June 5, 2012

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Notre Dame junior forward Natalie Achonwa (Guelph, Ontario/St. Mary’s Catholic) has been named to the final 12-player roster for the 2012 Canadian Senior Women’s National Team, it was announced Tuesday. Canada will be competing in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament June 25-July 1 in Ankara, Turkey, with the top five finishers from that 12-team event earning a berth in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.

Achonwa (pronounced uh-CHAWN-wuh) has been a fixture on the Canadian Senior National Team roster since September 2009, when she was the youngest player to suit up for her nation’s top basketball squad at age 16. Since then, she has competed for Canada in a variety of international events, most notably the 2010 FIBA World Championships in the Czech Republic, when Canada finished in 12th place. Achonwa averaged 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in eight games at the tournament, including a near double-double (12 points, eight rebounds) against reigning European champion France.

After electing to remain on the Notre Dame campus to continue her studies and training during the summer of 2011, Achonwa rejoined Canada Basketball at the conclusion of the 2011-12 academic year. In her first appearance for her country in more than a year, Achonwa averaged 7.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game with a .692 field goal percentage (9-of-13) against China in a three-game exhibition series from May 16-18 in British Columbia, with Canada winning twice against the world’s seventh-ranked nation (and one that already has qualified for the London Olympics).

Achonwa had a series-high 12 points in the 78-66 opening-night win over the Chinese, then added 10 points in a game two loss (67-51) before earning the starting nod for the series finale. However, she suffered a minor upper body injury early in the game (won by Canada, 45-37) and was sidelined for the remainder of the night — she has since been cleared and has resumed practicing.

Ranked 11th in the world, Canada completed a short training camp in Toronto this past weekend, and departed Monday night for Europe. Prior to playing in the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, the Canadians will play two exhibitions against Great Britain Saturday and Sunday in Edinburgh, Scotland, followed by an exhibition tournament June 14-16 against Croatia, Czech Republic and France in Lyon, France. The Czech Republic is the highest-ranked nation in the tournament field (No. 4), followed by France (No. 8) and Croatia (No. 31).

Canada opens group play at the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament on June 25 against Mali (19th in the latest FIBA world rankings), followed the next day by a matchup with France. The top two finishers in each of the four three-team groups will advance to the quarterfinals, with the winners of the four quarterfinal games punching their ticket to London. The remaining spot will be awarded to the country that emerges from a four-team consolation bracket made up of the teams that lost in the quarterfinals. Canada is seeking its first Olympic berth since 2000, when it finished 10th in Sydney, Australia, and aiming for its first-ever medal (Canada’s best finish at the Olympics was a fourth-place showing at the 1984 Los Angeles Games).

“What a great opportunity for Natalie to be able to compete against some of the very best players in the world,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “Natalie has always been extremely proud to represent her country and we’re all so excited to follow her progress and help Canada qualify for the Summer Olympics.”

“We are very excited about this group of athletes that we are taking to the Olympic Qualifier,” Canada head coach Allison McNeill added. “It was a very difficult decision for the coaching staff as we had many excellent athletes in camp. When we got down to 16 athletes, they were all capable in playing for Canada.”

Achonwa recently completed her second season at Notre Dame, averaging a career-high 7.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with a .557 field goal percentage. As one of the top reserves for the Fighting Irish last year, she scored in double figures 10 times, including a career-best 20 points at Creighton on Dec. 4, and a critical 18-point, seven-rebound performance in Notre Dame’s 80-49 win over No. 5 Maryland in the NCAA Raleigh Regional final on March 27 in Raleigh, N.C.

In her two-year career, Achonwa is averaging 7.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with a .561 field goal percentage, which would rank as the sixth-best career shooting ratio in school history (she needs eight more field goal attempts to qualify).

Achonwa will be one of two Notre Dame women’s basketball players to represent her country on the international stage this summer. Incoming freshman guard Michaela Mabrey (Belmar, N.J./Manasquan) will suit up for the United States Under-18 National Team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship Aug. 15-19 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico.

In the fall, Achonwa and Mabrey will be part of a Notre Dame program that went 35-4 in 2011-12, advancing to the NCAA national championship game for the second consecutive season and earning its second BIG EAST regular season title. The Fighting Irish are expected to have two starters and eight total players returning in 2012-13, along with a three-player freshman class that includes Mabrey and was ranked as high as third in the nation by All-Star Girls Report (and is a consensus top-10 class by all major recruiting services). It’s the 16th consecutive year that the Fighting Irish have attracted a top-20 recruiting class, with Notre Dame being one of only three schools in the country to hold that distinction.

For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@ndwbbsid or @notredamewbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.

— ND —