Jan. 25, 2002
by Chris Masters
In the world of college athletics, success is often measured by numbers on a page. Wins and losses, along with individual statistics are used to gauge a team’s ability and a coach or player’s job performance on a nightly basis. However, in the case of Notre Dame junior guard Karen Swanson, her numbers would tell you virtually nothing about the impact she has had on the Irish program over the last three years.
One glance at the statistics page and you might be tempted to overlook the Westlake, Ohio, native. She is averaging 1.0 points and 0.4 rebounds in seven games this year, logging around five minutes per night. But those figures are misleading, for Swanson has displayed leadership, maturity and guidance that stretch well beyond any statistical report.
“I honestly believe success on any basketball team isn’t measured by playing time,” she said. “There are so many important things for everyone to contribute and for everyone to do. I just try to do whatever I can do to make our team better every day and I hope that rubs off on the rest of the team.”
Swanson has been a steadying influence on a Notre Dame squad which has six freshmen on its roster and is in the midst of a transition following last year’s NCAA championship season. Despite her limited playing time, her ability to maintain her focus and drive on the floor, and show poise and grace off the floor, have made her a fan favorite at the Joyce Center ever since she set foot on the Notre Dame campus in 1999.
“Last year was fun, winning the national championship, but this year has been fun in its own right, too,” Swanson said. “This year, I feel like I have a lot more responsibility, as odd as that sounds. I’m playing less because our margins of victory aren’t as large, but I feel like I have more leadership to show. I have to set an example every day for the youth that we have since they may not be used to Coach (Muffet) McGraw’s style of coaching and the way she wants things done.”
A three-sport letterwinner at Westlake High School, Swanson was a two-time all-district and all-conference standout and earned Southwestern Conference Most Valuable Player honors as a senior. When it came time to choose a college, she turned down scholarship offers from several schools, electing instead to come to Notre Dame as a walk-on and follow in the footsteps of her father, Bob, who is a 1974 graduate, and her sister, Julie, who earned her Notre Dame degree in 2000.
It didn’t take long for the crowds at the Joyce Center to become attached to the determined point guard, chanting her name and calling for her appearance late in several Irish victories. She played in 23 games in each of her first two seasons at Notre Dame and has carded a career-high five points on two occasions, most recently turning the trick back on Nov. 26 against Army.
“I’ve been in the program for two and a half years now, so if I can do anything to show the freshmen how things work, then maybe it will help them catch on and adjust a little more,” Swanson said.
“I also see myself as a leader for people might not get as much playing time. I feel they look to me to see how I handle it and if I’m complaining about playing time, then that’s what other people are going to do, too. Listening to Swanson, it is easy to see she has cultivated a philosophy which could lead to a solid coaching career when her playing days are over. In fact, that is one of the goals she aspires to, passing on the basketball knowledge she has gained at both the high school and college level to a new generation of student-athletes.
“I really would like to go into coaching,” Swanson said. “I know how important the coaches in my life have been and to have that kind of impact on someone would be a really worthy thing. I always see how players look up to their coaches, and I guess I would like to have that kind of positive impact on someone, too.”
Swanson, an entrepreneurship major, also has her eye set on possibly opening up her own small business upon graduation. She already has received much attention for a calendar she designed, marketed and sold as part of a class she took last fall. The calendar features casual photos of each member of the 2001-02 Irish women’s basketball team, taken almost entirely by Swanson, and has been a popular purchase for many Notre Dame followers this season.
In accordance with NCAA regulations, all of the proceeds from her calendar sales have gone to a charitable cause – the World Trade Center Public School Relief Fund – which aids children who were victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City. The charity also assists public schools that were located near Ground Zero and had to relocate in the wake of the tragedy, as well as children who personally witnessed the events of Sept. 11.
“The thing I like best about the calendar project is that the proceeds are going to a very good cause,” Swanson said. “I feel that my team and I are doing our part to help the many people that were affected by this tragedy.”
Whether it be as a player, coach or business owner, it is clear Swanson is well-prepared for whatever the future has in store for her.