Harvard's Raster excited for trip home to face No. 1 Irish
It appears the cheers coming from the Rasters will easily reach the rafters when Harvard visits Notre Dame on Friday for a women’s basketball season opener.
Roughly just as certain, senior guard Madeline Raster will be in the Crimson’s starting lineup.
The former South Bend Saint Joseph star, after all, has started 84 consecutive times for Harvard dating back to game four of her freshman season.
If she can keep the streak going through her final season, and the Crimson can add four games between the Ivy League tourney and a possible postseason bid, Raster would match the 45-year-old program’s all-time standard for starts.
“I’ve definitely been lucky in terms of not being injured,” Raster said unassumingly this week, “and lucky that Kathy (coach Kathy Delaney-Smith) has believed in me since my freshman year. I’m just proud of my ability to stay consistent. It’s something I pride myself on.”
Raster’s lack of assuming doesn’t stop there.
When asked if Harvard’s motivation for scheduling Friday’s game at ND was to give her a homecoming of sorts — something many programs, including Notre Dame, try to do at least once for their players during their careers — Raster said she didn’t know.
“Let me check,” she said politely over the phone, before calling the question out to Delaney-Smith, who was nearby.
“Yes, that was it,” Raster said a bit sheepishly a moment later.
Doesn’t matter. She’s going to soak this experience all in.
“I’m really excited,” Raster said of visiting Purcell Pavilion with her teammates to face the defending national champions. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to. My family’s really excited, too, and I’m going to love being in that atmosphere.
“I grew up going to those games, watching players like Skylar Diggins, and before that, Melissa Lechlitner,” Raster said, referring to a pair of South Bend products who became Irish stars. “It’s a big part of why I wanted to play basketball.”
When she plays it Friday, her immediate family is tentatively expected to be there in full force — and that means quite a force.
Madeline’s the second of Bob and Tammye’s seven children.
Older sister Catherine graduated last year from IUPUI and is pursuing a master’s in social work at Boston College, just 20 minutes from Harvard’s campus, while younger sister Megan is a sophomore at Notre Dame.
Four more siblings, two brothers and two sisters, range from sixth grade to high school senior.
“Oh, wow, I don’t know the exact number,” Raster said of how many supporters she’ll have in all at the game, “but my dad says there’s a cousin coming from Alaska, maybe some coaches from high school, and some other family and friends.”
The Rasters plan to host a dinner for the team Thursday night at their South Bend home, though there won’t be much time for further visiting Friday, as Harvard is set to leave right after the game for its Sunday afternoon contest at Purdue.
“Murph’s family is phenomenal,” Delaney-Smith said of the Rasters while referring to Madeline by an abbreviation of the second-year co-captain’s middle name. “It’s also a family of die-hard Notre Dame fans, but Bob has promised me they’re not going to be torn for this one.”
The coach isn’t torn about her affection for the family’s second-born.
“She is the kind of kid coaches love to coach,” said Delaney-Smith, who is in her 37th season guiding the Crimson. “She’s fun to coach for many reasons. She’s talented and skilled, but more than that, she wears her heart on her sleeve. Murph has tremendous passion for the game, and everyone that comes to see us play, she becomes one of their favorite players.
“She’s not going to score a lot of points, but she can score, and she’s our defensive stopper,” Delaney-Smith continued. “She has a lot of fun when she plays, and a lot of fun at practice. She’s the first one to practice, the last to leave, and almost every practice, won’t leave until she hits a half-court shot.”
The 5-foot-9 Raster has been consistent in her production at Harvard.
She averaged 7.6 points as a freshman, 10.6 as a sophomore and 9.7 last season, helping the Crimson to records of 14-14, 21-9 and 18-11 with three straight WNIT appearances.
While not a high-percentage shooter overall, Raster has drained 90-of-272 on 3-pointers over the last two years for 33.1 percent, and was second on the team in assists last season at 2.9 per game.
At Saint Joseph, she was a four-year regular. She helped the Indians to a pair of sectional titles and in her Indiana All-Star senior season led them to a 22-2 record with a 17.8 scoring average.
At Harvard, she’s studying government, has completed an internship with the Boston attorney general’s office, is slated to graduate in the spring and is hopeful about attending law school.
“Not totally sure,” Raster said of what area of law she might pursue. “During my internship, there were a lot of different things going on. There are a diversity of things that interest me.”
On Friday, she’ll be most interested in beating Notre Dame, even if it is a long shot.
The Crimson do return six of their top seven scorers from last season’s club, including All-Ivy Leaguers and current juniors Katie Benzan and Jeannie Boehm.
“We’re a veteran team with some juniors who have already played a lot of basketball,” Raster said. “We’re pretty deep, pretty experienced and I think we’re improved over last year.”
As for Notre Dame, “they’re an incredible team,” Raster assessed. “We were able to watch their run last year, which was amazing. We’re just going to go play them as hard as we can with nothing to lose.”
WHO: Harvard (18-11 in 2017-18) vs. Notre Dame (35-3).
WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149), Notre Dame.
WHEN: Friday, 4 p.m.
TICKETS: Available, $5 to $15.
RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).
WEB: ACCN Extra.