NOTRE DAME, Ind.--- Senior guard/tri-captain Kayla McBride was chosen as the recipient of both the Notre Dame Monogram Club Most Valuable Player and Woody Miller Player of the Year awards, it was announced Tuesday night during the 2013-14 Notre Dame Women’s Basketball Awards Banquet in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. In addition, five other Fighting Irish players received individual honors as part of the year-end celebration.
The banquet program got off to an exciting and unexpected start on Tuesday, as representatives from the office of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (who currently is on active military duty in Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy Reserve) were on hand to present head coach Muffet McGraw and the 2013-14 Fighting Irish team with the key to the City of South Bend.
Other honorees at Tuesday night’s banquet (as chosen by a vote of their teammates) included: senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa, who received the team’s inaugural Outstanding Leadership award; sophomore guard Jewell Loyd, who garnered the team’s Defensive Player of the Year honor for the second consecutive season; sophomore guard Michaela Mabrey, who was tapped as the team’s Most Improved Player; and junior guard Whitney Holloway, who took home the Spirit Award. In addition, sophomore guard Hannah Huffman earned this year’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award from the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley.
All three graduating members of the senior class — McBride, Achonwa and fellow tri-captain Ariel Braker — along with student managers Megan Golden and Kelly Harmon, delivered poignant speeches about their careers at Notre Dame, bringing down the curtain on the most successful four-year run in program history, including a school-best 138-15 (.902) record and an average of 34.5 wins per season (prior to the arrival of the 2013-14 senior class, the school record for wins in one season had been 34 in 2000-01, a mark this year’s group topped each of the past three years). In addition, the current seniors posted a 60-4 (.938) record in regular season conference play (70-6, .921, when counting league tournaments), while leading the Fighting Irish to three NCAA national championship game appearances, four NCAA Women’s Final Four berths, three conference regular season titles (two in the BIG EAST, one in the ACC), and two conference tournament crowns (one each in the BIG EAST and ACC). A senior video tribute and the always-popular season highlight and program history videos rounded out the evening’s festivities.
An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 1,000 people was in attendance, as Notre Dame celebrated one of the finest seasons in program history in 2013-14, piling up a program-best 37-1 record, including a school-record 37-game winning streak (the longest by any Fighting Irish squad in a team-based sport since World War II), and the school’s fourth consecutive NCAA Women’s Final Four appearance (sixth overall) as well as its third trip to the NCAA national championship game in the past four seasons (fourth all-time), becoming just the fifth program in NCAA Championship history to pull off that feat.
In addition, the Fighting Irish claimed their third consecutive outright conference regular season title (first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference) with a perfect 16-0 record, stringing together three outright league championships in a row for the first time in the program’s 37-year history. What’s more, Notre Dame won the ACC regular season title by a staggering four-game margin (just the fourth time in the conference’s 37-year women’s basketball history a team has won by that margin and largest since 2001-02), while averaging 86.5 points per game in ACC play (the highest scoring margin by a conference team in the regular season since 1990-91).
Notre Dame then chalked up three more wins to secure the program’s first ACC postseason crown, marking the first time since 2002-03 that an ACC team went 19-0 in regular season and tournament play. It also was the first time since the ACC began sponsoring women’s basketball in 1977-78 that an ACC team won both titles in its inaugural conference season, and it was the first time it was ever pulled off by an ACC member school outside the Triangle (the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., area).
What’s more, the Fighting Irish set or tied no fewer than 19 single-season school records — most wins (37), highest winning percentage (.974), fewest losses (1), highest conference winning percentage (1.000), longest winning streak (37), longest winning streak to begin a season (37), most wins at home (17), most wins over top-10 opponents (8), most points (3,271), highest scoring average (86.1 ppg.), most 80-point games (29), most 90-point games (12), most 100-point games (5), most field goals made (1,227), most field goals attempted (2,423), most three-point field goals made (190), most assists (765), highest assist/turnover ratio (1.39) and fewest times fouled out (3).
Notre Dame led the nation in field goal percentage this season (.506), marking the first time the Fighting Irish won an NCAA statistical national championship (in a category other than won-loss percentage) since 2000-01, when they led the country in field goal percentage defense, three-point percentage and blocked shots.
Led by its sharp shooting numbers, Notre Dame placed among the top 20 in the nation in eight NCAA statistical categories, including top-five rankings in field goal percentage (1st - .506), scoring offense (2nd – 86.1 ppg.; the program’s second consecutive season as the nation’s second-highest scoring team), scoring margin (2nd - +24.4 ppg.), three-point field goal percentage (2nd - .402; the program’s best mark from distance since a school-record .464 in 2000-01), assists (2nd – 20.1 apg.) and assist/turnover ratio (5th – 1.39). The Fighting Irish also ranked 12th in the nation in rebounding margin (+9.1 rpg.) and 19th in free throw percentage (.756).
Notre Dame piled up a 14-1 record against ranked opponents this season (earning 13 of those 14 victories by double figures), including the aforementioned eight wins against top-10 teams. What’s more, Notre Dame appeared in the top five of both major national polls for 16 weeks this season, including the final 13 weeks as the consensus No. 2 team in the nation (the second consecutive year the Fighting Irish wound up second in both major polls at season’s end, as well as the fourth year in a row they were No. 2 in the final Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA)/USA Today poll taken after the NCAA Championship).
On top of that, Notre Dame placed fourth in the final NCAA attendance rankings by averaging 8,694 fans per game (tying the program’s highest-ever NCAA attendance rank first set in 2009-10), while registering five sellouts this season, including both sessions of the NCAA Notre Dame Regional at Purcell Pavilion (the only 2014 NCAA regional site to sell out both sessions). It marks the fifth consecutive season the Fighting Irish have been ranked in the top five in the nation in attendance, as well as the 14th year in a row they have placed among the top 16 in the final NCAA attendance rankings. Furthermore, Notre Dame continues to be fueled by one of the nation’s most loyal and dedicated fan bases, with the Fighting Irish having drawn at least 8,000 fans to their last 52 home games (dating back to the 2010-11 season), and at least 5,000 fans to 207 of their last 209 home games, covering a stretch since the midpoint of the 2000-01 season.
Notre Dame is expected to return two starters and 10 monogram recipients from this year’s squad, led by Loyd, a consensus All-America selection in 2013-14. The Fighting Irish also will welcome a three-player incoming class that has been ranked as high as third in the nation by several national recruiting services, and includes the 2013-14 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and 2014 McDonald’s High School All-America Game Most Valuable Player, forward Brianna Turner.