March 29, 2001

Associated Press Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Notre Dame’s Niele Ivey is giving Southwest Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles some competition as the local favorite in the Women’s Final Four.

Ivey certainly has a story to match.

Five games into her career with the Irish, during the 1996-97 season, Ivey tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. While the injury knocked her off the court and into the training room before her college career really got started, it also gave Ivey a goal – to play for a national title in St. Louis – only reachable with a fifth year of eligibility.

When Ivey, established in the Notre Dame backcourt three years later, tore the ACL in her left knee during the 1999 Big East tournament, it only reinforced the idea that a trip home was predestined.

“That time, I don’t think there was a reason and we felt like life was being a bit unfair to her,” McGraw said. “We again went back to God’s plan and said, ‘This has got to be it. We are going to make it to the Final Four.”

It took Ivey a long time to recover from the first ACL tear, and she wasn’t back playing her best basketball until late in her sophomore year. But knowing what was needed to recover from the injury made the rehabilitation following the second tear easier, McGraw said.

The prospect of playing in St. Louis didn’t hurt.

“It was in the back of my mind, but I knew not to look too far ahead,” Ivey said. “It’s just something I decided, especially this summer, to work really hard on my game, my knees and my health. I think it’s paid off. We’re here.”

Perhaps paying homage as well as welcome, the principal of Ivey’s high school, Cor Jesu Academy, led a delegation to met their former star at the airport when Notre Dame arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday. Ivey holds the school records for career points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots.

“Right when I walked off the airplane, they had banners, uniforms, candy, balloons,” Ivey said. “It was great to see so many people out there supporting me from the beginning.”

Ivey and teammate Kelley Siemon took time off Wednesday to cruise the Loop, a trendy neighborhood in suburban University City that’s home to thrift and other odd clothing shops, ethnic restaurants, one of the area’s best record stores and an art-house theater.

“We were a little bit late, so the stores were closed,” Ivey said.

Still, even without time to poke around St. Louis and stir up old memories, Ivey said she’s got to take care to not let the homecoming overshadow why she’s back in St. Louis.

“Hopefully I don’t get too emotional,” Ivey said. “I’ve played in this gym before, so that’s a good thing for me.”