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Notre Dame

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Associated Press
Notre Dame senior Skylar Diggins returns to help coach Muffet McGraw and the Irish reach a third consecutive NCAA national championship game. The Irish open their season against Ohio State Friday.

Big year on deck for Irish

Season starts vs. Ohio State on aircraft carrier

– Notre Dame will launch its quest to return to a third straight NCAA women’s tournament championship game in a unique setting Friday.

The No. 7 Irish play No. 19 Ohio State on the deck of the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C.

The game is part of the second Carrier Classic, which began last year with North Carolina defeating Michigan State in a men’s game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego.

Notre Dame’s game is schedule to tip off at 4 p.m., and it will be followed by the Marquette and Ohio State men’s game on the decommissioned aircraft carrier, which will have its deck transformed into a 4,000-seat arena.

The Irish (35-4 last season) are replacing three starters from last year’s national runner-up team, and coach Muffet McGraw said the squad will be tested as the season tips off against a Buckeyes team that advanced to the NCAA regional round last year.

“We have a very difficult schedule again, and probably a little over our heads at the beginning with a team like Ohio State (25-7 last season), who’s just a formidable opponent for us,” said McGraw, whose team fell to Texas A&M in the 2011 national title game and to Baylor in last season’s title game.

“Plus, it is on a neutral court. We’d like to be playing that game at home. And we are playing outside on a ship, so we are not sure if the outside jumper is going to be going, and our inside game is not quite ready yet. We’ve got a lot of worries about that.”

The Irish will face seven more opponents ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 this season.

Notre Dame will play host to No. 1 Baylor on Dec. 5 and No. 21 Purdue on Dec. 29.

The Irish’s next ranked opponent will be No. 2 Connecticut in the first of two regular-season games between the Big East rivals. Notre Dame travels to UConn on Jan. 5 and closes the regular season at home against the Huskies on March 4.

Between those showdowns, Notre Dame will play No. 14 St. John’s at home Jan. 20, No. 20 Tennessee on the road Jan. 28, No. 9 Louisville at home Feb. 11 and No. 25 DePaul on the road Feb. 24.

“Being able to travel the country and play in all of these different places, playing against amazing teams, the best competition,” guard Kayla McBride said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. We have Baylor and Tennessee, all of these big names. It’ll be a lot of fun.”