Unsung heroes play pivotal role in Irish success
Assistant Sports Editor
The bandwagon is getting heavy.
With the win over Vanderbilt, the Irish advanced to the Final Four and captured national attention.
The following people have been part of this team since the beginning of the season, before the Connecticut win, before "experts" believed Notre Dame could challenge for a national title, before every national publication ran a Ruth Riley feature.
Apologies to the 107 or so other "behind-the-scenes" types who have helped make this season run so smoothly.
Chris Dillon wears a Ruth Riley-like white adidas headband but the off-campus senior wants to play like Diana Taurasi.
"I think I'll be [Connecticut freshman point guard] Diana Taurasi today," said Dillon, who wore the headband again during Wednesday's practice. "I'll be able to shoot from anywhere I want."
Notre Dame students Dillon, Reggie McKnight, Tom Krizmanich, Kyle Heroman, John Moravec and Kevin Mumford practice with the Irish and help them prepare for upcoming opponents.
"Those guys are great," Ruth Riley said. "They help us out a lot."
For McKnight, a four-year varsity soccer player, the daily afternoon competition helps him stay in shape. It also helps to quiet the critics of his basketball game, namely Riley and Niele Ivey.
"They've been ragging on me since freshman year," McKnight said. "I figured I might as well be around a team [after soccer]."
Any predictions for Friday's highly anticipated trilogy?
"On a neutral site," Dillon said, "we'll beat them by 15."
Spoken like a true teammate.
They spend several hours per day preparing for trips, practices and games. They attend every game, home and away. They have little free time during the season.
Meet the managers.
"Those are the real people who keep the show running," strength and conditioning coach Tony Rolinski said.
This year's senior managers, Jaime Morales and Gretchen Schumer, worked with the football team last season and started their current positions in Dec. 1999.
"Our main job is to let the coaches coach and the players play," Morales said. "We'll worry about the other stuff."
The other stuff for Schumer, the head equipment manager, includes running practice, ordering equipment and preparing the locker room before and after games. Morales, the personnel manager, arranges all the travel plans (hotels, meals, and flights) and handles a lot of day-to-day operations.
"It's been basketball and school work, lately, with basketball taking up most of my time," Morales said. "Things have been stressful at times. But it's worth it. Being on that floor in Denver and now being in St. Louis. It's definitely worth it."
Heather Maxwell will be busy on Friday night.
Maxwell, a first-year marketing/promotions assistant, follows the same routine 45 minutes prior to every contest. She meets with Murphy McGraw (Muffet's son) and applies blue and gold paint on the 10-year old's face.
"He always wants it some special way," Maxwell said. "That's my official duty."
If only her job was that simple.
Wonder who organizes the halftime shows, the on-court activities during the timeouts and the countless other creative ideas that helped attract record crowds this year? It's Maxwell.
"My ideas usually start with `Wouldn't it be funny?," Maxwell said. "One of my favorites was Beach Day (the theme for the Jan. 15 Connecticut game). During the game, I saw a guy walking around with Speedos on, his head painted and goggles on his head. It was fun."
The job is not all fun, though. For a typical home game, the 1999 University of Indianapolis graduate arrives in her office at 8 a.m. and leaves around 10 p.m.
But she's not complaining.
"I got in trouble during the first game," Maxwell said. "Niele [Ivey] hit a 3 and I did the 3-point signal [with both arms raised over her head]. It's hard not to be biased."
Strength and conditioning coach
When Rolinski enrolled at Penn State in the mid-1980s, he understood the obvious.
"If I even thought about stepping on the football field, I would have been a tackling dummy," Rolinski said. "I decided to use my mind instead of my body."
Smart choice. After stints at Pittsburgh and Duquesne, Rolinski joined the Irish strength and conditioning program in 1998.
Rolinski works with the women's team all year. Most players stayed in South Bend this summer and all were given a 12-week program to follow. Once school starts, Rolinski meets with them three times a week. Four weeks prior to the first official practice day (Oct. 15), Rolinski begins an on-court conditioning program.
It meets every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 a.m.
"They'll complain," Rolinski said. "Any human would. But they understand it's worth it."
Said Riley: "He's definitely one of the guys that has helped me out the most since I've been here He helped with every aspect of the game, both mentally and physically."
She has a basketball name.
Jeri Lucas. It's pronounced the same as Jerry Lucas, the former NBA great.
But don't expect Lucas, the team's administrative assistant, to recite her namesake's biographical information.
"I don't know too much about him," Lucas said.
She knows how to assist one of the nation's best teams, though. Lucas began working at Notre Dame in the cashier's office in 1981, then went to Student Residences before switching over to her current position in March 1994.
"I didn't really know how athletics worked," Lucas said. "I was totally green."
Seven years later, only Lucas's fingernails are green. Like the coaches, players and others associated with the program, Lucas painted her fingernails green at the beginning of March.
She handles many of the day-to-day operations, oversees the banquet, does paper work for recruiting and Notre Dame summer camps, answers telephones and has countless other responsibilities.
Lucas also greets every visitor with a smile and chats with any one who enters the office.
"Working for Muffet and the team is great," Maxwell said. "I do anything they ask me."
Except one thing.
Hand out extra tickets for this weekend's games.
There's none left.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
They make plane and hotel reservations, answer telephones, provide conditioning programs, promote the team and organize the day-to-day operations.
Here goes, a look at five groups who usually go unnoticed:
Dillon, an accomplished high school guard and Bookstore veteran, returned to school during winter vacation and stayed here for spring break in order to help the women prepare for the postseason.
Since late February, the managers have been on the road every week and have missed classes. But they have no regrets.
I love going to the beach so I wondered ‘how can I bring that to South Bend?'
She is an invaluable member of the women's basketball operation.
All Sports Stories for Friday, March 30, 2001