The Notre Dame women’s basketball team won the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 17 years, but the Fighting Irish are still hungry.
“We want to dominate every single game, every single play,” Notre Dame point guard Marina Mabrey said earlier this month. “With the players that we have, we should be able to do that.”
Notre Dame topped the ACC preseason poll Tuesday. Virginia was picked ninth out of 15 teams. Virginia Tech was picked 11th.
The Fighting Irish, who went 35-3 last year, received 59 first-place votes and 927 points from a 62-member panel of ACC coaches, media members and sports information directors.
Notre Dame senior guard Arike Ogunbowale was chosen the preseason ACC player of the year by the panel. She was named the Final Four most outstanding player and an Associated Press second-team All-American last season, when she averaged 20.8 points.
Ogunbowale made the winning jumper with one second left in overtime to give her team a 91-89 win over Connecticut in the NCAA semifinals. She sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Mississippi State 61-58 in the title game.
Her Final Four heroics made her the face of women’s college basketball. Ogunbowale made a guest appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where Kobe Bryant popped up to surprise her, and was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”
“She couldn’t wait to get back in the gym after ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and Ellen and meeting Kobe and all that,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said at ACC women’s basketball media day earlier this month in Charlotte, North Carolina. “She’s always been very confident, but this year I feel like there’s more of a sense of urgency. … She’s definitely coming in with an even more laser focus.”
Notre Dame returns three other starters from last year’s team — Mabrey, Jessica Shepard and Jackie Young. Mabrey and Shepard joined Ogunbowale on the 10-woman preseason All-ACC team Tuesday.
The Fighting Irish have been picked No. 1 in the nation by the Street & Smith’s, Athlon Sports and Lindy’s Sports preview magazines.
“We’ve got a lot of great pieces and a lot of potential,” McGraw said. “[The season] could be a lot of fun. I hope it’s a lot of fun, because I really want to enjoy it.”
Notre Dame forward Brianna Turner, a two-time AP second-team All-American who missed last season with a torn ACL, is back. She also made the preseason All-ACC team Tuesday.
“I’m hoping that we can be a better rebounding and better defensive team. That’s what Brianna Turner brings us,” McGraw said.
Louisville was picked second in Tuesday’s poll with three first-place votes and 870 points.
The Cardinals tied Notre Dame for the ACC regular-season title last year. Louisville won the ACC Tournament and advanced to the Final Four.
First-team All-American Asia Durr and three other starters return for Louisville. Durr made the preseason All-ACC team.
UVa returns four starters from a team that made the NCAAs for the first time since 2010. The Cavaliers went 19-14 overall and tied for sixth place in the ACC with a 10-6 league mark under former coach Joanne Boyle.
“There doesn’t have to be a lot of change. We are not building,” UVa rookie head coach Tina Thompson said.
The Cavaliers will employ a more up-tempo offense, though.
“We’re going to get out and we’re going to run a lot,” Thompson said.
UVa averaged just 62.1 points last season.
“What I did notice … is that we didn’t finish well. We missed a lot of layups,” said Thompson, a former Texas assistant.
The Hokies return all five starters from the team that lost in the WNIT title game.
Tech went 23-14 overall but tied for ninth in the ACC with a 6-10 conference mark.
“Our experiences that we had last year is really going to help propel us this year for maybe that next step [to the NCAAs],” Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. “In this league, if you have an off night, … it can hurt you. We had a couple games like that last year, that we probably should have won that we didn’t. … Learning from those experiences, maybe you’ll get one or two or three or more of those games.”
Tech guard Taylor Emery made the preseason All-ACC team Tuesday. She averaged 18.5 points last season, when she earned All-ACC second-team honors.
“I’ve been really focusing on different aspects of my game to make sure I don’t come back the same player,” Emery said. “I want to add more to my game — adding moves, being able to dish the ball out in different situations. And being able to post up, too. I’ve been working on post moves.”