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Notre Dame women's hoops set to begin quest for repeat

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Cliche states that it's harder to defend a title than to capture one.

But if there's a team up to that task, Notre Dame women's basketball appears to be it, with nearly every piece from last year's championship team returning and eager for another run.

“I think we really enjoyed the championship and I think we celebrated it every moment, but now it's time to get back to work," said head coach Muffet McGraw. "I think this team is ready to get to work. They're doing a really good job in practice, I think the intensity has been terrific."

McGraw and her squad will begin the title defense in a little less than a month with the season-opener against Harvard.

The Irish have already been hard at work over the summer, keeping the competitive fire burning and playing in games on overseas trips. But now, the Irish practices are now in full swing at Purcell Pavilion.

Though it's been a whirlwind summer adding a championship celebration tour, McGraw says there has been no problem getting the team to re-focus.

"The leadership has been great," McGraw said. "The seniors are doing a really good job of helping the freshmen along. We've got to defend that championship. We've got a target on our back, but we've got to enjoy the process too."

Notre Dame will have quite the squad with which to attack the campaign for a repeat, one that may boast the most returning talent in the country. The Irish welcome back four of the five starters from last year's group - Arike Ogunbowale, Marina Mabrey, Jackie Young, and Jessica Shepard.

One of the main reasons the 2018 title was so impressive, and in many ways surprising, was the flood of injuries that group overcame.

But now the national champs add All-American Brianna Turner back into the mix, as she returns from a knee injury to create perhaps the nation's most dangerous lineup.

Add in a talented freshman class and other returning reserves, and the roster is obviously something that excites McGraw and her staff. But what's more impressive to the Hall of Fame coach is that the players understand how much work it'll take to reach their full potential with all of that talent.

"It means people rise their level of play and they're going to play their best against us," said Ogunbowale, the Final Four hero. "We love good competition so I think we're going to be ready every night."

"I think we all know everything's going to be earned, not given," said Turner. "Just because we have a good team doesn't mean we're automatically going to win the ACC or we're just going to get to the Final Four in Tampa. Just knowing we have to work for everything and no one's going to be like 'Oh, you're Notre Dame.'"

The Irish will host Lewis University in an exhibition at the end of October, but then the regular season begins in full on November 9 when Notre Dame hosts Harvard at Purcell Pavilion.

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