TAMPA BAY (FL) -- The old adage in sports is that the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending one. Notre Dame now has the opportunity to do just that. So, we wanted to put that saying to the test. We asked Irish coaches and players, what was harder: winning it last year, or defending it this year?
"I think they're both tough," senior forward Jessica Shepard said. "I think even to get to the Final Four is really tough. A lot of things have to go right. I think this year was probably a little harder just because we were expected to be here. Last year as players we expected to be there, but I think the rest of the world was kind of surprised, but it's hard either way."
"I think having to defend it this year was harder just because we already knew what it takes and it's easy to get complacent," senior guard Marina Mabrey said. "Taking it one step at a time was a lot harder this year because we knew we could get there. Last year, it's not that we didn't know we could get there, I think we were just kind of unsure, had never been there before, just giving it our all, nothing to lose."
"I guess I'd say trying to defend it," junior guard Jackie Young said. "That's probably what everyone said, just having the target on your back all season."
"Last year was really tough," senior guard Arike Ogunbowale said. "We had to play a lot of minutes, lot of injured players, so that was really tough, but this year was tough as well. People are expecting you to win, but we really don't listen to all the outside noise so it's really just us being able to work together, come together with all the different threats in the starting five. It took us awhile to be able to play together and play off of each other. I don't know, I think they're about equal. It's really tough, but I think trying to win it again and actually getting back to the Final Four after the run we had last year, having a bigger target on your back, that's pretty tough."
"Last year it was unexpected, so I don't think you have that pressure," coach Muffet McGraw said. "You know, we beat a couple of teams and then we beat Oregon, and then we're like, 'Oh my god, we're in the Final Four, we might as well just win it.' But it was very loose. Now, this year, having the mantle of no, you're defending champs, you're number one, you're supposed to win, you're supposed to get there. It wasn't quite as much fun in the beginning, and then I think we were kind of able to refocus and started to have more fun. It's the first time I've ever tried to do it, and it's not easy."
Of course, the real answer will come Sunday night, when the Irish take on Baylor for their second straight national championship.