Six days of rest was enough for Notre Dame’s Brittany Mallory.
Mallory, a senior tri-captain from Baltimore, Md., helped the Irish advance to their second consecutive NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Game at the beginning of April. While the women’s basketball team came up short against Baylor in their bid for the NCAA trophy, Mallory concluded her career as the program’s all-time leader in games played with 151 and fifth in schools with 272.
Less than a week later, it was announced that Mallory’s career as a student-athlete would continue, just not on the basketball court. She was going to play women’s lacrosse for the remainder of the 2012 season.
Mallory had grown up playing lacrosse, and was a two-time U.S. Lacrosse honorable mention All-American at McDonogh School. She seriously considered playing lacrosse in college, but then visited Notre Dame and decided basketball would be the path she would take.
Because the two sport seasons overlap so much there was really never time for Mallory to try her hand at lacrosse, but when the opportunity was presented to her last month, she was quick to grab her stick.
“When I got the opportunity and talked to my family about it, they just thought, ‘why not?’” Mallory said. “Coach [Christine] Halfpenny said they really wanted me on the team, and they were all behind me. I just figured why not be a part of something fun.”
Halfpenny, in her first year as the Irish’s head coach, met Mallory through the school’s shoe contract representative, while the basketball standout was doing an internship.
Mallory mentioned she played lacrosse to Halfpenny, and then a light bulb when off. She remembered Mallory from her high school days in Maryland while Halfpenny was Duke’s recruiting coordinator. Halfpenny’s wheels started turning a bit.
“I joked back in the fall, ‘hey, go win a national championship and come see me when you’re done,’” Halfpenny said.
When the Women’s Final Four was over and Mallory got back to South Bend, that’s exactly what she did and the women’s lacrosse team welcomed her with open arms.
“She’s good friends with a lot of the girls on our team and has been connected to them,” Halfpenny said. “Our team was always very open-minded [about Mallory joining the team]. We watched the women’s basketball national championship game as a team, and the week afterwards Brittany came out to a couple of our games and talked to a few of our players. She was thinking really hard about it.”
“I’m going to be done with everything in a couple weeks, so why not try something I’ve missed for a long time,” Mallory said. “I’ll have the rest of my life to rest up.”
UND women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw was not surprised with Mallory’s decision.
“She was a tremendous defensive presence and had one of the highest basketball I.Q.s of any player I’ve ever coached,” McGraw said. “I know in the back of her mind that she’s always held a special place in her heart for the sport of lacrosse, and I’m thrilled that she has the opportunity to fulfill a goal of hers to play lacrosse at the college level.”
While she’s only been playing for three weeks – after not seriously picking up a stick since high school – Mallory has made great strides in the short time.
“Every day she keeps getting better,” Halfpenny said. “I tell it is just like getting back on a bike after not playing for a couple years. Her skill sets, while a bit rusty, are still there. She has good spatial awareness; she has the ability to take the draw. She’s working on the conditioning and endurance, and getting comfortable with the speed of the game at this level.”
Mallory has played in four lacrosse games, making her debut at Connecticut on April 14. On Senior Day on Saturday, she scored her first career goal in a 22-2 defeat of Cincinnati.
“I would like to play a little more, but I’m still learning the offense,” Mallory said. “I’m getting the hang of it more and more with each practice. It is fun to be a part of another great team.”
“She is one mean player, and I say that as a compliment,” Halfpenny said. “You want her on your team.”
The highlight of Mallory’s experience so far was the Irish’s double-overtime, golden-goal victory at Georgetown on April 21.
“I didn’t get any playing time, but it was so much fun being out there and cheering them on,” Mallory said. “We don’t have a sudden death goal in basketball.”
Mallory is also enjoying the support from her former basketball teammates, who come to watch whenever they get a chance.
“Midway through the second half of the Vanderbilt game I heard all these people yelling my name,” Mallory said. “It was the women’s basketball team just getting out of conditioning workouts. They are really supportive.”
As No. 6 Notre Dame enters the postseason, Mallory brings a different perspective to the Irish as she knows what it takes to make a deep run into the playoffs. Halfpenny welcomes her postseason experience, adding to the strong seven-member senior class already on the squad.
“I told her as she grows in confidence and thinks she is capable, we want to her from her. We don’t want for her just to enjoy the ride … we want her to feel like she can really contribute. This is such a unique opportunity for us at this point in the season to get outside eyes.”
“I’ve been a little more vocal lately, trying to encourage everyone,” Mallory said. In team meetings, I’ve given my view on what it takes to be in the Final Four.”
The Irish will first head to Syracuse as the No. 3 seed in the Big East championship, where they will face Loyola (Md.) in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday. The game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.