Taya Reimer a calming voice for Notre Dame women's basketball

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — This time last year, Taya Reimer’s world was turned upside down.

Predominantly a role player off the bench, the 6-foot-3 freshman was pressed into a starting post position when senior Natalie Achonwa had her career cut short by a knee injury in the Elite Eight win over Baylor.

Heading into her second Final Four against South Carolina Sunday night, Reimer has a little better idea of what to expect from everything that makes the event – and the competition – special.

Besides adding a veteran perspective to enhance her own game, Reimer has become a positive influence for freshmen posts Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld.

Considering the inside game the Gamecocks will bring to Tampa, those youngsters will definitely need a calming voice.

“(Reimer) is coming in as a veteran now,” said Irish coach Muffet McGraw. “It’s such a different perspective. She has turned into the mentor for that group. Bri and Kathryn look to her to tell them what to do.

“She’s really a good communicator. Last year, she learned a ton. She has been able to think back on what she could have done better or differently. It helped her a lot this year.”

“Taya’s best thing is being an encourager,” Turner said. “She knows what to expect.

“She’s always calming me down. ‘Hey, you might have messed up that play. You’re going to have a lot more plays.’

“She’s really encouraging, no matter what the circumstances.”

“The fact that (Reimer) has been there already helps a lot,” said Westbeld. “Her experience of having been in that environment will help us a lot.

“It’s going to be crazy, we know that. We have to stay focused, play our game; not get ahead of ourselves.

“(On the court), she does a really good job of keeping us sane and focused on what the task is. When things get a little crazy, she’s there to calm us down. Whatever we need, she’s always there for us.”

Reimer learned a lot about crazy in the week leading up to last year’s Final Four. Once Achonwa went down, Reimer suddenly took center stage.

Her freshman year, she averaged 7.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 19.2 minutes. In the two biggest games of the season, she played 30 minutes and had nine points and five rebounds in the win over Maryland, then logged 28 minutes with six points and four boards in the loss to Connecticut.

“It forced me to grow up a lot,” Reimer said of last year’s experience. “The position I was in last year, having so many seniors, especially in (the post – Achonwa and Arial Braker), I learned a lot about leadership.

“I have a little bit more experience. I know what to expect mentally going into this year.”

This season, Reimer is averaging 10.1 points and 6.0 boards. In the last 10 games, she has scored in double figures seven times. Her biggest improvement has come with that jump shot from the free throw line. If she has success with that, it keeps the defense from collapsing on Turner on the low post.

“She's maybe our most consistent player,” McGraw said of Reimer. “If you looked at her stats through the (Atlantic Coast Conference) schedule and through the tournament, she's going to get us eight to 10 points and eight to 10 rebounds a game, and we can pretty much count on that.

“Consistency is one of the strengths that she's had. She also brings a lot of physical play around the basket both offensively and defensively.”

Credit her baptism by fire last April with lighting the fuse for this year’s improvement.

“She handled (the sudden change of her role) really well,” McGraw said. “It was such a monumental task. She was ready for it mentally. She was as prepared as she could have been.

“This year has to feel so different. It should be a lot easier for her.”

Reimer knows, from experience, it’s not going to be easy.

“It’s a battle,” she said of the challenge of the Final Four. “That’s the biggest thing I took from last year. (Sunday’s semifinal opponent South Carolina) is just so big (three players at least 6-4), and is such a physical team. We have to make sure we’re battling for every rebound and every loose ball. Effort is going to be the biggest key.”

Reimer has had a head start to make sure the posts are up to the challenge.

Experience usually is the best teacher.

Notre Dame’s Taya Reimer (12) eyes the basket against Connecticut’s Breanna Stewart (30) Saturday, December 6, 2014, during the Connecticut-Notre Dame women's basketball game at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

WHAT: National semifinal

WHO: Notre Dame (35-2) vs. South Carolina (34-2)

WHEN: Sunday, 6:30 (EDT)

WHERE: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.