Nov. 12, 2004
by Carl Adamec
Jacqueline Batteast’s house in South Bend is 10 minutes from the Notre Dame campus. So, of course, she always dreamed of growing up and playing for the …
Tennessee Lady Vols?
“I had Tennessee stuff everywhere,” Batteast said with a laugh. “But once I got older, more so in high school, having the chance to go to Notre Dame was such a great opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity the 6-foot-2 forward has taken advantage of. Coming off a season in which she averaged 16.0 points and 8.6 rebounds, she’ll enter her senior year with 1,315 points and 747 rebounds and a chance to join 2001 national player of the year Ruth Riley as the only members of Notre Dame’s 1,000-1,000 club.
On Oct. 28, she capped off an extensive series of preseason honors by being named the BIG EAST Conference Preseason Player of the Year, the first player from a school other than Connecticut to be so honored since Miami’s Vicki Plowden in 1992. Batteast also has been named a preseason All-American by four media outlets, including preseason national player-of-the-year honors from Basketball News.
But it hasn’t always been this easy.
Batteast was the blue-chipper in Notre Dame’s six-player recruiting class that would keep the Irish among the national elite. Batteast lived up to the billing as she was named the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and the national freshman of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA).
But Notre Dame’s youth showed. The Irish were solid at home and dreadful on the road. They were upset in the quarterfinals of the BIG EAST Tournament by Syracuse and routed out of the NCAA Tournament by Tennessee in Knoxville in the second round.
Batteast was named to the all-BIG EAST second team for a second time as a sophomore, but for her team it was much of the same, at least until March when the Irish upset host Kansas State to reach the NCAA Sweet 16. They were eliminated there by Purdue.
Something had to change. Batteast took a good look at herself.
“My sophomore year was a difficult year all around,” Batteast said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. But as a junior, I knew I couldn’t lose my confidence because 10 other people look up to me. I had to be able to push myself through difficult situations and give the team confidence. I had to do it for my team, not for myself.”
Batteast was a bit of a frontrunner her first two years. When things went well for her, they really went well. But when she struggled, she really struggled.
She was at her best against Connecticut in South Bend last January, recording a double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds), as the Irish rolled past the Huskies, 66-51. But now, even when she wasn’t at her best, she’d fight her way through to get the job done. She was named to the all-BIG EAST first team and also to the NCAA Tournament East Regional team after averaging 22.0 points and 11.7 rebounds in three NCAA games. With a chance to play host Connecticut for a Final Four berth, the Irish fell to Penn State in the final minute, 55-49.
“It would have been difficult to beat UConn in Hartford,” Batteast said. “But I was happy with the way we played against Penn State, just disappointed in the outcome.”
Now, she’s a senior. This is it.
“I have to be consistent,” Batteast said. “I can’t have those eight-point, five-rebound games. I have to approach every game like it’s UConn or an NCAA Tournament game. We have some young people that are going to play a lot, and me and the other captains have to help them. I’m not much of a vocal leader, so I have to lead by example.”
The Irish, 62-32 since winning the 2001 national championship, return a strong front line with Batteast, senior center Teresa Borton and junior forward Courtney LaVere. Junior guard Megan Duffy was BIG EAST Most Improved Player last season and was a preseason all-BIG EAST second team selection this year.
Ironically, Batteast and Borton are all that’s left from that six-player recruiting class of four years ago.
“Coming in, we had some big shoes to fill,” Batteast said. “National championship this, No. 1 that … There was a lot of pressure for 18-year-olds. It was great for the team, great for the program to win it all. We should have learned to deal with the pressure, but it takes time.
“This year is the first time we don’t have anyone left from that team, so it’s a chance to make our own identity as we try to get to Indianapolis. We want people to stop talking about the 2001 team and talk about 2005. It’s wide open. There’s no more Diana Taurasi. I’m a senior. There’s no one older. You can say you’re going to work hard, but you have to do it. Everyone has the same goal. For us, for the first time, it’s reachable.”
The 2005 NCAA Final Four is set for the RCA Dome in Indianapolis April 3 and 5.
“To go to the Final Four in the capital of my home state, a lot of people would like to see that,” Batteast said.
“We’ll be as good as we want to be. We’re going to have to mature a lot and be able to win on the road. We have a tough schedule and we’re being given a lot of opportunities to do some great things if we take care of business.”
Batteast is enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters, where she is majoring in Film, Television and Theater and intends to graduate in May. She wants to work in TV, though she’ll certainly get the opportunity to play in the WNBA next summer.
“I’d like to be a studio analyst,” Batteast said. “I’d like to be involved in sports. If I can keep playing, that’s great. I enjoy talking about sports, so I’m going to try to get paid for it.”
But before it’s time to move on, she’ll try to lead the Irish back to the top of the college basketball world, beginning Friday at 9 p.m. (ET) when they play host to Illinois State in the first round of the Preseason WNIT at the Joyce Center. With a victory, the Irish would face either Nebraska or Western Illinois in the quarterfinals of the Preseason WNIT Sunday at a site to be determined.
It’s the start of an opportunity Batteast doesn’t want to let slip away.
Carl Adamec covers BIG EAST women’s basketball for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.