Irish excited to tip off season at Sunday's exhibition
By NOAH AMSTADTER
Assistant Sports Editor
Following a season which ended with a to loss to Texas Tech in the NCAA tournament, the Irish women's basketball team looks to rebound this season behind the strong play of All-American center Ruth Riley and a group of guards that head coach Muffet McGraw sees as, "probably our best group of guards ever."
The Irish enter the season ranked third in the nation by Sports Illustrated for Women, behind only perennial powerhouses Connecticut and Tennessee.
The conference coaches voted the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers second behind Connecticut while predicting the Irish third. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw believes the Irish will be stronger than ever this season.
"We're excited about the season ... we have great leadership in our senior class," said McGraw. "We had a really great preseason in strength and conditioning. I think this is probably the best shape we've ever been in."
The Irish are led by senior All-American Ruth Riley. Riley — who last year became the first Notre Dame women's basketball player ever to earn first team All-America honors — is the two-time defending Big East Defensive Player of the Year. She also led the Irish in both scoring in rebounding last season.
With Riley on the court, Notre Dame is a dominant team. However, keeping Riley on the court for extended minutes has been a problem throughout her career, as Riley has shown a tendency to get into foul trouble.
"You can tell at practice she's really concentrating on not fouling," said McGraw. "She's doing a really good job of being that presence in the lane without fouling. She's really working on when she can block the shot and when she can't."
While Riley provides necessary scoring and rebounding, the heart and soul of the Irish team is fifth-year senior point guard Niele Ivey. Ivey is a second-team all-Big East honoree who has overcome two ACL injuries during her career to emerge as one of the most talented point guards in the country.
"I would say that Neile is definitely the leader of our team," said McGraw. "As the point guard she has the ball in her hands a lot. She runs the team. She's just a very poised, very smart player."
The third standout in the Irish starting lineup is sophomore shooting guard Alicia Ratay. Ratay was named to the second team all-Big East squad this preseason, an honor she puts second to the team's success.
"It's a great honor to be picked on that team," said Ratay. "But my main concern is to help Notre Dame do the best that we can in any way."
With guard Danielle Green and forward Julie Henderson lost to graduation, senior Kelley Siemon and junior Ericka Haney move into starting roles.
The starting role is nothing new to Siemon, who started her freshman and sophomore years before coming off of the bench last season.
The 6-foot-1 Haney is a strong defensive player who has shown the ability to score in multiple ways.
"Erica's played very well, especially in the last couple of days," McGraw said Thursday.
The first face off the bench for the Irish this season will be that of a freshman — guard Jeneka Joyce. Joyce is a mature player who is known for strong ball-handling and shooting skills.
Despite being asked to play with a veteran group that has been playing together for as many as five years, Joyce feels quite comfortable with her new team.
"I think it's been as smooth as it can be at the moment," said Joyce.
The Irish take the court against an opponent for the first time this season Sunday evening at 7 p.m. as they take on the Ohio All-Stars.
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 3, 2000