Key veterans return for Notre Dame women's basketball

Ken Klimek
Tribune Correspondent

There is a quiet calm about them — no braggadocio, no grandiose predictions.

That’s not surprising because the veteran trio of Notre Dame seniors Michaela Mabrey, Hannah Huffman and graduate student Madison Cable already have won more games (108-6) in their first three seasons than any group before them. They have been through the challenges and conquered most of them. But they want to taste that one last step.

There is no doubt Notre Dame has a gym full of basketball talent.

“Chemistry, defense, hard work and leadership are the things that will help us the most,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.

And this season, the burden of leadership on a team featuring eight McDonald’s All- Americans, will in large part fall on Cable, Mabrey and Huffman. They could be the key to how far the Irish go. And they all bring different specialties to the Irish lineup.

Mabrey is a 3-point sharpshooter and zone buster (7.2 ppg), while Cable can mix it up inside as well as shoot from the outside. She averaged 6.2 ppg and 4.1 rebounds in her off-the bench role a year ago. Her .476 3-point shooting percentage was best in the ACC last season. Huffman, a crowd favorite, knows defense is the key to her game.

“This group of seniors knows the amount of work needed to get to our goal,” said McGraw.

And now the veterans must convey that work ethic to the freshmen joining other veterans like juniors Taya Reimer and Lindsay Allen and sophomores Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld.

They all focus on the same thing – being leaders on a team targeting a sixth straight Final Four and winning a national championship.

“They are great leaders,” said McGraw. “We have had so many great leaders recently – Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride and many others. This group is very focused. They have a sense of urgency about them.”

Cable, who did not play as a freshman because of stress fractures in both feet, was granted a fifth year of eligibility, and she hopes to make the most of it.

“It was an easy decision to come back,” said Cable. "This team has the ingredients to be special.”

Cable uses her aggressiveness to lead.

“She can shoot, rebound, make the big play,” said McGraw

She spent the summer on an internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and will be in a graduate studies program during her final season. Cable's dramatic tip-in in the final minute of play helped Notre Dame beat South Carolina in last year’s regional in the NCAA tournament.

Huffman showed her worth in the stretch run of last season. She was a defensive specialist and embraced the challenge.

“It is just a matter of effort,'' she said. "You have to just control your opponent’s every move.''

Known for her strength, it may surprise many that Huffman is the fastest Notre Dame player.

“From one end of the court to the other, I may be the fastest,” said Huffman. “But working so hard on the defensive side, I am not sure I can keep up with some others in terms of endurance.”

Mabrey, who is joined on the roster by her freshman sister, Marina, knows time is running out for the seniors.

“It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of concentration. We really do have to take one step at a time,” she said.

“I don’t feel any pressure to lead. I will help any other player in any way I can. This team has a number of players who can lead — all in their own way,”

Through the long haul of the regular season, Atlantic Coast Conference play and the NCAA tournament, McGraw knows she will need help — not only from her veterans, but the freshmen as well.

And the freshman trio of Ali Patberg, Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale “…are proficient on the offensive side of the floor,’’ said McGraw. “But I like defense. Now we need them to put in the same kind of effort on the defensive side.''

The first test for the Irish will be Saturday, Nov. 7, in an exhibition game at home against Wayne State.

Notre Dame’s Michaela Mabrey, center, stands with teammates during NCAA college basketball Media Day, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in South Bend, Ind. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)
Notre Dame women's basketball head coach Muffet McGraw talks to her team during Notre Dame Women's Basketball Media Day on Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)