Freshman Ratay leads Irish past Toledo
By KERRY SMITH
Assistant Sports Editor
The Irish backcourt lit the spark that blasted the Rockets Saturday night, when Notre Dame opened its season against Toledo with a 68-52 win on the road.
While a base of four returning starters to the Irish squad has been key in providing experience and continuity on the court in the preseason, a fresh face on the team has already begun to make her mark.
Freshman guard Alicia Ratay, who led the Irish in her first regular-season collegiate start with 18 points, is already proving that experience is not the only strength of the seventh-ranked Irish. Ratay's deadly three-pointer, as it develops, should add to an already-talented set of Irish guards anchored by veterans Niele Ivey and Danielle Green.
Despite the hype surrounding the freshman, Ratay doesn't feel any added pressure on the court.
"I'm just going to go out and play my best and whatever happens on the court happens," said Ratay.
Despite a clear height advantage over the Rockets in the paint, the Irish were forced early on to keep the ball on the perimeter. Center Ruth Riley, the 6-foot-5 go-to player under the basket for the Irish, picked up two fouls within the opening two minutes and spent most of the first half on the bench. Riley started in the second half, but incurred her fourth foul less than five minutes in and finished the game scoreless.
Riley's absence on the court altered Notre Dame's game plan, but even without the powerful post play of the preseason first team All-American, the Irish were able to compensate with an effective outside game.
"Other players stepped it up on the court," said Ratay. "Danielle played really well off the bench and Niele was shooting well the whole game."
Saturday's game marked the second time this season that the Irish stepped on the court without Riley at the helm. Sidelined with a slight injury to her right ankle last week, Riley sat on the bench during the team's final exhibition game of the preseason.
Notre Dame broke open a close game 10 minutes into the first half when back-to-back three pointers by Ratay gave the Irish a 21-13 lead over Toledo.
Center Julie Henderson tapped in a layup with less than six minutes left in the half to put the Irish out in front by 10 with a score of 31-21. A patient offense and scrappy defense helped keep the Irish in control throughout the rest of the game as the Rockets were unable to bring their point deficit into single digits after Henderson's score.
"It was our first game and we came out strong," said Ratay. "They were a good team — they had some good players but we just focused on doing our best."
Green and Ivey kept the Rockets' defense scrambling, as the two guards combined for 29 points.
Ericka Haney, coming off the bench at the guard position, rounded out the Irish backcourt, registering 11 points from the field.
After coming off a strong '98-'99 campaign, Toledo lost three key starters to graduation, which took its toll on their offense in their first outing of the season. Center Jennifer Markwood led the team with fourteen points, followed closely by forward Karin Husbeck who came up with 11. Markwood and Husbeck were the only Toledo players to post double-digit numbers.
Saturday's win for Notre Dame only serves to continue the standard of tough competition set by last year's Irish squad who recorded a .839 winning percentage — the second best in the program's 22-year history.
All Sports Stories for Monday, November 22, 1999