Today in Columbus, Jessica Shepard prepares to compete in the Final Four for the first time in her college career. The struggles of Notre Dame leading up to the 2018 Final Four are well documented. With four players out with injury—Lili Thompson, Brianna Turner, Mychal Johnson and Mikayla Vaughn—this Notre Dame team lived up to its name. The Fighting Irish battled on to win from behind five times this season, including a 23-point deficit against Tennessee January 18. Just recently, Notre Dame overcame a 13-point deficit against Texas A&M in the Sweet 16 round and again rallied from behind against Oregon to reach the Final Four.
Comebacks this season were fueled by the team’s offense. Notre Dame is averaging 92. points per game in the 2018 Championship Tournament. Additionally, they are the only remaining program to reach 80 points or more every game.
Jessica Shepard is a key component to the success of the Irish. She is one of five players averaging 20 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. This season, she has 14 double-doubles, including a stretch of five consecutive in the postseason.
It is easy to forget the Nebraska-native is a newcomer to this Irish team, given her success. High Post Hoops spoke with Shepard yesterday about her personal journey and what is next.
Q&A with Jessica Shepard – University of Notre Dame
High Post Hoops: Describe your journey coming from Nebraska and making that transition into the Notre Dame program?
Jessica Shepard: Obviously, leaving Nebraska was a big decision for me and I knew that when I was transferring I would need to find the right fit. When I came to Notre Dame, I just felt everything clicked. I knew a lot of the girls prior so that helped out a lot. Being able to come to such a prestigious university and a prestigious basketball program, it means a lot.
High Post Hoops: You’ve spoken a lot about stepping out of your comfort zone in making that switch. You’ve also spoken about overcoming injury. As somewhat of a veteran presence who has also come back from injury, what is your role in anchoring this team?
Jessica Shepard: I think for me, it’s being able to come in and bring energy every day to practice right from the beginning. I didn’t know if I was going to be playing or not, but I knew [energy] was something you can control. You can control your attitude, your energy, your effort. So for me, it’s controlling those three things and along the way being able to do whatever I can to help the team. Whether that’s just talking to one of my teammates that’s down, or just being able to go out there and get a bunch of rebounds, get a bunch of points. Whatever it is.
High Post Hoops: What aspects of this Notre Dame culture will help you get to the next level in your game?
Jessica Shepard: I think we have the best coaching staff in the country. You guys don’t see what associate coaches Beth (Cunningham), C.O (Carol Owens), and Neile (Ivey) do behind the scenes. Every day after practice they’re working with me, you know. They’re working with Beth or CO and just working on my post game, working on my outside shooting. They challenge us to the next level every day.
High Post Hoops: You’ve always spoken about how the WNBA is something that you want to do. Any idea when you’ll make that jump? This summer or next year?
Jessica Shepard: I think for me that’s just something I’m not worried about right now. Right now I’m worried about playing in this final four and just becoming the best basketball player I can be.