Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 63 MAY 2018 23 After the Notre Dame women's basket- ball program won its first national title in 2001, it didn't advance beyond the Sweet 16 the next nine years. Don't expect that to happen a second time. Two weeks after the Fighting Irish cap- tured this year's national championship, espnW and Blue Star Basketball Report's No. 1-ranked player, 6-2 forward Samantha "Sam" Brunelle, gave her verbal commit- ment to the Fighting Irish. Residing in Ruckersville, Va., Brunelle has been a starter at William Monroe High since day one when the freshman bas- ketball prodigy averaged 25.0 points, 17.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game. By her sophomore year she already was a USA Today third-team All-American, and in her recently completed junior season she was named Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 30.0 points, 15.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 blocks and 2.2 steals while leading a 23-2 campaign that ended in the Class 3 state quarterfinals. Last fall, she was a member of the USA Basketball Under-16 Women's National Team that won a gold meld at the 2017 FIBA Amer- icas U16 Championship held in Argentina. In April, she was named to the 2018 U.S. Youth Olympic Games Women's Basketball Team. Her versatility and effectiveness in the post or the perimeter have often elicited comparisons to her role model, WNBA all-star Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 League MVP. A National Honor Society member, Brunelle carries a 4.15 grade point aver- age (4.0 scale) in weighted classes, and her 2015-16 Future Business Leaders of America presentation was first in her district and third in the state. In her announcement for Notre Dame at her high school, Brunelle stressed she wanted to be "where the coaches are passionate about their team, strive to be the best while having strong young ladies not only to play the game of basketball but to have an impact on the world … "I wondered how I would pick just one place, and at times was stressed about it," Brunelle continued. "Some of the best advice I received in this pro- cess was, 'Sam, when you find the right place, you will just know.' Now, I found the right place for me. There is rich history, a beautiful campus and a sense of com- munity that was felt the moment I stepped on campus. I believe in the coaching staff, not only in their knowledge of the game but their dedication to the university and to their players. "When faced with adversity, I watched this year's team come together and play harder. In my opinion, that's grit, good leadership and trust in each other. That's what I know, and it's something I would like to be a part of." Over the past decade, head coach Muf- fet McGraw and her staff have landed numerous top-five prospects (and even a national player of the year by one out- let or another) — Skylar Diggins, Jewell Loyd, Taya Reimer (transferred to Michi- gan State), Brianna Turner, Jessica Shepard (transfer from Nebraska), Jackie Young and Erin Boley (transferred to Oregon) — but Brunelle is the first to be ranked as the nation's No. 1 overall player by espnW. (Turner was No. 2 in 2014, behind South Carolina A'Ja Wilson, and Diggins No. 3 in 2009, with Brittney Griner No. 1). With guards Arike Ogunbowale and Ma- rina Mabrey plus forwards Shepard and Turner in their final seasons of eligibility in 2018-19, a superb recruiting class in 2019 is needed to keep future Fighting Irish national title aspirations in place as they have been for the past decade with six trips to the Final Four since 2011. Prior to Brunelle, Notre Dame had already received a 2019 verbal last sum- mer from 5-10 point guard Anaya Peoples of Danville, Ill. Peoples is ranked as the No. 15 prospect overall by espnW (No. 3 at point guard) and No. 5 by Prospects Nation (where Brunelle is No. 4, but the No. 1 forward). The Irish hope to land at least two more premier prospects in the 2019 haul. Among the possibilities is 6-4 post Aliyah Boston, who plays for Worces- ter (Mass.) Academy and is ranked No. 11 by espnW and No. 16 by Prospects Nation. Brunelle and Boston were teammates who captured the 2018 USA Basketball 3x3 U18 national championship. — Lou Somogyi Knute Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year — Nicole Benz The freshman — who joined Kaitlin Cole and Maureen Butler as the first walk-ons in years for the program — is majoring in engineering. Most Spirited — Mikayla Vaughn Nicknamed "The Energizer Bunny" for her non-stop ways, the 6-3 fresh- man made a huge impact in November road wins at Western Kentucky and Oregon State, but tore her ACL shortly thereafter. Despite her youth, she remained one of the loudest and most upbeat voices on the team. Co-Most Improved Players — Kristina Nelson and Jackie Young Nelson, a fifth-year senior, consistently provided a huge lift off the bench. Five times she scored in double figures (she had done it only three times her first three full seasons) while converting 62 percent of her field goals. On defense, she took a team-record 19 charges, two of them during a crucial fourth-quarter stretch to beat No. 1 Connecticut in the Final Four. The sophomore Young doubled her scoring average with 14.5 points per game, highlighted by her career-high 32 versus UConn. She also tripled her assists with 139 and doubled her steal total with 52. Co-Defensive Players of The Year — Marina Mabrey and Young This duo provided strong pressure atop the 2-3 zone Notre Dame had to cling to in an effort to stay out of foul trouble, and Young also averaged 6.6 rebounds per game. McGraw praised Young not only for poise under pres- sure, but also for not even taking a possession off in practices. Mabrey complemented her 14.4 scoring average by leading the team in three-pointers made (85), assists (168) and steals (79), ranking second in the ACC in conference play only with 2.6 steals per game. Woody Miller MVP Award (voted upon by media) — Arike Ogunbowale Monogram Club MVP — Ogunbowale The consensus All-American finished with the most points (791) and high- est scoring average (20.8) for a single season in school history. She also set a new school standard with 25 games with 20-plus points. — Lou Somogyi 2019 No. 1 Player Samantha Brunelle Commits To Notre Dame Brunelle, a 6-2 forward, averaged 30.0 points, 15.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.0 blocks and 2.2 steals per game as a junior en route to Virginia's Gatorade Player of the Year award. She is rated as the nation's No. 1 overall player in the class of 2019 by both espnW and Blue Star Basketball Report. PHOTO COURTESY USA BASKETBALL APRIL 10 NOTRE DAME AWARDS SHOW

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