Notre Dame women's hoops preparing for challenges in new season
The Fighting Irish are ready to hit the court for another season after heartbreak in last year's NCAA women's basketball tournament.
However, getting back to the heights they've grown used to may be tougher this year.
Notre Dame fell in the Elite Eight after losing star forward Brianna Turner to an ACL injury she suffered in the tournament. This offseason, the Irish learned they'll be without Turner for the coming year.
Not only will Turner miss the 2017-18 season, Notre Dame is also dealing with other missing players. Senior forward Kat Westbeld will begin this season still battling back to full strength after having ankle surgery this past spring. Graduation took its annual toll in the offseason, but this time cost the Irish starting point guard Lindsay Allen.
Despite the challenges, the players say head coach Muffet McGraw is as focused as ever.
"There's really no skipping that beat," said Westbeld. "She's still just as in touch as she always is. She has really high expectations for everybody, regardless of who's on the court."
There is still talent on the floor for the Irish, however, including a couple of transfers.
Point guard Lili Thompson is now eligible after arriving from Stanford and sitting out last year. Due to the injuries, Notre Dame has applied for a hardship waiver to allow Nebraska transfer Jessica Shepard to become eligible as well, but has yet to receive a ruling.
In addition to Westbeld, veteran starters Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale return as well. That leadership says they won't lower any expectations for the coming season.
"I think we have full confidence in what we can do," said Mabrey. "We have a lot of talented players, and if we work hard I think we can fill the void."
The regular season begins on November 11 against Mount St. Mary's to tip off a challenging 2017-18 schedule.
The Irish will play two ESPN games in the non-conference season against marquis opponents in UConn and Tennessee. However, McGraw believes the conference season could prove a tougher task than usual.
"The conference of course will be tough as it always is," said McGraw. "This year is probably the toughest, I think the most parity in the league this year. Hopefully the non-conference will prepare us for the conference, which will prepare us for the NCAA Tournament, and by March we'll be playing our best basketball of the year."