does. I look for her to take some of the scoring pressure off Ruth. She is are most explosive player.
Ivey was enjoying her finest season in an Irish uniform before she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee in the semifinals of the BIG EAST tournament in Notre Dame?s win over Rutgers. That injury forced her to sit out the championship game against Connecticut and Notre Dame?s two NCAA tournament outings against Saint Mary?s and LSU.
She has an inside and outside game and is a dangerous scoring threat either driving to the basket or from three-point range.
?There is no underestimating the important role Niele has on this team,? McGraw says. ?She helps us in so many ways at both ends of the floor. Our tranisition game is very effective with both she and Danielle on the floor. This year Niele will take on more responsibility as a scorer. She is one of our bst three-point shoorters.?
Senior forward Julie Henderson gives Notre Dame depth in the frontcourt. Although her numbers from a year ago were slightly down from what she averaged as a sophomore, Henderson gives the Irish a spark on the defensive end of the floor.
Sophomore Ericka Haney is expected to come into her own and be a real surprise player for the Irish this season. She is a gifted athlete with tremendous potential. McGraw looks for Haney to become more of a perimeter player this season in order to better utilize her athletic abilities.
Notre Dame?s freshman class of forward Amanda Barksdale and guards Alicia Ratay and Monique Hernandez is one of the most heralded in school history. All three ranked among the top 100 high school players a year ago and all should make significant contributions during the upcoming season.
?This is our strongest incoming freshman class that we?ve recruited since I got here,? McGraw says. ?We filled all of needs with quality players who have the capability of coming in and contributing immediately.?
Scoring once again will not be a problem for the Irish who averaged 81.0 points per game a year ago. Notre Dame has three returning players ? Riley, Green and Ivey ? who averaged double figures a year ago as well as two others who have the potential to score in double figures.
This edition of Irish basketball certainly will prove to be the most explosive with its ability to score points in a variety of ways. McGraw looks for the team to press more and score more points in tranisition.
While the ?98-?99 campaign clearly was one of the most successful seasons in the 22-year history of the program, McGraw hopes her team learned something from its abrupt second round NCAA tournament loss to LSU.
?Although we had a great year, we didn?t have a great finish,? McGraw says. ?This year we feel we have something to prove. I?m hoping that what happened at the end of last year will prove to be a learning experience and motivation for us in the season ahead. What I hoped our players learned is that everyone on the floor must be ready to contribute and be productive in the big games.?
Since the arrival of Ruth Riley to the Irish program two years ago, McGraw has been left with little to worry about when it comes to Notre Dame?s inside game.
The 6-5 sophomore center from Macy, Ind., led the Irish in scoring and rebounding a year ago as she averaged 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. A third-team All-America and first-team all-BIG EAST selection, Riley already is the school?s career blocked shots leader with 171. Last season, she finished third nationally in that category with 3.3 blocked shots per game and was first nationally in field goal percentage as she registered a school-record 68.3 percent accuracy from the field.
For the second consecutive summer, Riley earned a spot on one of the USA Women?s Basketball national squads. She helped the U.S. capture the silver medal at the World University Games in July and was the third-leading scorer (10.3 ppg.) and second-leading rebounder (5.2 rpg.) on a squad that finished with a 4-2 record.
?Ruth is one of the premier players in the game,? McGraw says. ?She has continued to improve every season because she has such a tremendous work ethic. Her time spent with the USA Women?s Basketball program this summer will certainly benefit her.
?We?re going to expect even more of Ruth this season in terms of her productivity on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, and in her leadership in practice and games. Our plan is to get her the ball more this season. This will be especially important until our outside game becomes more efficient.?
With the loss of McMillen?s outside shooting accuracy, Notre Dame?s inside game takes on a greater dimension and importance at the start of the season. Two-year starter Kelley Siemon certainly becomes a key factor in the lineup. The 6-2 forward from Edina, Minn., netted 5.8 points a year ago and was the team?s third-leading rebounder as she averaged 5.0 rebounds.
Siemon looks to improve upon those numbers this season as well as incorporate a free-throw jumper as part of her offensive arsenal. While Riley expects to draw a lot of attention inside, Siemon hopes to force the opposing defense away from the basket
?Kelley is an extremely athletic player,? McGraw says. ?We want her to become more involved in the offense this season and become more of a scoring threat. Ruth is going to draw a lot of attention inside, so it?s important for Kelley to establish more of a perimeter game. If she can develop that aspect of her game, this will create more balance for us offensively.?
Senior Julie Henderson gives Notre Dame depth and experience in the frontcourt. At 6-3, the Ann Arbor, Mich., native can play either the center or forward positions. Although her numbers were slightly down from the previous season in averaging 1.9 points and 2.7 rebounds, she provided defensive intensity and was a spark off the bench.
?Julie is a real inspirational leader for us on the court,? McGraw says. ?She is a strong defensive player, but we?re hoping that she become more involved in our offense. Julie has shown flashes of being a very effective and efficient scorer.?
Junior Meaghan Leahy, a 6-4 forward from Wilbraham, Mass., looks to expand her role role this season. Leahy?s biggest contribution in her first two seasons was as a rebounder. McGraw looks for her to become more involved offensively and improve upon her 1.2 scoring and rebounding averages.
?Meaghan is still looking to find her niche,? McGraw says. ?I think this year she will feel more comfortable knowing where she can play and what she has to do. Meaghan is a very talented player and capable of contributing in more ways this season. We?re hoping she can settle into her role and contribute more off the bench.?
Freshman Amanda Barksdale, a 6-3 forward from Friendswood, Texas, is a strong defensive player and extremely talented shot blocker. As a senior at Clear Brook, she averaged 8.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.0 blocks per game. She and Riley are likely to form a shot-blocking duo.
Early in the upcoming campaign, McGraw will look for Barksdale to contribute in a defensive role off the bench. As the season progresses the coaching staff will get her more involved in the offense. At the start of the season, however, it will be Barksdale?s play on defense which will earn her playing time.
?Amanda is a tremendous shot blocker and strong defensive player with great athletic skills,? McGraw says. ?She will immediately improve our defensive intensity. Amanda runs the floor well and we hope to be able to get her and Ruth in the lineup at the same time to take advantage of their shot-blocking skills.?
With the return of senior guards Danielle Green and Niele Ivey, Notre Dame?s athleticism in the backcourt offers great balance to this team. Both are strong defensive and offensive players who can generate points in a number of ways.
Green, a 5-8 native of Chicago, Ill., returns for her fifth season. She missed the entire 1996-97 campaign after tearing her Achilles tendon on the first day of practice. Green has averaged double figures scoring each of the past two seasons. Last year, she was the team?s third-leading scorer (14.4 ppg.) and second-leading rebounder (7.2 rpg.), but is capable of increasing both of those totals during the upcoming campaign.
McGraw expects Green to pick up where she left off a year ago, the only thing she is looking for out of her senior guard is a little bit more consistency in the scoring column in order to take some of the pressure off of Riley. She is a versatile athlete who can contribute in a number of different ways.
?I?m expecting Danielle to have a great season.? McGraw says. ?All we need from her this season is a little bit more consistency each and every time she steps on the floor. We also need her to improve her ball-handling abilitities. Danielle is one of the best rebounding guards in the game, there aren?t many guards in the country who have the ability to get to the boards as well as she does. I look for her to take some of the scoring pressure off Ruth.?
Ivey?s best season at Notre Dame was interrupted at the end of the ?98-?99 campaign when she went down with the ACL injury in the BIG EAST tournament. The 5-8 guard from St. Louis, Mo., had established a balanced game from both the inside and outside throughout the season, she was extremely dangerous driving to the basket as well as being a threat from three-point range.
Ivey was ranked in the top 13 nationally in three statistical categories: three-point field goal percentage (eighth), free throw percentage (tied for ninth) and assists (13th). She was one of four players who averaged double double figures a year ago as she registered 13.2 points and 3.8 rebounds. In addition, Ivey led the Irish in two statisticall categories ? assists (6.5 per game) and steals (2.6 per game). The only question mark for Ivey is if she will be at 100 percent when the season starts.
?Niele is such a vital part of our offense and defense. She runs the tranisition game and that is a real key for us,? McGraw says. ?Niele has worked extremely hard since her surgery after the NCAAs rehabilitating her knee. I am confident that she will be ready for the start of the season.?
Sophomore Ericka Haney, a 6-1 guard/forward out of Toledo, Ohio, will become more of a perimeter player this season in order to better utilize her athletic abilities. She is a very talented and gifted athlete and is contention a starting job. Haney, who saw increased playing time as the season progressed, averaged 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in her first season. She will be a threat at both ends of the floor.
?Ericka wil make the biggest jump in terms of improving her game than any of our returning players,? McGraw says. ?We plan to use her around the perimeter more this season. Her great athletic skills will help us to become a better scoring and rebounding team on the perimeter. Ericka is capable of scoring a lot of points on any given night and will be vying to be a starter in the lineup.?
Freshmen Alicia Ratay and Monique Hernandez are both expected to make immediate contributions. Ratay gives Notre Dame a solid outside shooting threat left void by the graduation of Sheila McMillen, while Hernandez will be the backup to Ivey at point guard as well as playing at the number two spot.
Ratay, a 5-11 native of Lake Zurich, Ill., earned first-team Parade Magazine All-America honors. She averaged 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals during her final scholastic season and finished her career with 2,740 points and 712 rebounds. A three-point shooter with tremendous long-range accuracy, she will push for a starting job and is somebody who is capable of scoring in double figures.
?Alicia is going to remind a lot of people of Beth Morgan (Notre Dame all-time leading scorer who graduated in 1997) because she is such a pure shooter,? McGraw says. ?We were very successful when we had Beth and Sheila shooting from the perimeter, and we could have that again with Alicia and Niele. I?m anticipating that Alicia is going to have an immediate impact in the program.?
Ratay also boasts international experience having played for the U.S. Youth World Games Team in the summer of ?98. She helped that team capture the bronze medal in Moscow.
?Alicia?s experience playing internationally cannot be underestimated,? McGraw says. ?It has helped improve her overall game and helped her mature greatly as a player.?
Hernandez, a 5-9 point guard from Rio Rancho, N.M., was a USA Today honorable mention All-American. She will play a vital role early as Ivey?s backup early on, the amount of playing time Hernandez sees will be dependent on the progress of Ivey. Hernandez averaged 15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists in her senior season at Cibola.
?Monique is going to be backing up Niele right away,? McGraw says. ?Depending on how quickly Niele gets back to 100 percent, she could start the season seeing a lot of time. Monique is extremely quick, our style of play suites her well. We?re not going to expect her to score a lot of points for us right away, but we are going to rely on her to get the ball up the floor and get us into our offense when she is in the game. She will also see time at two guard.?
Junior Imani Dunbar, who has come off the bench in her first two seasons and been used primarily in defensive situations, will again have that role in the upcoming campaign. The 5-7 native from San Angelo, Texas, understands her role on this team.
?Imani has played well for us when we?ve needed help in certain situations,? McGraw says. ?She knows that when she comes off the bench she is always ready to play.?
Once again, the Irish will be tested by a tough preseason schedule that includes the likes of Illinois, North Carolina, defending national champion Purdue, Michigan State, USC, Florida International and Marquette. The BIG EAST has gone from an 18-game to a 16-game league schedule which has given McGraw more flexibility with her non-conference scheduling. The league once again will be strong with the Irish, Connecticut, Rutgers and Boston College all in contention for the top spot.
?The BIG EAST just gets better and better every year,? McGraw says. ?Connecticut, Rutgers and Boston College are all going to be strong again this year. We are at a point now in our league where anything can happen on any given night.
?The focus for us once again will be to get ready for the NCAA tournament. Last season didn?t have a lot of close games and I think that hurt us somewhat at the end of the season in the NCAAs. We?ve put together a schedule this year that is going to test us right away and prepare us for close games that we know we?re going to be up against in a tournament situation.?
Philadaelphia, Pa., plays host to the 2000 Women?s Final Four. McGraw, a native of Pottsville, Pa., who played collegiately at St. Joseph (Pa.), would like nothing more than to have her team contending for a national championship in the City of Brotherly Love.
With one Final Four appearance (1997) already, McGraw and her team fully appreciate and know all that will be needed for her Notre Dame squad to earn a visit when March Madness rolls around.
? 1998-99 Awards and Honors
? Diana Braendly
? Danielle Green
? Ericka Haney
? Niele Ivey
? Muffet McGraw
? Sheila McMillen
? Ruth Riley
? Notre Dame In Final NCAA Statistics
??Team Rebounding Margin 4th (+9.8) Scoring Offense 9th (81.0) Scoring Margin 9th (+15.5) Won-Lost Pct. 10th (.839) Three Point FG Pct. 13th (.372) Free Throw Pct. 17th (.737) Field Goal Pct. 18th (.466) Field Goal Pct. Defense 20th (.377)