Nov. 3, 2016
By Leigh Torbin
The long drive to Dallas and the 2017 Final Four for No. 1/2 Notre Dame women’s basketball begins on Thursday night as the Irish play host to Roberts Wesleyan at 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center in the team’s lone preseason exhibition game.
Notre Dame returns nine members of its 2016 team along with a trio of starters in Lindsay Allen, Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld. Picked to finish first in the Atlantic Coast Conference by both the league’s coaches and its Blue Ribbon media panel, the team also claimed the top spot in the preseason Associated Press poll. Expectations are high and the proverbial bull’s-eye on their backs is substantial, but the Irish are prepared to earn their way to the top.
The Irish have won each of their last 31 exhibition games, including last year’s rout of Wayne State. Here are some things to mull over heading into the latest such matchup.
About Roberts Wesleyan
Located in Rochester, New York, Roberts Wesleyan College is the defending champion of the National Christian College Athletic Association. Picked to finish third in their conference this upcoming year. Redhawks head coach Gary Andrews in a Decatur, Indiana native who also served as head coach at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne from 1992-2001 before making the jump to collegiate coaching. Andrews’ niece, Taya Andrews, is a freshman for the Redhawks and a Fort Wayne native.
A Division II school, Roberts Wesleyan beat Division I Cleveland State in their 2015-16 exhibition game so the Redhawks have Notre Dame’s undivided attention heading into the contest. Brooke Fields tops all returning players for Roberts Wesleyan with her 15.6 points per game a season ago.
Decorated Freshmen Debut
Thursday night will see the first collegiate action for both Naismith National High School Player of the Year Jackie Young and Gatorade National High School Player of the Year Erin Boley. Both members of Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class are poised to play significant roles for the Irish this season. Boley has established herself during preseason practices as perhaps the team’s top three-point shooting option and a tough matchup standing 6-foot-2. Young, the leading scorer in Indiana high school history ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” male or female ÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢’Â¬” has not only shown a good sense at the offensive end but has shown promise at the defensive end of the court as well.
Along with Boley and Young, fans will also get to see 2015 Indiana Miss Basketball Ali Patberg for the first time. The sophomore missed her freshman season due to a knee injury but the 2015 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year is close to full-strength as 2016-17 dawns. Irish fans can expect to see a tenacious presence added to an already strong backcourt led by two-time Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Lindsay Allen.
Atop the Preseason Poll
The last time Notre Dame played a game ranked No. 1 in the country, the Irish were cutting down the nets in St. Louis after winning the 2001 national championship. Parity is the forecast in women’s basketball on a national level this year with numerous teams which are realistically dreaming of unseating national champion Connecticut while the Huskies themselves remain a strong championship contender.
A ranking born mainly out of respect for what the Irish have done in recent years, including five consecutive Final Fours from 2010-15, Thursday night will be Notre Dame’s first chance to show on the court why they deserve to hold the top spot in the country as the 2016-17 season officially commences next week.
Tonight’s game will not be video-streamed live on the internet as the Irish hone in on other preseason operational needs, but, as always, Bob Nagle returns for another season on the audio call as the radio voice of the Irish. Games will again be heard this year on Pulse FM 96.9 FM and 92.1 FM in South Bend along with the global streaming options at WatchND.tv.
The Nation is Talking
There was a significant amount of national buzz around the Irish on Tuesday as Karen and Kevin Keyes Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach Muffet McGraw and junior forward Brianna Turner travelled to Bristol, Connecticut for a day at ESPN’s studios as a part of the NCAA’s national women’s basketball media day. McGraw and/or Turner appeared live on SportsCenter, Mike & Mike (co-hosted by former Notre Dame football player Mike Golic) and interviewed for a variety of other ESPN platforms with prominent names like Doris Burke, Rebecca Lobo, Kara Lawson, LaChina Robinson, Mechelle Voepel and others.
The sports broadcast experts were invariably impressed not only with the preseason outlook for the team and the confidence of their Hall of Fame coach, but particularly by the calm, witty and out-going visage of Turner who has aspirations of working in the broadcasting field.
Watch out for a fun upcoming behind-the-scenes video from ND Sports Blogger Tamara Brown, likely to be posted on Monday in addition to the written recap already posted here at UND.com.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications associate director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame’s women’s basketball and men’s golf teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.