April 14, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Junior guard and tri-captain Melissa Lechlitner (Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s) was selected as this year’s recipient of the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player Award, it was announced during the 2008-09 Notre Dame Women’s Basketball Banquet on Tuesday evening at the Joyce Center. Lechlitner was a double honoree on Tuesday, as she also was chosen to receive the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award.
Approximately 450 people were in attendance at this year’s banquet, as the Irish celebrated a 22-9 season that included a No. 23 ranking in the final Associated Press poll, the program’s 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and its 15th 20-win season in the past 16 years. What’s more, Notre Dame tied for fourth in the rugged BIG EAST Conference with a 10-6 record (its 11th top-four finish in 14 seasons as a league member), and registered its 17th consecutive winning season, as well as its 21st in the 22-year Muffet McGraw era and 28th in the 32-year history of Irish women’s basketball. The Irish also collected five wins over ranked opponents this season (including road victories at Southeastern Conference members Vanderbilt and LSU) and now have 50 wins over ranked teams in the past 11 seasons.
In addition, Notre Dame finished ninth in the country in attendance for the second consecutive season with an average of 7,168 fans per game (second-best in school history), posting its ninth consecutive top-20 attendance ranking, and the Irish were named this year’s recipient of the NCAA/BIG EAST Pack The House Challenge award after attracting the sixth sellout in school history (11,418 fans) for a Dec. 7 victory over Purdue. Notre Dame closed out the year as the inaugural winner of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Pink Zone Challenge trophy by virtue of raising the most money (more than $45,000) for breast cancer research and awareness among ’07-08 national attendance leaders.
Other honorees at Tuesday night’s banquet (as chosen by a vote of their teammates) included: junior guard/tri-captain Ashley Barlow (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), who was selected as the team’s Defensive Player of the Year; sophomore forward Becca Bruszewski (Valparaiso, Ind./Wheeler), who was a repeat choice for the team’s Most Improved Player Award; and junior guard Alena Christiansen (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons), who took home the Spirit Award. The two departing members of the Irish senior class — student managers Caitlin Madden and Brad LeNoir — also delivered speeches during the evening’s festivities.
For the first time in the McGraw era, Notre Dame will have all 12 players returning next season, along with a two-player freshman class that has been ranked as high as seventh in the nation by All-Star Girls Report. It’s the 13th consecutive year that the Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country that holds that distinction.
The Irish also will get a head start on preparing for the 2009-10 season, as they embark on a 10-day tour of Europe from May 9-19. The Notre Dame travel party (which includes all 12 returning players, coaches and staff) will visit France, Monaco and Italy during their trip, with stops at the famed Eiffel Tower in Paris, as well as The Vatican (and St. Peter’s Basilica), among the highlights of the adventure. The team also is tentatively scheduled to play some exhibition games during the tour, with further details to be announced in the coming weeks.
Here’s a closer look at the 2008-09 Notre Dame women’s basketball award winners:
Melissa Lechlitner (Jr., G, Mishawaka, Ind./South Bend St. Joseph’s)
Notre Dame Monogram Club MVP/Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Lechlitner emerged as arguably Notre Dame’s most reliable player during the 2008-09 season, starting all 31 games at point guard after having made just one start in her first two years with the Irish. One of three captains for this year’s squad, Lechlitner more than doubled her statistical averages across the board, averaging 10.6 points and a team-high 3.4 assists per game with a 1.38 assist-to-turnover ratio. She also ranked eighth in the BIG EAST Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and 12th in assists, improving upon those figures during league play when she logged 4.1 assists per game (seventh in the BIG EAST) and a 1.61 assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth in the conference), as well as an .826 free throw percentage that also was seventh-best in the loop.
Lechlitner scored in double figures 17 times this season after recording 16 double-digit scoring nights in her first two years combined. She chalked up a career-high 19 points in Notre Dame’s 62-51 win over 17th-ranked Purdue on Dec. 7 before a sold-out crowd at the Joyce Center, scoring seven points in the final five minutes to help preserve the win. It was one of six games this season in which Lechlitner either scored or assisted on a key basket in the last two minutes to help the Irish to a victory. She also handed out at least five assists in nine games, doubling her total in that category from her first two seasons under the Golden Dome. Similarly, she was charged with two turnovers or less in more than half (16) of Notre Dame’s 31 games this season, even though she started every game, had the ball in her hands a majority of the time as the point guard, and averaged more minutes (33.3) than any other Irish player this year.
In the classroom, Lechlitner has displayed the same kind of consistency, registering a 3.357 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) through the fall 2008 semester while working towards her bachelor’s degree in psychology in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. During the fall, she was selected to participate in Notre Dame’s elite Academic Honors for Student-Athletes program, which pairs qualified student-athletes with faculty mentors in their chosen field of study. Lechlitner also was named to the Dean’s List in the spring of 2007 after compiling a 3.75 semester GPA.
Ashley Barlow (Jr., G, Indianapolis, Ind./Pike)
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Barlow has made a name for herself in her three years at Notre Dame as one of the program’s most versatile players. That certainly was the case again in 2008-09, as Barlow earned second-team all-BIG EAST Conference recognition after being an honorable mention all-league standout a year ago. She averaged a career-high (and team-best) 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, along with 2.8 assists and a career-best 2.4 steals in 29 contests (28 starts). She ranked among the BIG EAST Conference leaders in scoring (19th), steals (4th), free throw percentage (9th, .779) and three-point percentage (14th, .364), and also knocked down a team-high 40 three-pointers this season.
Barlow was especially strong at the defensive end, where she piled up a career-high 70 steals, the third consecutive season in which she has recorded at least 60 thefts. Only three other players in the program’s 32-year history have posted three straight 60-steal campaigns — Mary Gavin (1985-88), Coquese Washington (1989-93) and current Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey (1997-2001). Barlow, who became the 24th 1,000-point scorer in program history on Feb. 11 vs. Louisville, ranks 20th on the school’s all-time scoring list (1,107 points), and ninth in both career steals (201) and three-pointers made (86). What’s more, she will enter her senior season in 2009-10 needing just 28 rebounds to become only the second Notre Dame women’s basketball player ever to amass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists and 200 steals, joining recent graduate Charel Allen (2004-08) in that elite club.
Becca Bruszewski (So., F, Valparaiso, Ind./Wheeler)
Most Improved Player Award
After closing the 2007-08 season with a bang (and a pair of career-high scoring games in the NCAA Tournament), Bruszewski came back with a stellar sophomore campaign, starting all 31 games for the Irish this season. She more than doubled her statistical averages in scoring (10.7 ppg., third on the team) and rebounding (5.0 rpg., second on the team), and also became a true threat from the perimeter with a team-best .375 three-point percentage, hitting 21-of-56 from long range after going 1-for-2 from beyond the arc during her rookie season. Furthermore, she was 11th in the BIG EAST with a .487 field goal percentage, and was particularly sharp during conference play, ranking 27th in the BIG EAST in scoring (11.8 ppg.) and 13th in defensive rebounds (4.4 drpg.).
Despite not starting once as a freshman, Bruszewski made a seamless transition to the starting lineup, scoring in double figures 17 times after posting six double-digit games last year. She also scored a career-high 20 points twice in a three-game span late in the season (at South Florida and against Syracuse), and added her first career double-double on Feb. 8 against No. 25 DePaul with 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, not to mention a baseline jumper with 50 seconds left that put Notre Dame ahead for good.
Alena Christiansen (Jr., G, Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons)
It didn’t take long for Christiansen to endear herself to her Irish teammates and the Notre Dame faithful. A walk-on guard and former practice player with the program, Christiansen joined the active roster on Dec. 19 following season-ending injuries to sophomores Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory. Less than 24 hours later, she suited up for Notre Dame’s home game against Loyola-Chicago, and made her first career appearance late in the game, entering to the raucous cheers of the Joyce Center crowd and knocking down a free throw for her first career point.
Christiansen appeared in six games during the second half of the 2008-09 season, scoring three points while adding two steals and one rebound. However, her biggest contributions came during practice, where her work ethic, dedication and determination were an inspiration to her teammates and coaches.
— ND —