Jan. 9, 2012
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
Regarded by many as the team that propelled the Notre Dame women’s basketball program into the national spotlight, the University’s 1997 NCAA Final Four squad — represented by nine former student-athletes and staff members — returned to campus Jan. 6-8 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the team’s historic season.
Attendees from Notre Dame’s first-ever Final Four team included former players Jeannine (Augustin) Scheffler (’97), Roseann Bohman (’97), Mollie Peirick-Busam (’98), Sheila (McMillen) Keller (’99) and Niele Ivey (’00), student manager Christy Grady (’98), trainer Michelle Lovitt and practice players Sean Bodkin and Matt Busam.
Festivities featured a Friday night dinner, tours of the Notre Dame campus and dinner on Saturday, and a Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Team members also gathered for a pre-game tailgate in Purcell Pavilion’s Club Naimoli on Saturday, before watching the 2011-12 Irish defeat No. 2 Connecticut in overtime, 74-67. The former Notre Dame players made their way onto the court midway through the first half of the contest for a special recognition ceremony.
Mollie Peirick-Busam, who served as the organizer of the reunion, averaged 7.9 points and 4.4 assists during the memorable 1996-97 campaign and posted 1,034 points during her career. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and former practice player Matt Busam, and the couple has three children.
“We can reflect back on that magical season now and say we did something special – but when you’re in the moment, it feels like its what you’re supposed to be doing and what you’re playing for,” Peirick-Busam said. “I don’t know if we ever had the Final Four as a goal, but we strived to work hard and win every game we played.”
Notre Dame began its charge to the 1997 NCAA Final Four with a pair of impressive wins in Austin, Texas. The Fighting Irish opened with a 93-62 rout of Memphis before a memorable 86-83 victory on St. Patrick’s Day over host school, Texas. All-Americans Beth Morgan (’97) and Katryna Gaither (’97) each scored a game-high 29 points, but just as important was the contribution from Bohman, an unsung forward who went eight for eight from the field and scored 16 points to help lift Notre Dame past the Longhorns.
“It was such a special team to be a part of. Every game was a new memory with the way we won,” said Sheila (McMillen) Keller, who ranked fourth on the team with 8.0 points per game. “Beating Texas in Austin – no one expected us to win that game, and I think that’s what motivated us to keep going and keep winning.”
After defeating the Longhorns, the Irish moved on to the East Regional in Columbia, S.C., where the team handled Alabama, 87-71, to set up a regional final matchup with George Washington.
Behind a double-double from Gaither, the Irish booked their first ever trip to the Final Four with a 62-52 win over the Colonials. Gaither was named the East Regional Most Outstanding Player after averaging 26.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game with three double-doubles during Notre Dame’s four-game run to the regional championship.
The Irish packed their bags and headed to Cincinnati for a national semifinal matchup with Chamique Holdsclaw and the Tennessee Volunteers on March 28, 1997. Notre Dame trailed by just one at the half (29-28), but Holdsclaw’s 31 point-performance helped the Lady Vols pull away in the second half and ultimately secure an 80-66 victory.
Former student manager Christy Grady (’98)
Notre Dame battled injuries all season long and by the midpoint of the BIG EAST Championship, the Irish roster had been whittled down to just seven healthy players. At that point, head coach Muffet McGraw called on student manager Christy Grady to suit up for the remainder of the season while still performing her managerial duties.
Grady saw action in four games down the stretch and her first career basket in the team’s BIG EAST semifinal win over Georgetown was selected as CNN’s “Play of the Day.”
“At first I was extremely nervous about joining the team,” Grady said. “Roseann Bohman talked through the plays they were going to run for me. The big point was they wanted me to score, so really it was just, `run the same play for Christy down the court.’ It’s a testament to my amazing teammates to think it was normal and totally fine that the manager would go in and play. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Grady, who works with former Irish football greats Golden Tate and John Carlson as a partnership development manager for the Seattle Seahawks, continues to use many of the skills she perfected as a manager in her current role in professional sports.
“I’m very comfortable talking to people at all levels in my career because of my time with the basketball program,” Grady said. “It’s very easy for me to establish professional relationships because Notre Dame is a very relationship-driven place. The values of honesty and integrity really shine through for me, and I learned those traits during my Notre Dame experience.”
A number of team members who couldn’t make the trip to South Bend passed along their well wishes to their former teammates. Those individuals included VCU women’s basketball head coach Beth Morgan Cunningham and former Army servicewoman Danielle Green (’99), who currently works in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Julie Henderson (’00) intended to make the reunion, but had to change her plans after learning of a last-minute work commitment. Henderson is a model for Wilhelmina and has appeared in ads for L’Oreal, La Redoute Paris, Target, H&M, Avenue, Evans UK, and Macy’s.
— ND —