Oct. 8, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — It’s been a few years since Muffet McGraw first put a whistle around her neck and stepped on a court in a dimly-lit gymnasium not far from the Main Line in suburban Philadelphia, to begin her first practice as a basketball coach. And while it’s true Archbishop Carroll High School is a far cry from the bright lights of the University of Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion and college basketball’s biggest stage at the NCAA Final Four, don’t think for one second that the Fighting Irish Hall of Fame head coach isn’t excited about the start of another season.
“I’m thrilled and can’t wait to get started,” said McGraw, who is in her 28th season under the Golden Dome, and is the two-time reigning consensus National Coach of the Year. “The first practice is always the most fun time for me. I was up probably every night for a week just waiting for (Monday).”
Like a child bounding down the stairs on Christmas morning, McGraw eagerly strode into her office at Purcell Pavilion on Monday morning, quickly gathered the rest of the Notre Dame coaching staff and adjourned to the team’s conference room to plan the first official practice session of the 2014-15 season.
Less than 48 hours later, and with two practices under their belts, the Fighting Irish know the upcoming campaign is still in its infancy. It’s a season that offers a healthy does of optimism, fueled by the return of 10 monogram winners, including the starting backcourt of junior All-America guard Jewell Loyd (Lincolnwood, Ill./Niles West) and sophomore guard Lindsay Allen (Mitchellville, Md./St. John’s College). Add to that the perimeter scoring punch of junior guard/tri-captain Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan), the all-around versatility of senior guard Madison Cable (Mt. Lebanon, Pa./Mt. Lebanon) and a promising post presence in sophomore forward Taya Reimer (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern), and you have a recipe for success.
As a veteran leader on a team that now features seven freshmen and sophomores, Loyd has taken on the added responsibility of helping to show the younger players the standard of excellence that has become synonymous with the Notre Dame women’s basketball program.
“I’m just trying to help to teach them to work hard, bring energy every day, compete with each other and give 100 percent,” Loyd said. “I just want to compete. Obviously, everyone wants to see us play UConn again, but I’m focused on Ferris State, our first game, and practice later today, so I’m just taking it day by day.”
Loyd will help Notre Dame deal with the challenging prospect of replacing a pair of All-Americans and top-10 WNBA draft picks in guard Kayla McBride and forward Natalie Achonwa, both of whom were multi-year starters and key contributors on last year’s Fighting Irish squad that went 37-1, won the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season and tournament titles, and charged to the program’s fourth consecutive NCAA Final Four appearance, as well as its third trip to the NCAA national championship game in four years.
What’s more, there’s a bit of the unknown that comes with the introduction of three freshmen, all of whom are ranked among the top 20 in the nation by various recruiting services (with those same outlets pegging Notre Dame’s incoming class as high as No. 3 in the nation). While guard Mychal Johnson (Huntington, W.Va./Huntington St. Joseph) and forwards Brianna Turner (Pearland, Texas/Manvel) and Kathryn Westbeld (Kettering, Ohio/Kettering Fairmont) are more than likely to make an impact on Fighting Irish fortunes at some point during their careers, the question remains as to how quickly the trio adjusts to the speed, power and overall mental grind presented by the college game.
“I’m planning for them to have a big role,” McGraw said. “It’s up to them how big of a role they play, but we really could use them right away. Hopefully they’ll come along — I’m going to be patient with them, but really, my expectation is pretty high for all of them.”
Notre Dame will continue to refine the fundamentals and begin installing pieces of its 2014-15 offensive and defensive packages in the coming days, with the countdown to the Fighting Irish exhibition opener against Ferris State exactly four weeks from today (7 p.m. ET on Nov. 5 at Purcell Pavilion), a game McGraw already has her eye on.
“That first game is one I’m really looking forward to,” she said. “That’s so important to us — to get off to a great start, set the tone, get the freshmen in the uniforms, get them out here in front of our fans, get everyone to see them and see what it’s going to be like. We’re going to have to go slowly, and we’re not going to have as much in. We’re going to have to be pretty simple early on.”
In the interim, Notre Dame players and coaches will be taking part in several events to highlight the final rush to the start of the 2014-15 season, beginning Thursday when McGraw presents a check to the Foundation for Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center with a portion of the proceeds from last year’s Notre Dame Pink Zone initiative to raise money in the fight against cancer. Since the Fighting Irish first began holding Pink Zone events in 2009, they have raised nearly $750,000 for local and national cancer charities.
Two weeks from today, McGraw and Loyd will head to the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina, to represent Notre Dame at 2014 ACC Women’s Basketball Media Day. Also on the morning of Oct. 22, the ACC will announce the preseason coaches’ poll, all-conference team and newcomer watch list.
The following day (Oct. 23), single-game tickets for the 2014-15 Fighting Irish women’s basketball season will go on sale to the general public, beginning at 8:30 a.m. (ET) through the Murnane Family Athletics Ticket Office, located at Gate 9 of Purcell Pavilion. Fans can purchase tickets in person, by phone (574-631-7356) or by going online to UND.com/buytickets. Season ticket holders will have an early opportunity to purchase single-game tickets beginning Oct. 21.
On Oct. 27, Notre Dame will hold its annual Women’s Basketball Open Practice from 4-5:30 p.m. (ET) at Purcell Pavilion. Immediately following the event, the Fighting Irish will hold a special “Meet The Freshmen” session, giving fans the chance to get up close and personal with the newest members of the Notre Dame women’s basketball family.
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