Dec. 29, 1999
By Alan Wasielewski
Over the last three seasons, the Notre Dame women's basketball program has vaulted itself into the national spotlight. Ranked in the top 10 to start the 1999-2000 season, a first in the program's history, it seems that once again be a top contender in the NCAA tournament in March.
Meaghan Leahy is the epitome of progress the team has made over the last three years. Teamwork has become the essence of Notre Dame's framework. Each player has made sacrifices and adjustments and accepted the role she has been assigned. That unselfishness has paid great dividends and is a main reason for the team's success.
A 6-4 junior forward, Leahy has embraced her assigned role and knows what she wants to accomplish when she is put in a game and asked to contribute coming off the bench.
"I want Coach (Muffet) McGraw to be confident when she puts me in the game," Leahy says. "Even though I am not going to do anything flashy, I'll hustle and give the team the little intangibles it needs. "
Her attitude is what separates is what successful and great teams like Notre Dame need. Leahy knows what she needs to do to help the team win, but the adjustment from an elite player in high school, starting each game, to that of a role player coming off the bench in college was not easy.
"I had a really slow adjustment to the college game," Leahy says. "For most of my freshman year, I wasn't sure what I was doing, it was kind of like a shock."
A native of Wilbraham, Mass., Leahy attended Suffield Academy a prep school in Connecticut where she earned high school honorable mention all-america honors. Her basketball team did not lose a game her final two seasons at Suffield while winning two state prep titles. When her career ended, she was the holder of several of her school's scoring and rebounding records.
But looking back on her high school career, Leahy believes that she her adjustment to the college game was somewhat slowed because of the competition she faced.
"I went to a small high school in New England," Leahy says. "I was the big fish in a small pond. I never thought that playing college ball would be easy, but I was not prepared for just how difficult it was. I felt during my freshman year that academics, athletics, and a social life were wearing me down. At times it seemed that things were out of my control."
Eventually, Leahy was able to make changes in her life that enabled her to blend better with her teammates and become more effective on the court as well. She also developed a close bond with her best friend on the team, fellow junior Imani Dunbar.
"Sophomore year I got a really good group of friends and started to click with the team," Leahy says. "Imani and I have been through a lot. Freshman year, we usually entered the game when it had been decided already. We would go to the scorers table and say to each other, 'We are going to play well. There is two minutes left in the game and we are up by a lot, but we are going to go in and do what we could.' I don't know if I could have made it through freshman year without Imani, her faith in knowing we could get through anything."
Leahy has averaged two points and two rebounds in seven minutes of playing time a game over her career. Those numbers should rise this year and Leahy knows that she has to develop into a team leader as well.
"This year I am trying to be more consistent," Leahy said. "I am in my third year and I want to be more of a leader. Even if I am not the leading scorer or a starter on the team, I can be a role model for the underclassmen."
Embracing her leadership role, Leahy has analyzed two early losses this season to Illinois and Purdue and knows what the team can learn from those setbacks.
"Some of the games this season I think everyone was looking around for someone to provide a spark - get everything going. When that didn't happen, it seemed everyone was in shock with the position we found ourselves in," Leahy says. "There are also moments where everything clicks and we play extremely well. If we can play like that in March there is no doubt we will be in the Final Four."
That is the goal for the team each season, reaching the Final Four. It has gone from a hope to an expectation in just three seasons. As the fortunes of the team continue to rise, the years Leahy and her teammates played at Notre Dame will turn out to be a perfect model for the Irish teams of the future - willing to sacrifice together as a team to reach a common goal.