Notre Dame women's basketball: Newcomer ND getting plenty of ACC respect

Curt Rallo
South Bend Tribune

Atlantic Coast Conference coaches expect Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team to be in the thick of the league battle following voting at ACC women’s basketball media day in Greensboro, N.C. Wednesday.

Notre Dame was selected the preseason No. 2 team in the ACC based on a vote by coaches and Blue Ribbon Panel.

Notre Dame received 14 first-place votes and 794 total points from among the 57 votes cast by the Blue Ribbon Panel, which is composed mainly of local and national media members. Duke was the panel's pre-season ACC favorite, earning 39 first-place votes and 843 total points.

In the coaches' preseason poll, Notre Dame earned five of the 15 first-place votes and 211 total points for second. Duke was chosen for the top spot (10 first-place votes, 220 points).

"All you have to do is look at how close the voting was in both polls to see how competitive and exciting ACC women's basketball is going to be this season," Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. "There are seven ACC teams, including Notre Dame and Syracuse, that reached the NCAA tournament last year, and we could easily top that number this year with the development that every team in the league has shown.’’

Along with the team balloting, four Notre Dame players received individual accolades as part of the preseason voting.

Named to the preseason team were senior Kayla McBride, senior Natalie Achonwa and sophomore Jewell Loyd.

Freshman forward Taya Reimer earned a spot on the ACC Newcomer Watch Lists from both the Blue Ribbon Panel and the league's coaches.

Notre Dame has four starters and nine monogram winners returning from last year's team that went 35-2 and was ranked No. 2 in both major national polls at season's end.

The Irish open their season with an exhibition game at 7 p.m. (ET) Oct. 30, playing host to California (Pa.) at Purcell Pavilion.

Regional issue

When Notre Dame was one of four schools awarded an NCAA women’s basketball tournament regional, it was an important moment for the program.

Irish coach Muffet McGraw doesn’t see it as a step forward for women’s basketball.

“I’m actually opposed to the concept,” McGraw said of the NCAA having regionals played on homecourts of teams in the tournament. “I don’t think it’s good for the game. I think we need to play at neutral sites.”

Nebraska, Louisville and Stanford were also awarded regionals, which will be played on March 29 and 31, or March 30 and April 1. The NCAA Women’s Final Four will be held on April 6 and 8 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

“I think that hosting first and second rounds should go to the team that earned it, but after that, the tournament should be neutral and create parity,” McGraw said. “I think it’s a bad precedent. I hope it is only a one-year trial. I think all the coaches in the country agree with that. We’re fortunate that we were chosen to host, but I would have preferred all neutral sites.”

Road warriors

Notre Dame faces a rugged road schedule this season, with games at four teams likely to be ranked in the top 10 — Duke, Tennessee, Maryland and Penn State.

But having played eight-time national champion Connecticut eight times in the past four seasons on the Huskies’ court can toughen a team up.

“I’m very glad we have this senior class that has the experience of playing at a lot of tough places throughout the country, whether it was at Tennessee or some of the venues in the Big East,” McGraw said. “They’ve played at a lot of tough places, but they should be used to playing on the road.”

McBride excels

McBride, a 5-11 guard, was one of six collegians and 33 players who participated in the USA World Championship Team mini-camp held earlier this month in Colorado.

McBride, who averaged 15.9 points and 4.6 rebounds last season as a junior, was the Big East tournament MVP.

“The national experience was definitely humbling,” McBride said. “Being out there with the best players in the world, and being one of only six collegiate athletes there was definitely humbling and inspiring. It was great to see what’s ahead.

“You look at players like Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker, players you grow up watching, and now you’re playing with them. It really hasn’t hit me, yet. It’s something I’ll take with me my entire senior year. It’s something that will stick with me. It’s going to motivate me more than enough my senior year.”

Hatchell prayers

McGraw said Irish prayers and thoughts are with North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell, who is taking a leave of absence. Hatchell has been diagnosed with leukemia.

Hatchell’s overall record is 908-321, and she has coached the Tar Heels for 28 seasons.

“I sent her a note,” McGraw said. “I don’t know her really well, but I would sit with her at games in the summer (recruiting). I like her a lot. I respect her tremendously for what she’s accomplished. I know she’ll fight it. She’s a fighter. She’s going to beat it. We’re hoping she’s back on the sidelines.”

Notre Dame freshman forward Taya Reimer was named to the ACC Newcomers to Watch list. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER.