By Justin Procope (@1Procope)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2023-24 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)
Notre Dame guard Lizzie Halligan has seen her fair share of adversity throughout her three years with the program. After a global pandemic and an ACL injury disrupted her freshman and sophomore seasons, she starred for the Irish last season for a team that went 17-11 as the runner ups in the Inter-Ac.
She’s faced with a unique challenge in her senior season.
Halligan will be tasked with filling the leadership void on and off the court left by a teammate who’s been by her side every step of the way: her sister Katie.
“It’s definitely going to be an adjustment,” Lizzie said. “She was really the heart and soul of our team for the past four years. She’s been a great leader and example for me. We’ll be able to manage, but it will definitely be an adjustment.”
Notre Dame senior Lizzie Halligan was a first team All-Inter-Ac selection last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Katie Halligan was a four-year starter and a captain her last two years at Notre Dame. She formed a potent three-headed monster offensively last season with Annie Greek, now playing at Susquehanna University, and her younger sister Lizzie, all first-team All-Inter-Ac selections. With such important pieces moving on, Halligan is hoping what she learned from those two will help make that adjustment as seamless as possible.
“The attitude that I have each game or each practice is going to be the attitude that the team has,” Halligan said. “If I’m upset one day and I let that get to me, then we’re going to have bad practice. So just leading by example and doing my best to be positive each day, each practice and have good energy will really take the team to the next level”
Roster changes aren’t the only hurdle the Irish will have to clear. Coach Lauren Power left the program for rival Germantown Academy in a surprise move this summer after leading the Irish to a 77-35 record in five seasons with the program, including three runner-up finishes in the Inter-AC. Power’s assistant Terry Mancini took over as head coach.
“The Germantown game this year will be quite the bloodbath,” Halligan said with a laugh. “It was hard to grasp at first, but now we have a great coach in Coach Mancini and we really trust him for the future.”
Mancini’s appointment comes after two years as an assistant with the program and 11 seasons as a head coach for St. Basil before its closure. Mancini is hoping his experience with the team will aid in his transition to the top job.
“The familiarity with me was a big plus for them,” Mancini said. “As the head coach I know my role will change, but my personality is not going to change and my ability is not going to change. We’re ready to roll, we’re itching to get started.”
The team will be younger than it was a season ago, with a few freshmen likely to crack the starting lineup. Mancini is embracing this transition and is adamant age will not be a factor when deciding who gets on the floor.
“If you’re a freshman, I don’t look at you as a freshman, you’re a basketball player,” Mancini said. “The best players are going to play for us no matter who they are and we’ll just learn, we’ll live with the mistakes and it’s going to make us better down the road.”
Grace Nasr and Riley Davis, who were AAU teammates for the 15U Comets-Githens, are the two freshmen making the most noise thus far. Both players are slated to play a significant role for the Irish this season.
Notre Dame junior Chloe Knox is one of the key returners this season. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
The 5-foot-10 Davis is one of the best freshmen in the state and will be an instant impact player for Notre Dame. A multi-sport athlete who was on the bench for the field hockey team that just won a state championship, Davis is an athletic guard with good size and scoring ability.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Nasr will offer the Irish a size advantage and a boost on defense right from the get go. There just aren’t many other players in the Inter-Ac who will be able to match her size, let alone other freshmen. The potential the duo has to make their mark this season and beyond has led to lofty expectations.
“I do expect them both to be thousand point scorers considering how talented they are, so it will be exciting to be a part of,” Halligan said.
Despite the influx of young talent, Notre Dame still features plenty of experience with four members of the rotation returning in Halligan and three juniors: co-captain Catie Kelly, Chloe Knox, and Sophie Hall.
After averaging 10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2 steals a game as a junior, Halligan earned the chance to play college basketball at the University of Scranton next fall. Halligan has some big shoes to fill, as both of her parents also played for the University, with her mom’s career worthy of a spot on the Wall of Fame.
Mancini has put a lot of emphasis on their man-to-man defense this offseason and Halligan is confident it will be strong enough to carry them until their offense catches up.
“We really wanna play up in people's grills and be aggressive defensively,” Halligan said. “I feel like we have gotten away from that in recent years.”
“Our coach has great sets and great offense that has worked tremendously in the past and we’re excited to get into the groove of that, but our defense has really helped,” she added.
With an experienced group returning and talented new pieces coming in, Notre Dame is hoping it can deliver the program’s first outright Inter-Ac title in almost two decades. Penn Charter lost a few big pieces but is still talented. Power’s GA squad provides a formidable challenge as well.
Seeing some of her teammates do the double with PAISAA and Inter-Ac titles with the field hockey team has Halligan and her team hungry for that winning feeling.
“I texted Catie Kelly right after it happened and I was like, ‘We're winning this year, there's no question. I want this for us,’” Halligan said. “I mean, we're not gonna settle for anything less this year. That's our only goal for this year is to win the Inter-Ac and try our best to win the PAISAA.”